Newcastle United’s survival chances were dealt a hammer blow on Wednesday night, as a late Xherdan Shaqiri strike condemned the stricken Magpies to their 17th away defeat out of their last 21 games on the road; leaving them staring down the barrel of relegation with just 11 games of the season remaining.
Steve McClaren’s ill-judged attempts to shore up Newcastle’s midfield led to Yoan Gouffran earning a shock start at the expense of the injured Andros Townsend, however, the toilsome Frenchman’s inclusion did not have the desired effect, and although United didn’t ship six goals this time around, the defeat was just as hard to swallow.
In truth, the game was a drab contest from first minute to last, with blustery conditions and a lack of attacking cohesion and fluidity from both sides leading to very few clear cut chances at either end of the pitch.
Stoke City have enjoyed another successful Premier League campaign thus far and are pushing hard for a spot in next season’s Europa League, however, Mark Hughes’ side looked leggy and lethargic against a Newcastle team that should have been flying out of the traps following an 18 day break from competitive action.
Instead, McClaren chose to adopt an overly cautious approach; placing all of his eggs in one basket and holding out for a draw by deploying two stubborn banks of four, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and the inconspicuous Georginio Wijnaldum cutting isolated figures up top.
Unfortunately, Shaqiri’s 81st minute strike – which goalkeeper Rob Elliot really ought to have saved – undid the Magpies’ dangerous game plan in the blink of an eye, and only after going a goal down did the former England manager decide to throw caution to the wind by sending on forwards Ayoze Perez and Seydou Doumbia in a desperate attempt to rescue something from the game.
Sadly the damage had been done by this point and, although Jack Butland produced a save-of-the-season contender to deny Doumbia deep into stoppage time, United once again demonstrated their ineptitude at both ends of the pitch and showed exactly why they are currently on collision course with a drop to the Championship unless drastic changes are made.
Here’s how the Newcastle players rated in Wednesday’s damaging defeat.