Despite Newcastle going into this game unbeaten away and not having lost a top tier game against Wolves since 1977, United looked to be up against it at Molineux on Sunday.
With Jonjo Shelvey requiring a hernia operation, presumably why he hasn’t been running around for the last four years, Isaac Hayden struggling with hamstring injuries, presumably because he has been covering for Shelvey, and Sean Longstaff struggling to overcome the beginnings of what looked like a misguided ginger moustache, a depleted NUFC lined up against a team heralded as genuine top four challengers.
Changing formation again to a 5-3-2 would obviously put this visitors on the back foot and having no specialist central midfield players was again going to mean United would have to rely on resilience and work-rate rather than skill and flair to get something out of the game.
That is despite having more flair and skilled players on the pitch than usual. Funny how things turn out in the end.
In a dour first half, the highlight was when Fabian Schar kicked the ball off a discarded plastic bottle which knocked the ball off course and out for a throw in. United received a free kick for it and it also gave those in black and white the opportunity to pass the bottle around as an excuse for not being able to pass the ball around. This was the first game in PL history to have a negative pass completion rate.
As the first half dragged on like an episode of Piers Morgan Real Life Stories, both teams had possession in decent areas, neither team knew what to do with it. For United,Wilson had a half-chance, ASM a deflected shot on target. Wolves had more but between Podence and Jimenez they either shot wide or were too far out for genuine goalscoring opportunities. The half ended with very little in it, and I don’t mean the sides were even, I mean that the first half had very little in it worth mentioning.
The second began as the first half did, with Wolves in the ascendancy but again, neither team looked like scoring. A few shots came and missed, Almiron had a sight of goal, so did a few in Orange. For contractual reasons it is also necessary to mention that Joelinton came on and two minutes after he did, the game changed. One day I will say that and it will be a positive, this time it wasn’t, Raul Jimenez scored. It was a decent strike after a set piece was headed out to the edge of the box but it was a strike which Karl Darlow should have saved, would have saved, if he had tried to save it with the hand closest to it. It was a Hollywood save without the save.
That gave United just over ten minutes to get even. They used up eight of those minutes, before thirty seconds after Andy Carroll became United’s last throw of the dice, the equaliser came. Not that it had anything to do with him, maybe it was like when Kenny Dalglish put on Les Ferdinand and Shearer scored a free kick against a distracted Wimbledon. Maybe Wolves keeper Rui Patricio made a wall with an eye on a cross and having to charge out and challenge Andy Carroll, maybe he deliberately left a gap Kieron Dyer could drive his £120K Ferrari through without crashing it. Jacob Murphy capped an impressive all-round display by side-footing around the wall into the left-hand bottom corner. Game over. Honours even. Honours? Maybe not, points shared then.
‘Fight, fight, fight’
It wasn’t easy to watch. Again.
If this was a game of cat and mouse it was more Allergic Reaction and Facial Psoriasis than Itchy and Scratchy.
After the game Kieron Dyer was right in some respects that Newcastle now are boring in comparison with past “glory” but they aren’t alone in that, they aren’t the only team in the world who don’t set out to entertain anyone. There isn’t anyone to entertain anyway unless we are going to include some 80 year-old former Wolves player who popped up on-screen in an executive box and is now presumably being fined for Covid related infringements.
There were two teams at Molineux on Sunday who set out not to lose the game, the only difference being that one team did nothing with the ball with 63% possession and the other team did the same with half that. At least Dyer said something approaching sensible though, unlike the commentator (Martin Tyler?) who seemed obsessed with Wolves’ merits. All he said about NUFC was that “United have only kept two clean sheets in the last 13 matches and no one would know that better than Steve Bruce.” I’m not sure about that, it isn’t directly bacon related.
For all Wolves’ relative brilliance according to everyone, they just looked well organised and neat and tidy. For all the chit-chat about United scoring with only their second shot on target, Wolves only had three. It was that sort of game and although I haven’t seen them regularly, for Wolves to rarely score in the first half suggests that they are taking patience to the point where the opposition falls asleep allowing them to score rather than having any real cutting edge.
I do like Semedo and I thought he was excellent but they didn’t have much else to excite. I hope he doesn’t go the same way as the equally talented Traore, who presumably has to spend so long oiling himself up that he can only come on for the last twenty minutes. He seems like a player who is closer to a transfer L’Oreal than L’Oreal Madrid.
‘Wolves pre-match tactics revealed’
For NUFC, an obviously scratch side should escape too much criticism. Yes Kieron, Newcastle are generally now “boring” and that is always a continual point of dismay. On Sunday though, they were at least hard-working and played like a team who knew what they were doing, even if a lot of people don’t like it, and were right behind their manager, even if a lot of people don’t like him.
If we are to praise Almiron for being the epitome of effort in a position which is new to him, despite being poor in possession, then we should afford the same sort of praise to Fraser and Hendrick who never stopped trying, even if they never started playing. Everyone tried and that was enough for a point, if not enough for a party.
A special word for the two wing-backs. Jacob Murphy has never looked like he fitted in at United but credit to him for taking his chance on Sunday and credit to Steve Bruce for giving him a chance. Chucking out a £10million player doesn’t seem like good business to me and at least Murphy now has something to build on if he wants to prove he can play at PL level. If anyone deserved the goal on Sunday it was him.
Jamal Lewis on the other wing isn’t a player who has impressed me so far in the short time he has been playing at the top level. Like at Norwich, he has been too easily caught out of position, seems to lack concentration and is obviously seen as a weak link in United’s defence to be exploited by the opposition. I can’t argue with his guts though. He has never hidden, has never complained a la Beresford about having absolutely no help from those in front of him and has been left to fend for himself as the likes of Lamptey, Semedo, Traore and Lucas Moura charge at him. At 22 years old he has more than enough time to get the rest of his game right and he certainly looks like he has got the courage and the attitude to do it, which is a start.
So a draw between a team built to promote Jorge Mendes’ roster of starlets and a team built to promote Mike Ashley’s business empire of sportswear for people who don’t do sport. And despite the hype and bluster both teams got out what they put in. For all Wolves played on the front foot and were well organised, they weren’t very good and scored once. For all United played on the back foot and were well organised, they weren’t very good and scored once.
‘The new Pep. Not as good as he thinks he is?’
Nuno Espirito Santo said afterwards:
“We were patient, we were a threat, we didn’t concede many chances and it is a game that we should finish with a victory, the mistake is that we need to be more clinical. We had many chances but we did not test the goalkeeper too many times. We were the better team.”
Well Steve Bully for you Nuno. Passing the ball sideways doesn’t make you the better team and is irrelevant to the result unless you score more goals than the opposition. The Steves were on firmer ground post-match:
“We are trying to find a balance to the team, it won’t happen overnight but we are trying to change the way we play.”
The first thing he might like to change is how many times he mentions how much he is trying to change. Getting a point away from home with a scratch team against a team that finished seventh last season is ok, that isn’t going to change.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 – Sunday 25 October 4.30pm
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Wolves 63% (65%) Newcastle 37% (35%)
Total shots were Wolves 16 (4) Newcastle 5 (2)
Shots on target were Wolves 3 (1) Newcastle 2 (1)
Corners were Wolves 2 (1) Newcastle 3 (2)
Referee: Lee Mason
Darlow, Murphy, Lascelles (Carroll 88), Fernandez, Schar, Lewis, Hendrick, Almiron, Fraser (Joelinton 78), Wilson, Saint-Maximin (Sean Longstaff 79)
Gillespie, Hayden, Manquillo, Krafth
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from the Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 match – Read HERE)
(Steve Bruce with Groundhog Day message for Newcastle United fans after Wolves – Read HERE)
(Andy Gray slaughters Steve Bruce for his appalling negative tactics after Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 – Read HERE)
(Wolves Captain Conor Coady blames referee for not beating Newcastle United – Read HERE)
(Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s draw – Read HERE)