A crowd of 52,000 showed up to watch Newcastle United in the Championship, but only around 3,000 left satisfied after Huddersfield beat Newcastle 2-1, writes Kristan Heneage.
The Magpies were buoyant after moving past an opening day defeat to Fulham, with flags flying high in the Gallowgate end. Unfortunately for the hosts, that positivity was wiped away when Nahki Wells fired a cross into the bottom corner on the stroke of half time. Far from undeserved, Huddersfield Town had come with a simple plan that is so often difficult to execute; sit deep, and counter. Their manager David Wagner had likely seen Fulham do similar 8 days prior, and knowing Newcastle needed a win, it played right into his, and Huddersfield’s, hands.
Newcastle can be disappointed with their own performance. Meek and lacking aggression, their passes shuffled from left to right, right to left, and so on. When it eventually did go forward it was often turned over to the visitors, with Dwight Gayle far from the ideal target for long, high balls.
Rafa Benitez has voiced his eagerness to sign a striker and a winger, and on today’s showing it is easy to see why. His side look imbalanced. Vurnon Anita is not a winger, and Paul Dummett’s tendency to go backwards instead of forwards is contrasted by Daryl Janmaat’s forward intent. All too often it became obvious which flank the Magpies were going to attack down, and that allowed The Terriers to shift over and compact themselves.
As the second half commenced, Newcastle finally approached the game with some vigour. Jonjo Shelvey served as the chief conductor, with the midfielder’s range of passing one of the few inspiring aspects of the game from a Newcastle perspective. Eventually finding a way back into the game via the penalty spot, they even managed to make hard work of that. Dwight Gayle’s spot kick was saved, before he calmly headed in the rebound. A sigh of relief followed the cheers and it appeared as if Newcastle’s promotion push would finally start.
However, there was a blunt reminder that this league never switches off. Newcastle had been served enough warnings against Fulham to know they are no longer in the Premier League. The Championship is a fast, aggressive division in which physical play is accepted, and at times almost encouraged. That message didn’t seem to reach Chancel Mbemba. The defender was dispossessed on the halfway line by Kasey Palmer, which in turn allowed the striker to run in on goal.
Instead of shooting though, he squared it to substitute Jack Payne who then calmly slotted it home. Wagner, as if only cementing his association with Jurgen Klopp, jumped in the air and celebrated like he had taken the Terriers up to the Premier League. “I think this was a special moment for the club and the supporters,” Wagner said afterwards.
On today’s showing, such a feat may be a year away for Huddersfield. The visitors were well organised and compact, but lacked the killer edge that so often takes teams into the top flight.
Meanwhile, Newcastle look far from a promotion contender. On the same day that Aston Villa bounced back from opening weekend defeat with a 3-0 win, the Magpies could only muster a narrow loss. Rafa Benitez will hope that Alexander Mitrovic can turn things around once he has served his 4 game suspension. Admittedly, the Serbian forward would add the physical presence that is lacking in attack, but it will not solve the fact the club are operating with a handful of apathetic characters.
During their last promotion campaign, the team had the likes of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, and Fabricio Coloccini. Leaders on the field, they were willing to win by any means necessary, whereas the current crop seem a touch too soft for the job that is being asked. The back four - unchanged from last season - is also disorganised. Captain Jamal Lascelles has been a model pro off the field, but on it he has looked shaky and far from the kind of robust defender his frame suggests he should be.
Even the inclusion of Moussa Sissoko - who was present at today’s game - does not guarantee success. The Frenchman has made it clear that he sees himself on a higher stage, and to thrust him into a Championship game seems like a recipe for yet more indifference.
Credit to the supporters at least, they did their part. Years of mediocrity could and should have battered the optimism out of Newcastle fans, but they still turned up in the hope that new signings and a new approach might change things. Unfortunately for Newcastle it seems a case of, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “We are not happy after Fulham, we are not happy after today, we need to change things quickly,” Rafa Benitez said.