The expectation of the Spaniard and his team was to blitz the away game with Fulham with ease however, Slaviša Jokanović and his home side had other ideas, with Matt Smith sinking Newcastle’s early hopes with a 45 minute header.
This somewhat startling performance has given the players, manager and fans of Newcastle a wakeup call – this league is not easy!
Though the game was not without controversy with the referee waving away a clear handball from Fulham’s Ryan Tunnicliffe, there was still a certain absence from Newcastle and certain areas that need to be addressed.
Though it was a night to forget for the travelling Toon Army, history was stacked against Newcastle in this opening fixture as for the last seven seasons, Newcastle have failed to win on the opening day of the season.
The new signings were a major talking point in this match with 5 debutants starting in Rafa’s first XI. Matt Ritchie certainly excited with his role in midfield and looked to open play. Out of all of the signings so far, Ritchie looked the most impressive.
Isaac Hayden, Grant Hanley, Dwight Gayle and Matz Sels all looked good however they must all step up further if they are to drag Newcastle back to Premier League status. The signings look good but from the manner of the defeat, it looks like more may and should be drafted in before the window closes.
As with most relatively new squads, it will more than likely take a while for the players to gel with their teammates and hopefully with more game experience, Newcastle can refine the sloppy defending, marking and attacking and be a true force to be reckoned with.
Now for the Toon’s Gloom
The manner of the defeat will probably set alarm bells ringing for Newcastle fans. It’s looking to be a repeat of last season!
Though the heart was there to be seen in the players, the decision making in the final third was at times woeful. Poor touches and a lack of aerial presence in and out of the box looked to be the away side’s downfall in this match.
Vernon Anita and Jack Colback didn’t seem to add much to game and if anything caused more damage than they prevented, with the lack of passing from Colback and the meek aerial authority of Anita, gifting Fulham the ball on multiple occasions.
On the attack, the bright presence of Ayoze Perez from pre-season looked to have disappeared with a few poor touches condemning Newcastle’s attacks to nothing. The big and bullying presence of Aleksander Mitrovic looked to be what Newcastle needed in this game, but with his four match ban after the red card against Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of last season, his presence on the pitch was sorely missed.
Do Newcastle look better than last Season?
Based on all the evidence, that question can’t be answered yet. Rafa Benitez will obviously do some tinkering over the upcoming weeks and the squad from Fulham may not be the starting eleven with some more signings surely on the way.
One thing that is granted though is Newcastle’s atrocious defending from set pieces which until sorted will be Newcastle’s main weakness. Considering this has happened twice against Vitesse Arnhem in pre-season and a Tom Cairney corner in yesterday’s game, this will no doubt be Rafa’s number one priority on the training ground next week.
As already mentioned with the absence of Mitrovic, what Newcastle missed most in this game was the presence of a tall target man with Ritchie’s crosses squandered. Attack seemed to be the area Newcastle looked strong in before tonight’s game but off the basis of yesterdays match, even that needs improvements as with only eight shots in the entire match, a threat on goal is Newcastle’s main desire in the upcoming weeks.
In attack the travelling side looked anxious and in defence they looked vulnerable. The side will certainly need to improve ahead of their first home game of the season against Huddersfield next week.