Miles Starforth: Losing has become an unbreakable habit at Newcastle right through age groups
When will it end?
Losing has become a habit at Newcastle United. At every level.
A hardy crowd of 554 was at a chilly St James’s Park on Monday night to watch another defeat, this time for the club’s Under-21 side in what was their final league fixture of the campaign.
It was a poor end to a poor season.
And football development manager Peter Beardsley, frustrated with what he had seen, admitted as much after the match.
Two days earlier, Rafa Benitez’s senior team had been beaten 3-1 by Southampton.
It wasn’t just the defeat, it was the manner of the defeat at the St Mary’s Stadium which so angered fans.
That same day, the Under-18s lost 7-1 at Manchester United.
The day before that, Newcastle’s Under-21s were beaten 3-1 by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
And so it goes on.
Of course, results at Under-18 and Under-21 level aren’t all-important.
Player development is the primary goal, and the club has had some success in bringing homegrown players into the first-team squad.
Next season, Adam Armstrong – who has had a fine season on loan at League One Coventry City – is likely to be competing for a place in the senior starting XI.
That said, investment in youth developement, and the coaching structure, needs to be looked at in the summer.
Unquestionably, the club is in a mess. And it’s been in one for some time.
Remember the banner in the away end at Swansea City a couple of years ago?
It read: “LLWDLLLWWLWLLLLLLLLWLLDDLD. Not a Welsh town. Our form in 2014.”
The club’s form in the Premier League was no better last year.
And this year it’s LDWLLWLLLLDLL. That’s not a Welsh town either.
Yet this is a club which pays its players handsomely.
January signing Jonjo Shelvey reportedly earns more than Barcelona’s Neymar, who takes home £77,000 a week.
The club has talented players on its books, though it’s recruitment, including the huge spend in the last two transfer windows, has been questionable.
There’s long been a disconnect between what has been needed in the dressing room and on the pitch and the players that chief scout Graham Carr has sent to St James’s Park.
Florian Thauvin? Seydou Dombia? Henri Saivet?
January signings Doumbia and Saivet didn’t even make the bench at the St Mary’s Stadium.
The attitude and application of those on the pitch has, rightly, been questioned over the past eight months.
Shelvey – who has been wearing the captain’s armband in the absence through injury of Fabricio Coloccini – doesn’t seems to think he has a duty to speak to those that pay his inflated wages.
So it was left to Jamaal Lascelles, one of the club’s lowest earners, to say what needed to be said after the Southampton defeat.
Daryl Janmaat suffered a suspected two broken fingers after punching a wall in the dressing room.
And 22-year-old Lascelles – who had come off the bench at the St Mary’s Stadium – didn’t pull any punches himself in an interview.
“We had Steve McClaren – who is a great manager – and now we’ve got Rafa Benitez, who is a great manager, so it’s clearly not that,” he said.
“It’s the players and we have to take full responsibility. It’s ourselves who need to change it and not the manager.
“We need to play with more heart. We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent.
“But we need more heart, we need more desire.
“We need bigger characters on the pitch.
“We have lacked it this season and no matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger and desire, it doesn’t matter.”
Lascelles’s comments are damning seeing that he’s been in the dressing room all season.
He’s seen what we haven’t seen day in, day out around the club and on the training field.
We can only judge what we see for 90 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday, and a team all too often praised by sacked head coach Steve McClaren has lacked “fight, hunger and desire” this season.
And that is unforgivable in an unforgiving division.
McClaren saw what everyone else saw, but given a lack of squad depth, he felt he had no choice but to gently coax performances out of some of his big-name players.
The players didn’t respond.
Rafa Benitez, his successor, can’t wait any longer for a response.
It’s time for a change against Swansea at St James’s Park on Saturday.
Newcastle must kick this losing habit.