Ok, I have to admit I was initially against the idea of a double header for Newcastle United’s final pre-season friendlies.
Until now, the games should have been and were about improving the fitness of the team, getting back into the team and giving chances to those on the periphery. However, the final game is set to be a dress rehearsal for the eleven who are pegged to start the Premier League campaign.
Having quality opposition from Europe’s top leagues is a perfect test and while both Atalanta and Athletic Club have absolutely completed that dossier, I felt it would stretch the squad too much to show full respect for the two parts.
As with most little doubts that creep in these days, of course I was wrong and Eddie was right. Bilbao definitely had to face the stronger team, although most of the defense likely to face Forest kept a clean sheet against Atalanta, and both games were delivered – wins, cheers and a full 90 minutes in the legs of almost everyone likely to feature in the coming weeks.
Of course, that ignores the aspect of this weekend that I was always wholeheartedly okay with, the prospect of back-to-back SJP games within 8 p.m. of each other. A tantalizing prospect after the off-season void… but also an opportunity to enjoy all that Newcastle has to offer as a city. My mate Andy and his boy had traveled from York for both games, and me and my son met them off the train at noon on Friday, leaving the city center heading home for a few hours of kip and a sandwich with bacon.
I’m obviously biased, but if you’re bringing youngsters with you (or aren’t), the game day experience here is second to none. We drank a few beers in the blistering heat of the quay on a balmy Friday, went to the ‘Save the City’ escape room on Westgate Road on a Saturday morning.
We spent a few pool racks at Spot White on Stowell Street and had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on Friday and Topolino’s Italian (recommended) on Saturday, all between plenty of bars (young guys need to learn bread and matchday butter). I took great care to point out to the kids that all of this can be done in a state of complete relaxation, knowing that you are never more than a few minutes’ walk from the ground.
So many other clubs can offer a beautiful downtown experience that is marred by the prospect of an inconvenient bus ride, an overly long walk, or a desperate attempt to hail a cab to get there on time. on land out of town, stuck in the middle of a housing estate or industrial park. Then fans of those clubs can come here, have it all, and have their necks to moan and complain up a few flights of stairs to the far end.
The actual details of the games are covered elsewhere, largely because The Mag editor had uncomfortable flashbacks upon hearing about my plans for the weekend, at times when he should have stopped printing the old Mag newspaper when someone had to peel me off a pub floor somewhere (“Jamie Smith is sick this month”) so just told me to do what I love which is a sage advice for anyone dealing with talented mavericks anywhere.
It was also careful because, to be completely honest, I find it difficult to stay focused on friendlies. It’s good to win but it’s not really important, and it can become difficult to really invest hoping that everyone has a good runout and remains injury-free.
The game against Atalanta recalled one of our narrow second half wins from last season, with Chris Wood’s penalty for something or other hopefully a little reminder for him before serious business. The standout, however, had to be the performance of Elliott Anderson, who was surely man of the match on his SJP debut and had to get the deal done for him to have a decent chance with the team the season to come. come. It makes me wonder if the alleged offer for James Maddison reported today might limit Anderson’s opportunities, but again I defer to those at the club who know what they are doing these days.
For the Bilbao game, I thought I was smart digging up my blue Asics shirt from 1994, wisely explaining to the boys how Newcastle wore it at home in that infamous match with Athletic Club in the UEFA Cup. By the time I left the game, I must have counted about 15 other people who had the exact same idea, and the novelty of pointing at them, smiling, and saying “yeah!” had indeed disappeared.
There were a handful of Bilbao supporters away, but I seem to remember that it was not an easy trip and perhaps a trip that was not an easy sell for a pre-season friendly. season. Nonetheless, the positive relationship between the clubs was further strengthened with visitors presenting supporters with a Newcastle/Basque flag dedicated to ‘wor friends’ while wor flags displayed the message ‘Ongi Etorri Lehoiak’ on a huge banner in the stand. Is, the words meaning “Welcome to the Lions” in Basque.
As well as making the team and the Bilbao fans feel welcome, I hope the pre-match presentations give Botman an idea of what he signed up for, because the presentation at the scale of the stadium for a pre-season friendly was surely a bit special in every way, an astonishing crowd of 47,000 made the Bilbao game look like a Premier League game, with 40,000 for Atalanta the night before. Incredible stuff indicative of a sense of optimism and excitement that we haven’t been allowed in so many years before.
Of course, Maddison’s question was posed to Howe after the games, with a general inquiry about the lack of attacking additions. Excellent and composed finishes from ASM and Wilson to defeat Bilbao completed Wood’s previous winner, but it must be said that United still lacked a bit of momentum up front. Athletic Club’s influx of substitutes nearly saw them snatch a draw as they scored and then hit the post, although that was mitigated by their big changes as we focused on 90 minutes of fitness for all, with Bondswell for Dummett the only substitute before the 90th minute. .
There’s also the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before, Newcastle United’s pre-season friendlies are just a bit behind the pace of a competitive game. We were all gripped with anxiety as Bruno and Joelinton (Bilbao) and Trippier (Atalanta) fell with what looked like real injuries, only to get up and shake them. Good health and a draw would have been far preferable to a paid win, but luckily we seem to have achieved both, twice.
On the matter of recruitment, I think it is fair to assess that the plethora of offers, inquiries and discussions we have been involved in may be difficult to complete at this time. Clubs that might be open to cashing in will wait to start a bidding war, knowing that if that doesn’t happen, our satisfactory offer can easily be accepted at the end of August. Ditto for potential loans, as clubs aren’t going to jump on them just yet and eliminate the possibility of someone making a real offer before the deadline. So it’s possible that Harrison, Maddison and Werner will play a role in our upcoming season, but patience, unfortunately, is the watchword.
I’ve mentioned before how useful it would be to increase our attacking power ahead of the very different challenges of newly-promoted Forest, solid Brighton and grim Man City as our first games (and how the extremely possible 3/3 of these would be put in place the coming season), but reliance on Wilson’s fitness and performance, such as last season’s home game with Arsenal, may have to be enough for at least minus some of these matches. I’m confident there will be additional strength in that side at least when Palace visit in early September, and the winning ability on display at the weekend should add to hopes of a great year ahead.
Finally, here are some observations from the weekend:
Ritchie and Krafth on the same wing is confusing as they look too much alike, please cease and desist.
The new blue kit is a beauty and the pictures don’t do it justice, want one.
Congratulations to the man who recovered the dead pigeon that dived into the Milburn, would like to see everything done at the NUFC to limit attacks by kamikaze birds.
Extra congratulations to the man on the mobility scooter for his flag parade to a man in the east stand during the Atalanta game.
Less for the kids who all copied his actions, get your own stuff.
Botman’s pass to Joelinton that split the whole Bilbao squad was such a thing of beauty, I now expect him to be essentially Beckenbauer.
I really hope we can go to Bilbao in Europe soon, their club is a great example of that.
Well, it’s been a great weekend, but I better talk to my wife…
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