Newcastle have now gone 14 games without a win. They may not win another with these defenders.
Newcastle now need 1.38 points per game in their remaining 24 fixtures to get to the magic 40 this season. That’s a ratio they’ve managed just once in their last 12 Premier League campaigns. In 2011-12, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse scored 29 goals between them, Yohan Cabaye was running the midfield, and Hatem Ben Arfa was doing Hatem Ben Arfa things. In 2021-22, they’ve got Ciaran Clark, and he and his band of sub-standard centre-backs make the rest of the team inconsequential.
His brain fart after nine minutes was laughable. Having gently volleyed a clearance gently into Teemu Pukki’s midriff, he followed one mistake with another by blatantly hauling the Norwich striker down when through on goal. It was beyond daft. But attempting to restrict farts to trousers, while apparently an infringement of all of our human rights, has proven particularly difficult for Newcastle defenders. The analysis of their problems ahead of kick-off focused on individual errors. There have been been far too many this season.
But you get what you pay for.
The last centre-back Newcastle spent more than £9million on was Fabrizio Coloccini in 2008, who captained them to their fifth place finish in 2012. The three centre-backs used against Norwich cost a combined £14million. They’ve spent over £9million on 16 players since Coloccini. Only one – Jamal Lewis – was a defender, and he made his first start since February on Tuesday.
In an attempt to fudge their way back towards something like the glory days, signing ‘exciting’ forwards for decent money, Newcstle have completely disregarded their back four. Big money doesn’t necessarily equal quality, as Newcastle will inevitably discover in the next few transfer windows, but it often does, and in spending a pittance on defenders they haven’t put that to the test. They surely will in January. They have to – with these defenders, Newcastle will be relegated.
They could easily have lost this must-win turned must-not-lose game in injury time. Fabian Schar, generally the best of a bad bunch, had the ball stolen from him while attempting to dribble free in the right-back position. Pierre Lees-Melou really should have scored.
Eddie Howe will be relatively pleased. Drawing a game that you’ve had to play with ten men for over 80 minutes shows determination at the very least. And there was more than that. Joe Willock and Jonjo Shelvey are a more than functional midfield partnership, Joelinton worked incredibly hard and linked play well at times, Lewis looked assured on his return, and roared on by the St James’ Park crowd, Newcastle pushed, and that took guts given the circumstances.
That said, Norwich weren’t up to much. Callum Wilson’s penalty on the hour mark was cancelled out by a rocket of a volley into the top corner by Teemu Pukki. But with nearly 70 per cent possession, Norwich offered little besides.
Dean Smith needs to find a spot in this team for Todd Cantwell. Snubbed by Daniel Farke towards the end of his rein, Cantwell was absent on Tuesday having been pinged as a Covid close contact. He can provide something a bit different in the final third. They spent a lot of the game 30-40 yards out from Newcastle’s goal, with no real idea as to what to do from there. Billy Gilmour is being used in that more forward position, but does his best work starting and linking forward moves rather than finishing them.
Newcastle fans may well go home not knowing what to think. On one hand, it was a draw against the odds. On the other, it was a home game against a relegation rival that rarely threatened despite their one-man advantage. What they will go home knowing, as they have done for a while, is that their centre-backs all need upgrading. They’ll just be hoping their aren’t too many further farts before January.