I’m still trying to reconcile this result and am seriously struggling.
I talked yesterday about the fact that Newcastle hadn’t won for 6 games or whatever and that I was trying to put the immediate thought about us being a gift for clubs that have been on bad runs to one side.
We’re a different team, I said.
And then, before the game, I heard that they hadn’t won at Villa park for so many years. Then something was said about the number of goals they hadn’t scored and I was becoming more and more filled with trepidation as kickoff approached. My daughter and myself ofen text each other sharing our predictions. I’d stuck with my 2-1, but I actually sent a message a couple of minutes before the kickoff saying “I’m scared now”
I just had a feeling of what was coming.
And given how subdued it seemed the crowd were, I don’t think I was alone.
And my fear was justified, wasn’t it?
I thought we were frankly awful in the first half, there’s no getting away from it.
The game was played far too slowly and loads of the team just looked way off form.
What’s happened to the swashbuckling, rapid and direct play, that has entertained fans everywhere in the first half of this season?
Any chances we did create invariably went straight to their defenders, while we looked really ropey at the back. The only player to come out with the slightest bit of credit in that first half was Martinez. Yet again. And that wasn’t saying much.
The second half was better, but only when Bailey came on for the hapless Diaby, who had proved positively how his confidence looks totally shot. Why on earth did he square that ball to their defenders when it was such an obvious opportunity to shoot? I actually think he was more scared than I was, pre-game.
I’d said in the preview that I thought Bailey should come straight in for Diaby, but guessed that it wouldn’t happen because I think Emery is trying to play him into form. So Diaby starting was fine with me. But not hooking him at half time had me fuming and I was wondering what the manager was seeing that I wasn’t.
The swap happened at about 70 minutes, but today we’ve heard why. Apparently Bailey was feeling a back twinge so the manager was being careful. Fair enough, Unai.
Also swapped out were Tielemens and Kamara for Ramsey and Zaniolo. All four were pretty useless, I felt and again it’s all indicative of how players are just, well, off it, in my opinion.
Tielemens did next to nothing and just didn’t seem able to find any space. Kamara has a serious discipline issue of late and I wonder if he was hooked before he got sent off? Luiz is also showing signs of a similar problem.
And Ramsey just isn’t fit and we know he takes a long while to get his rythym going. I can possibly excuse him from what I’m thinking. Which is that they’re all signs of mental issues, albeit it pressure, expectation, fear of failure or whatever.
It can’t be tiredness. They’ve just had basically a couple of weeks off and this was just the same as the Chelsea game. Both teams seem to have lots more energy.
And it’s this I find worrying.
Going back to Bailey, isn’t it strange how one player can change a game?
He immediately injected a bit of pace, attacked directly and crossed the ball.
And we were transformed, along with the crowd, who started singing their lungs out.
And of course, the goal came, with Watkins actually proving that he was on the pitch after all. It was the sort of finish that we’re used to seeing from Ollie.
And it was soon followed by another one, although it was called off because Ollie hadn’t cut his toenails pre match.
So, getting to the point, do I think we need to be worried?
Absolutely I do, if what I’m suggesting is correct.
I don’t think for one minute all of the players are out of form all at the same time.
So if it is some sort of mental problem, it’s not going to be sorted quickly.
I could say I thought Emery got his tactics completely wrong in this game and if that was the case, I’d be happy to say that’s fair enough and we move on to the next game with me thinking he’ll get the tactics right.
But this isn’t a one-off. We’ve all commented about how we haven’t look right since that Man City and Arsenal week, which was the beginning of December. Yes, we’ve scraped some decent results in that time, but we all know that period hasn’t seen us to be convincing.
I talked in the preview about the wheels falling off and how I thought it was crucial that we win it.
And I stand by that.
If what I’m thinking is correct, we will not be in a position to just “do a reset”, “see it as a blip” or “imagine it’s the start of the season again” or similar. It’s something we’re just going to have to play through, which isn’t going to happen quickly.
If I’m totally wrong and the wheels aren’t falling off, I firmly believe a couple of wheelnuts have loosened.
So much so that me being scared now runs to the Sheffield game.
I SO hope I’m wrong.