In the end, given the squad that was announced prior to the game against Maritimo, the few Newcastle fans who managed to make it to the game over on Madeira were treated to exactly what we all should have expected. A second string Newcastle United side tried valiantly to overcome a surprisingly impressive opponent (though ultimately a toothless one) but saw all of their efforts foiled by a lack of a cutting edge at key times, or the intervention of the goal post.
For all intents and purposes, it was not a bad result in the Madeira late evening heat, with most of the club’s “big guns” rested, or unavailable due to suspension or injury, and as long as Newcastle can win their home fixtures and perhaps pick up a further point away, they may make progress, even with the second string that so many Newcastle fans criticised as evidence of a lack of intent. And that will be a huge bonus for this season.
There were definitely some positives to be taken from the game, as well as some issues to reflect on. So, here are the 7 key things we learned from the draw – aside from the fact that ESPN’s coverage needs some serious work: Waddle was a good footballer, but he shouldn’t commentate, any more than Olivier Bernard should be a pundit, and it was ridiculous to play fake crowd noises over the “highlights”. Baffling. Anyway…
1. Newcastle’s Priorities Lie Elsewhere
Manager Alan Pardew made a clear statement of his priorities this season ahead of the game, talking about how the Premier League and FA Cup are his two biggest concerns this season, followed by the Europa League and the League Cup, and his squad and team against Maritimo confirmed his sentiments. With the back four necessarily preserved from the Everton game thanks to limited options, Newcastle made huge changes from the Premier League fixture, bringing in back-up players like Romain Amalfitano, Gael Bigirimana and Shola Ameobi. It seems Pardew would not be testing his first-team to ensure the first European victory of his reign.
And though some have openly criticised the club’s supposed lack of ambition in fielding a weakened team for their trip to Maritimo’s aging stadium, the decision to do so, and preserve the majority of the first team’s midfield and attack ahead of Sunday’s visit of Norwich City to St. James’ Park, will be justified by a good result against former manager Chris Hughton’s new team.
Newcastle’s treatment of the Europa League as a secondary concern might seem frivolous and frustrating to the fans who remember the “good old days” of European Competition at St. James’ Park, but it is the right decision for this season. The way the transfer policy works, if the Magpies fail to finish strongly in the league, and bring European qualification again by the end of the season through that avenue, they face the prospct of losing their key squad members. And if that were to happen, no amount of moaning about not trying our best to win the Europa in the early stages will matter, even to those fans currently kicking up a fuss about it.
Plainly, Newcastle cannot afford to over-extend what is a thin squad, and compromises have to be made, otherwise the fans and the club will face the prospect of the kind of league performance and squad condition that Stoke and Fulham have suffered in their own European campaigns recently. Short-term success is not an antidote to long-term stagnation, and league progress and stability is a far better prospect, even for a fan-base starved of silverware.
Middlesbrough won the League Cup and almost won the UEFA Cup not long ago, after all.
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