By Stuart Stratford
Blackburn Rovers dented Newcastle United’s promotion push in front of another packed house at St James Park.
Rafa Benitez rang the changes following the comprehensive victory at Elland Road last weekend and was rewarded by an unsurprisingly abysmal performance. Despite this, the players left the pitch to a chorus of “We’re still going to win the league”. Defeat is dimming belief in the players to get back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Newcastle deserved little from this game – certainly not a win – and can have few complaints about defeat. It took over an hour for a shot on target and unsurprisingly, Steele in the Blackburn goal turned Shelvey’s shot aside quite comfortably. Graham had the game’s first effort, his header though set the tone and cleared the bar. Newcastle responded by huffing and puffing, Yedlin made Steele claim his driven cross whilst Mitrovic had his shot deflected wide.
As the game wore on, the crowd slumped lower into their seats and the normal vibrancy in the stands was dragged down to the level of the display on the pitch. Before the interval, Atsu and Yedlin shot wide before Mitrovic thrashed another effort high and wide. The shrill peep from the referee’s whistle woke many up from their slumber and there was more life in queues for the concessions than had been seen on the pitch.
Things improved in the second half although the bar was set so low in the first that it was hard for to be any worse. Atsu picked up where he left off in the first half, firing wide early on. Things got a little better when Hayden picked up the ball in the midfield and lashed a shot wide from outside the area, invigorating the crowd, even if some were convinced they’d been woken up for a fire drill. Jesus Gamez started his first Championship match this season and had been untroubled until he suffered what looked to be a collarbone injury and was replaced by Paul Dummett. If Rafa Benitez could have replaced half the side, he probably would have do so. Matt Ritchie was the next to miss, arriving to latch onto Mitrovic’s flick but in keeping with the rest of the afternoon, he fired over from six yards out. Even the best that Newcastle have fell prey to the lacklustre finishing which afflicted the whole squad this afternoon.
As many wondered what they could have been doing more productively this afternoon, a brief flurry of action interrupted the lull. Emnes had been on the pitch only briefly when fed the ball in the area, he span and skewed his shot wide. The warning injected some urgency into the Magpies but only marginally improved their accuracy. After Shelvey’s shot had been turned wide, Steele reacted quickly to snuff out the danger as Clark seemed poised to score.
With a quarter of an hour remaining of normal time, the deadlock was broken. Somehow, Blackburn forced a corner and sent their travelling support into delirium when Mulgrew slammed his shot past the helpless Darlow. Belatedly, Dwight Gayle entered the fray but it was to little effect. The rot had well and truly set in for the afternoon, the latest striker to force his way into the affections of the Toon Army’s hearts blazed over as the final whistle loomed.
Full-time arrived and the only thing missing was the Gallowgate emptying to the sounds of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. A poor performance got the result it deserved but so far this season, Newcastle have responded well to setbacks this season and there’s no reason to believe they won’t this time either.
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