Newcastle United have two big issues as 'rusty' £88m duo 'nowhere near' ahead of Wolves test

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle United edged past Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round but their performance still leaves a lot to be desired.

Substance over style. This was no performance for the ages for Newcastle United, more a tick box exercise.

No flashy football or impressive returns to form against a lower league outfit, just a result, but the smallest and riskiest of margins, with the reward of a ball in the hat for this year's FA Cup round six.

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And, of course, they have Martin Dubravka to thank for that, after a match-winning show between the post, despite carrying an illness.

But what were the major talking points from the Ewood Park penalty shootout win? Here's five points of analysis:

One dimensional United?

Have Newcastle become too predictable? I have to say, it was a question which rolled across my mind repeatedly while watching events unfold at Ewood Park through gritted teeth.

Defensively, of course, things aren't great, but against teams who sit in, is it that hard to defend against this Newcastle setup?

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At times on Tuesday night it seemed the only option was to loop long from Bruno Guimaraes or Fabian Schar over the top, having moved it left and right repeatedly at a pedestrian pace.

Where is the intensity - and where is the athleticism and dynamism?

This is something Newcastle need to address, whether that be between now and the end of the season with the current crop, or in the summer transfer market, should they not find those answers within.

The defensive confidence drain

Facts don't lie and Newcastle United have gone from one of the most difficult teams to play against in European football, to one of the easiest. Every team, no matter the level, is scoring and creating what feels like at will against the Magpies.

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Nowhere has this drop off been more starkly felt than in the defensive unit.

The five of Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Fabian Schar and Sven Botman were, last season, the rock upon which Newcastle's success was built - the joint best defensive record in the Premier League.

Now, that record is in tatters. Forty five goals in two thirds of the season and counting. Less than a handful of teams have a worse looking goals against column.

And it shows. No one, in the backline, seems to be playing with their confidence of old. Gone is the swagger, replaced by a distinct lack of faith and belief.

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Jamaal Lascelles suffered from it last night, at the weekend it was Sven Botman. And despite the nonchalant penalty opener, Schar's performances have done little to impress of late, either.

It's a good job Dubravka was on fire behind them!

Rusty United

It was to be expected, somewhat, but Newcastle's returning duo of Alexander Isak and Joe Willock looked rusty, to say the least. While Isak was given barely a sniff, he looked well below his usual standard.

Willock was a willing runner, and was unlucky not to be found by his teammates on a number of occasions having taken up good positions, but like Isak, with the ball, he showed some rust, having been out for longer than most.

That zip will come back into their play, but it's nowhere near at the moment.

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Another one off the list

It's been a long, long wait, but finally Elliot Anderson is back on the field for United. His high energy, 10 minute cameo, then penalty scored was a little insight into what to expect from the young Geordie, who has a lot of catching up to do after recent injuries.

This was meant to be Anderson's major breakthrough season, the one where he established himself in the Newcastle midfield. But sadly a broken back has put those plans on ice.

From what I've seen from him, he remains, to me, the most exciting of Newcastle's recent academy graduates - and I just hope he can remain injury free to really show everyone what he is made of.

A positive note?

And despite all that, the season remains alive. At times, it's felt like it is hanging by a thread, but hope still remains - even if it does feel built on sand, somewhat.

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Newcastle are still in the mix to battle for the European slots in the Premier League during the home straight, and are now just 90 minutes from Wembley.

It's all still there for Eddie Howe and his players this season - and results, rather than performances is all that matters now.

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