FOR all the business Newcastle United have done in the transfer market this summer, Saturday provided yet more evidence that the biggest piece of the jigsaw is still missing.
Alan Pardew’s side claimed their first point in a goalless draw at Aston Villa, but it should have been three with the Magpies controlling the game from start to finish and coming out on top in stats.
Such was Newcastle’s dominance at Villa Park they completed 443 passes, almost double the number their hosts managed, while Paul Lambert’s side even failed to register a shot on target.
Villa were there for the taking, but Newcastle’s failure to land a proven goalscorer in the transfer market was again exposed.
Pardew said after the game that he is “hoping for a positive end to the transfer market”, but it’s hard to know whether he means retaining players like Cheick Tiote or adding to the nine he has already signed.
Just last week, the Magpies boss hinted there was no longer space in his squad for more new arrivals, but like their opening defeat to Manchester City, Saturday’s game reaffirmed the fact there is still a gaping hole that was previously filled by Demba Ba and Loic Remy.
It is true Pardew now has a wealth of creative players at his disposal. Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Rolando Aarons, who wasn’t even on the bench, are all capable of creating chances and chipping in with goals.
The problem, though, is that having a wealth of creative players is pretty useless if there isn’t someone in the box ready to convert.
It is early days for Emmanuel Riviere – signed from Monaco for £6m this summer – and it would be wise to hold judgement until the campaign is a bit further down the line, but going off the striker’s early performances he doesn’t look like the man to score 15-20 goals a season.
Newcastle’s business in the transfer market has gone some way to appeasing supporters who had almost reached the end of their tether last season, but all that good work is in danger of being undone if they don’t deliver a goalscorer that could prove the difference between finishing in the top eight and finishing in the bottom half.
There were positives to take from Villa Park. The amount of possession they had suggests there has been great improvement in ball retention, but the same problems from last season reappeared with a lack of cutting edge in the final third.
De Jong – who came off the bench to make his league debut after recovering from injury – played a lovely one-to with fellow sub Ayoze Perez in the dying moments, but his tame shot was saved by Villa keeper Brad Guzan.
The Dutchman could be forgiven for the miss given his return from injury, but fellow new boy Remy Cabella almost missed a sitter in the first half.
A good interchange between Daryl Janmaat and Gouffran saw the Frenchman’s shot rebound into the path of his countryman inside the box, but Cabella snatched at the opportunity and it went wide.
The £7m signing from Montpellier endured another difficult afternoon as he struggled to deal with the physicality of the Premier League.
The 24-year-old did show glimpses of his talent, but it will probably be a couple of months before the Magpies see the best of the attacker.
There were also bad misses from Gouffran and Janmaat, the former failing to connect with a Mike Williamson flick-on despite having an open goal in front of him, while the right-back’s free header was tipped over by Guzan.
Williamson, having also completely missed the ball when attempting a volley at the back post, was sent off in the 90th minute for a second yellow and will miss tomorrow’s night trip to Gillingham, but even though it was a game they should have won, Sissoko insists taking a point was important.
“It wasn’t an easy game,” the Frenchman said. “We played against a good team. We came here to get the three points, but if you can’t win then you have to make sure you don’t lose and I think the point is still good for us and for our confidence.
“I think we played well with the ball. We had most of the possession, but we missed some chances. That’s football, though, and the important thing is not to lose the game.
“It is hard to get your first win in this league, but it is important we still put points on the board. Now we have a game on Tuesday in the cup. It will be hard, but we will do our best to win that game and then be ready for the next game.”