What an absolutely enormous opportunity we managed to miss today.
I can’t even fault the effort on display, because it was pretty clear that most of them gave it their best shot, but more often than not this season our best effort hasn’t been good enough.
We’ve struggled massively each and every time we’ve played a side with big, physical strikers, and today was no different. As soon as Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao walked out this afternoon my heart sank, and I knew exactly what would be eventually coming.
I mean, they were absolutely huge - not particularly skilled or prolific, but huge. But the fact has been all throughout the season that we just cannot cope with strikers that possess a bit of height and physicality, and in truth it didn’t really matter what we did at the other end of the pitch as for as long as they had two big lumps up top we were always going to be up against it.
The same errors are made every time, to the point where now it just feels completely normal that we’d concede a couple of scrappy goals due to the aerial proficiency of our opponents. John O’Shea and Marc Wilson were simply not good enough nor well equipped enough to deal with two relatively poor strikers whose only real weapon was their ability to win headers.
What a difference Lamine Kone might have made in that situation. Often this season you think back to small things like this and wonder just when our bad luck is going to run out. We seem to lose key players at the worst possible moments, and the disappearance of the Ivorian from our side today meant we were always going to struggle physically in defence.
The only real positives that I can draw from the performance was that, other than the effort that the majority of the players showed, we saw some very promising signs from players that will most certainly still be here next season. George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Donald Love weren’t particularly outstanding but gave a good effort and applied themselves correctly. Whatever our vision for next season is, we’ll still have a handful of honest and hard-working lads in the side that genuinely want to succeed here.
The fact remains though that if you cannot defend properly and you don’t have even a half-decent goalkeeper you stand very little chance of surviving in any situation. Lee Camp was as horrendous as our defenders today and it isn’t the first time I’ve came away from a game feeling that with a competent number one we’d be nowhere near as deep into the relegation zone as we have been this season.
I’ll save the last word for the referee too, who was absolutely shocking. One of my best friends is a Newcastle fan and he told me on more than one occasion last season that the standard of refereeing in the Championship was f*cking horrendous - and to be honest I don’t think he was expressive enough when he told me that.
At 2-1 down Simon Hooper was faced with a massive decision when Lynden Gooch was felled in the box and despite it being obvious to just about every person in the ground that a foul had been made, neither he or his assistant on the line thought they should award a penalty. If he gives the correct decision and we convert the spot kick we’re talking about a completely different game, but sadly for us he wasn’t anywhere near up to scratch all afternoon and we undoubtedly suffered as a result.
Ah well. I know we shouldn’t say it’s over until it truly is over, but I can’t sit here and pretend that I think we can still stay up. We’re quite literally relying on a miracle if we are going to stay in the Championship and I just don’t think it’s coming, not when you look at who we have left to play.
It’s sad but true - today’s game was a massive opportunity for us to keep ourselves in the race and we absolutely blew it.