FOUR forwards, 11 games, four goals. If you’re looking for an explanation of why Newcastle United once again find themselves in the bottom half of the Premier League table, a cursory glance at their attacking statistics tells you everything you need to know.

Joselu has scored two goals from his ten league outings since joining the Magpies, and increasingly looks like a striker who does not know where his next success is going to come from. Dwight Gayle, recalled to the starting line-up at the weekend, is still to open his account for the season, and continues to look a pale imitation of the penalty-box predator who rampaged his way through the Championship last term.

Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic boast one goal apiece, but Rafael Benitez lost patience with the former on Saturday, dropping him to the bench for the visit of Bournemouth, and clearly gave up on the latter a long time ago. With Newcastle crying out for someone to hold up the ball as Bournemouth built up a head of steam in the closing stages of their 1-0 away win, Benitez steadfastly refused to give in to the crowd’s pleas for Mitrovic to be introduced. The Serb has well and truly been cast into exile.

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The upshot is that Newcastle’s entire forward line boasts half the number of goals scored by Harry Kane this season. Even Raheem Sterling can claim to have scored three goals more.

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat was Newcastle’s fourth loss by that scoreline since they returned to the top-flight, and they have failed to score in almost half of their matches. No matter how well organised and hard-working you are, you are always going to struggle unless that improves.

Benitez warned about the risks of not investing in a proven goalscorer on a regular basis during this summer’s transfer window, but his pleas went unheeded. If Mike Ashley remains in charge beyond the end of the year – and for all the talk of Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners conducting due diligence, that scenario is looking increasingly likely – there is every chance his words will fall on deaf ears once again. That means the current crop of attacking players will have to improve markedly if Newcastle’s current slide down the table is not to become a protracted battle in the bottom half.

“Sometimes, it just comes down to who can take their chances,” admitted Matt Ritchie, who is still searching for his first goal of the campaign despite netting 16 times in all competitions last season. “In this league, you’ve got to do something really special just to create a chance.

“You have to be good as a team and work hard for your chances, and I think we did that in the first half.  But then you have to take them and we just couldn’t do that. We were on the front foot, pressed really well and regained the ball in good positions. But we just couldn’t quite make the most of it.”

Ritchie is right when he claims a lack of opportunities was not the problem at the weekend. Benitez mounted a passionate defence of his playing style on Friday afternoon, insisting he was not a ‘negative’ manager, and his switch to a 4-4-2 system was evidence of a willingness to loosen the shackles when the opportunity allows.

Newcastle created a host of first-half opportunities as a result, but none were taken. Asmir Begovic produced fine saves to deny Ritchie and Christian Atsu, while Gayle saw a goalbound header blocked by Steve Cook.

The Magpies were unfortunate at times, most notably when Ritchie clipped a left-footed shot against the post and Gayle’s follow-up effort was disallowed for offside when replays suggested he might just about have been level with the final defender, but there was a lack of composure to much of the hosts’ attacking that tends to be accentuated when chances are being spurned.

Joselu was especially wasteful, scuffing shots wide and snatching at even a half-chance inside the area, and having grown increasingly frustrated as they failed to break the deadlock before the interval, Newcastle quickly ran out of attacking steam after the break. Are they simply not clinical enough in front of goal? Not according to Ritchie.

“I think it’s a bit harsh to say that,” said the Scotsman. “You’re playing against top defenders, some of the best defenders in the world, and you have to work hard for your chances. It would be wrong to say we haven’t been clinical enough.

“Each to their own, everyone will have their own opinions, but my opinion is that yes, it would be nice if when you create a chance you score a goal, but it doesn’t always work like that. You’re playing against top defenders and it’s so quick out there – you’re not going to score with every chance you create. You have to continue to create chances, and hopefully the more chances you create, the more goals you will score. That’s what we will continue to aim to do.”

Fair enough, but after Newcastle completely dominated the opening half-hour, the game became a much more even contest for the final 60 minutes.

Rob Elliot saved from Callum Wilson and Joshua King as Bournemouth steadied the ship at the end of the first half, and the visitors spurned the best opportunity of the game seven minutes after the break as Wilson shot into the side-netting after his strike partner, King, has sent him scampering clear of the Magpies’ back four.

With Newcastle’s defending becoming increasingly desperate, Bournemouth were left frustrated when Marc Pugh’s 89th-minute effort squeezed through Elliot’s legs, took another deflection off Ciaran Clark, and rebounded to safety off the post.

There was still time for one more chance though, and when Andrew Surman swung over a stoppage-time corner from the right, Cook out-jumped both Clark and Florian Lejeune to power home a header from the edge of the six-yard box.

“It’s a horrible way to lose in the last minute, but we’ll go again,” said Ritchie. “I think that just shows how tight the Premier League is. We’ve won a few games like that already this season, and it just shows that the small margins are massively important.”