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Newcastle United frustrated but fortunate after Swansea draw

ANALYST
Feature
280   //    15 Jan 2018, 20:18 IST

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Shelvey urges his teammates on

In short, it was the same story, with the same issues and the same ways to fix them. Newcastle United once again underwhelmed and frustrated in equal measure on Saturday afternoon at St James’ Park; Swansea City, the Premier League’s bottom club, were the visitors.

There for the taking, the Welsh club, under the stewardship of the Magpies’ recent scourge, Carlos Carvalhal, grabbed a precious point; though it was they who could count themselves the unlucky ones.

Carvalhal’s appointment was met with murmuring acceptance from Swansea fans; it felt as though relegation from the Premier League was being prepared for. Paul Clement and caretaker boss Leon Britton had only managed to put 13 points on the board in 20 games; it looked for all the world as though the Portuguese’s job was an impossible one. Yet, he has made a real impact since arriving, now taking four points from three league games. After beating Newcastle three times in two seasons with former club Sheffield Wednesday, he will not have been happy to only draw the game 1-1.

Speaking in the post-match press conference, Carvahal admitted he was unsure if he’d just seen his side gain a point or drop two. On the balance of play, particularly in the first half, the former should be argued; Newcastle started quickly and found space in behind the defence with ease. Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu were lively out wide and Ayoze Perez, on a run of three goals in two games, partnered Dwight Gayle excellently. Both strikers had guilt-edged chances to put the hosts in front before the break; it felt then, as it has done so many times this season, Newcastle would regret failing to grab a goal and the early initiative.

So it proved to be the case; Jordan Ayew’s second-half header was only stopped from being the winner by substitute strike Joselu’s fourth goal for the club from the bench. The Spaniard replaced Gayle, who looks immensely short on confidence in almost everything he does; it feels like role-reversal between those two now, and perhaps that will see the former Stoke man back in favour with Rafa Benitez. Once again, his tactics were spot on; he’d spoken of the need to set up not to lose but with the intention to win and the balance in the side was clear.

The visitors’ first bit of bad luck came in that first half, though, when referee Graham Scott failed to spot a seemingly deliberate handball from Newcastle midfielder Mohamed Diame. The ball was heading in and, had he seen it, he would have undoubtedly sent the Senegalese midfielder off as well as given the penalty, which would have been disastrous for the Magpies.

But a team full of confidence would have come out focussed on taking the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half. It is obvious that, despite a run of one loss in five before kick off and two successive wins in all competitions, the tight nature of the relegation battle in the Premier League is putting a strain on Benitez’s young squad.

They lost momentum and that allowed Swansea, fresh from being inspired by Carvahal, to take the game to the hosts. It took Ayew’s goal to jolt Newcastle into action again, even though there was very little threat in the first 45 minutes. That kind of reaction, in the most high-pressure games, as this was, is among the most worrying things.

There were just nine minutes between Ayew’s opener and Joselu’s equaliser, and from then Newcastle huffed and puffed in search of a winner. The same narrative struck again; their attacking quality let them down and new signings are required, only Mike Ashley, the owner, doesn’t want to back Benitez. Nothing has changed in months. It could have been worse, though, if Wilfried Bony, on as a substitute, had converted an effort in second-half stoppage time. DeAndre Yedlin’s goal-line clearance secured the draw in the end.

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Newcastle United v Swansea City - Premier League
The Swansea players celebrate Jordan Ayew's strike

Just as Swansea comprehend whether it is a good result for them, Newcastle have to wonder, too. The answer to that question will only definitively arrive as the season unfolds; perhaps not until May. Failing to beat the side bottom of the league at home will always leave the bitter taste of frustration, similarly to dropping points at home to Brighton last month, but it extends Newcastle’s unbeaten run and stretches the gap to the bottom three to three points; Stoke City travel to Manchester United on Monday night. For most, including Benitez, it will be seen as a missed opportunity at best.

Some tough games are on the horizon with Manchester City, fresh from losing their unbeaten Premier League record at Liverpool, next up at the Etihad Stadium. Crystal Palace, still very much in the mire despite a run of one defeat since 5th November follow before Burnley head to St James’ Park to close out the month. Benitez claims nothing is close in terms of transfers in or out of the club, but remains confident of something happening; fresh reports of a deal for Chelsea’s Kenedy breaking down are a huge blow.

All of the angst and negativity seemingly plaguing the team despite a relatively healthy run of form was magnified and increased by the actions of Jonjo Shelvey against his former club. On the pitch, a free kick from close range was wasted by his poor decision making, while walking off it, to be replaced by Mikel Merino, he was seen batting away Benitez’s offer of a handshake. These things happen all the time and he has since apologised, but Shelvey only offers something while motivated, and links with a move to West Ham could prove concerning.

It was a strange game on Saturday; Newcastle did enough to win it but allowed the same issues to hold them back again. Swansea and Carlos Carvahal, who both have a good record at St James’ Park, will not be happy with the way things fell either as they remain rooted to the bottom of the league. The impact of this result will become more apparent for both teams over the coming weeks.

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ANALYST
Freelance European football journalist with various websites.
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