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Newcastle may be ‘the Entertainers’ reincarnated but it is not working

Newcastle may be The Entertainers reincarnated but it's not working

Newcastle United are certainly entertaining to watch. They do not know what it means to be dull. They bring chaos. They bring drama. They are, just like Kevin Keegan’s famous Newcastle team of the 90s, The Great Entertainers.

It is brilliantly bonkers. Amazing to watch at times, painful at others. They provoke so many emotions over the course of 90 minutes, it is exhausting.

But the very things that make them so exhilarating, so fun, so refreshing, are also why they are fundamentally flawed. They are likely to end up costing them a top-six finish in May.

Newcastle score plenty of goals, because they constantly look to attack, regardless of the quality of the opposition or the personnel at the manager’s disposal.

They are fourth behind only Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in that respect, but they also concede far too many too. Only eight teams have let in more this season and seven of them are in the bottom eight in the Premier League.

It is not sustainable. Not for a team that, despite all the injuries – Newcastle were forced to play without a specialist centre forward as Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson were both out injured again – still aspires to secure European football again next season.

It is one thing to concede three goals to Manchester City, as well as four against Liverpool and Tottenham, but Newcastle have also let in three against Everton and Nottingham Forest, four against Luton and two against Forest.

Bournemouth scored twice but could easily have had more. It is a familiar story this season. Newcastle are too easily passed through in midfield, where they are badly missing the physicality of Joelinton and the speed and skill of Joe Willock. And too easy to get in behind down the flanks, especially on the left where Dan Burn’s vulnerability, whenever he is left one-on-one with a winger, continues to hurt them.

Burn has become a scapegoat for Newcastle’s defensive problems, a lightning rod for recriminations and complaints. He actually played pretty well here, but Bournemouth’s second goal came when he looked petrified against Antoine Semenyo, backed off, failed to make any sort of challenge and left the winger with the space to rifle a sweet strike into the bottom corner. It was also noticeable, once again, that opposition managers have identified him as the weak link.

“I’m not dealing with that kind of thought [scapegoats] in my mind,” said Howe. “It’s not about finding someone to blame, it’s about finding solutions.

“I could evaluate everyone’s performances and pick holes in it. That second goal wouldn’t just come from one individual mistake. There’ll be three or four individual mistakes.”

Newcastle may be ‘The Entertainers’ reincarnated but it is not working
Antoine Semenyo celebrates his goal against Newcastle - Getty Images/Robin Jones

That goal came after goalkeeper Martin Dubravka’s howler had already gifted Dominic Solanke the first of the game, slipping over as he went to make a routine clearance inside his penalty area. Dubravka, though, had denied Solanke twice in the first half when he will feel he should have scored.

Yet, for all their flaws, there remains so much to admire in this Newcastle side. Against Luton they came back from 4-2 to down to draw. Two weeks later, they twice came from behind again against Bournemouth.

The Dubravka slip came during their best spell of the match. Semenyo’s goal came just seconds after Anthony Gordon had wasted a wonderful opportunity to put Newcastle in the lead, deciding to try and go around goalkeeper Neto when he was in no man’s land rather than shoot past him.

Yet Howe’s men did not buckle or retreat into their shells. Gordon equalised from the penalty spot after VAR spotted Adam Smith had dragged Fabian Schar back by getting a fistful of his shirt while defending a free kick.

And with the game drifting towards a costly home defeat, on came the 34-year-old Matt Ritchie from his usual spot on the substitutes’ bench, to bundle home a second equaliser in the dying moments.

“I still think we have the most important quality of all,” added Howe. “We never give up, we keep going until the end. I’m well aware we’re not on full power at the moment, we’re not at our fluent best. There are reasons for that, that’s obvious. We’re a little disjointed, we’ve got players playing out of position, but it’s another game unbeaten. It was a big late goal for us and it just keeps that momentum we’ve got.”

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