Thursday 22 August 2019

Magpies lie down after McClaren's home truths

Crystal Palace 5 Newcastle Utd 1

Newcastle's Paul Dummett in action with Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha
Newcastle's Paul Dummett in action with Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for Crystal Palace

Nick Ames

If Newcastle were supposed to act on the "home truths" that Steve McClaren dealt them last week then it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is a team of frauds.

Their latest defeat, a miserable capitulation contrived despite going a goal up at Selhurst Park through Papiss Cisse, was yet another mass dereliction of duty from a team lacking any kind of backbone or power of recovery.

Two goals apiece from James McArthur and Yannick Bolasie, added to by Wilfried Zaha, made the point amply but it could have been more and the fact that it was Alan Pardew, their former manager, who inflicted the damage this time merely compounded the humiliation. While McClaren's position will be untenable if this persists, it is tempting to wonder whether his team is simply unmanageable.

"It's not about ability, not about tactics or systems," said McClaren after seeing his team jeered by the visiting supporters throughout the second half - who added, among other things, that they were "not fit to wear the shirts".

"It's about doing your job, doing the basics. When we go behind or have disappointments in games we're not refocusing on our jobs. That's about mentality and it's just one of the things we have to work on with this group - we knew that when we came here.

"I said to the players 'back to work tomorrow morning. These players have got to come through this, but there's no one more determined than myself to do that, starting tomorrow morning. We hadn't planned the extra session."

The problem here was that Newcastle did not look especially focused when they were ahead, either. They scored in the 10th minute when Crystal Palace, who had lost at home to Sunderland on Monday, lapsed again at the back. Daryl Janmaat did not appear to be offering any immediate danger as he advanced but the pitch opened up as he skipped past the weak challenge offered by Jason Puncheon.

His chipped cross towards Cisse would have been routine if Damien Delaney and Scott Dann had not stood still in a misguided attempt to play the centre-forward offside.

Instead, Cisse was left unattended to glance into the corner and you could almost hear the offers coming in for McClaren, who had given his players an expletive-filled rebuke after last week's insipid defeat to Leicester, to pen a study on man-management.

Palace's equaliser arose from the mixture of inattention and ill-luck that plague struggling sides.

Connor Wickham did well to beat Fabricio Coloccini to a ball down the left and hold off the under-fire Newcastle captain, a negligible presence in this particular tussle. He squared to McArthur, whose shot from just inside the 'D' was aimed to Rob Elliot's left but struck Paul Dummett and span into the opposite corner with the goalkeeper committed.

Just as damaging to Newcastle is their propensity to concede in clusters and Palace's second was not long in coming. Wickham was involved again, collecting from Zaha on the right side of the penalty area and crossing low. The ball nicked off Coloccini and Zaha left it for Bolasie to shoot crisply past Elliot.

The situation worsened four minutes before half-time when Zaha, who had just blotted an otherwise outstanding performance with a yellow card for diving under Dummett's challenge, sent a bouncing volley up and over Elliot from Wickham's left-wing cross.

Wickham's hat-trick of assists, after an injury-affected start to his Palace career following his move from Sunderland, pleased Pardew, who preferred to reflect on his own side's improvement than apply any further pressure in McClaren's direction.

"He showed all the potential we hoped for as a No 9 today - it was an outstanding display," said Pardew. "It was a pivotal game, whoever the opposition were. Were we going to become a mid-table team and drift around, or were we going to put ourselves back in contention with the top eight sides? We've put ourselves back in with them and that's where we want to be."

McClaren's introduction of a centre-back, Jamaal Lascelles, for the forward Ayoze Perez at the interval smacked of damage limitation but it took 97 seconds to render any fresh motivational speech irrelevant, Johan Cabaye's free-kick being won in the air by Delaney - aided by Janmaat's reluctance to offer even a token challenge - and allowed to travel far enough to Bolasie to stab home. The second half must have felt like an eternity to McClaren, who saw Wickham, Puncheon, Bolasie and Joel Ward all miss further chances before McArthur's angled finish in stoppage time.

"I'm hurting, not as much for ourselves as for the fans," he said. "We knew this was a tough job but it's getting tougher by the week. Thirteen games gone, 25 to go and we know we're in a relegation battle."

It will not have been lost on those fans that, 15 minutes from time, Pardew was able to bring on Chung-yong Lee and save the legs of Cabaye, the heartbeat of his Newcastle side in what surely seems a lifetime away now.

What Newcastle would give for a modicum of their application from the men who have replaced them.


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