Five takeaways from Newcastle United 1-1 Watford: A welcome return, 38 minutes outside the relegation zone and the inevitability of an equaliser

Deja vu is not a nice feeling when you are stuck in the midst of a relegation battle.

Sunday, 16th January 2022, 10:00 am

For Newcastle United, it was more points dropped from a winning position and that ever so familiar feeling of disappointment as Watford netted a late equaliser.

Allan Saint-Maximin gave the hosts the lead early in the second half only for Joao Pedro to make it 1-1 in the 87th minute as the spoils were shared at St James’s Park.

Here are Dominic Scurr’s five takeaways from the game…

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Newcastle United's Brazilian striker Joelinton reacts after failing to score during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Watford at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north-east England on January 15, 2022. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Two debuts and a welcome return

Eddie Howe made three changes to the side who were beaten 1-0 by Cambridge United in the FA Cup last weekend.

Matt Ritchie, Emil Krafth and Jacob Murphy dropped to the bench in place of captain Jamaal Lascelles, new signing Chris Wood and Paul Dummett, who made his first appearance of the season following a calf injury.

Trippier was also handed his league debut for The Magpies at right-back as Howe went with a 4-3-3 set-up with Ryan Fraser and Allan Saint-Maximin playing either side of Wood in attack.

Eddie Howe, Manager of Newcastle United gives their team instructions during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Watford at St. James Park on January 15, 2022 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Jamal Lewis was in attendance at the game but didn’t make the matchday squad as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Getting crosses into the box and taking advantage of Wood’s aerial threat seemed to be Newcastle’s simple game plan. Fraser and Trippier were able to put in some teasing crosses into the box

Wood connected with two of them but his headers sailed harmlessly over the crossbar as he failed to register a shot on target in the match. The £25million arrival was left isolated for the most part and the few times he did get involved, he just lacked the quality to make an impact.

But with just two days of training under his belt prior to the match, the New Zealand striker will be given the benefit of the doubt. Although he can’t have too much time to adjust to his new surroundings due to the predicament Newcastle find themselves in.

Newcastle United's French midfielder Allan Saint-Maximin celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Watford at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north-east England on January 15, 2022. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

While Wood was left frustrated on his debut, Trippier impressed down the right side as did Dummett on the left. The Magpies’ number 3 may have limitations going forward but he provided a dependable defensive presence at left-back that has been sorely lacking for the majority of the season.

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The breakthrough

After a goalless first half which saw Newcastle hit the bar through Joelinton and waste a handful of other good opportunities, they quickly took the lead after the restart.

Chris Wood of Newcastle United applauds fans after their sides draw during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Watford at St. James Park on January 15, 2022 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Saint-Maximin applied pressure on Watford’s Jeremy Ngakia after being instructed to do so by Howe. The instruction most certainly paid off as the winger won the ball back and cut inside from the left before drilling the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal to give Newcastle the lead.

It was The Magpies’ only shot on target in the game with a glimpse of class from Saint-Maximin on an otherwise frustrating afternoon for the Frenchman.

Just like that, Newcastle were out of the bottom three for the first time since they drew 1-1 at Watford in September.

On Saturday, the end result would be the same but The Magpies time outside of the relegation zone would last just 38 minutes.

A team that don’t know how to win

Joao Pedro of Watford FC scores their team's first goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Watford at St. James Park on January 15, 2022 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

After Newcastle took the lead in the 49th minute, they almost didn’t know what to do with themselves. Push for a second or hold on to what they had?

They ended up doing neither and just invited Watford to put them under pressure and find a way back into the game.

A lack of conviction going forward was evident as they failed to create any notable further chances after taking the lead. The mental fragility of a side who has won just one game all season was on full display.

Howe could see his side going into their shell but did little to change things in terms of the approach and shape despite Watford coming closer and closer to finding an equaliser.

Josh King forced a good one on one save from birthday boy Martin Dubravka and former Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko blasted narrowly wide of the left post as The Hornets failed to capitalise on a defensive error from Jamaal Lascelles.

So when Joao Pedro eventually headed Watford level with three minutes of normal time remaining, there was a sense of crushing inevitability to it as Newcastle got exactly what they deserved.

A bleak picture in the table

This match was billed as a must win for Newcastle. They’ve failed to do that so where does it leave them?

They remain just two points adrift with 18 games remaining but this was a huge opportunity to ease some relegation fears and it has been missed.

With Watford playing both Burnley and Norwich through the week, Howe’s side are guaranteed (postponements aside) to be at least three points from safety by the time they face Leeds United at Elland Road next Saturday.

The worst case scenario could see them seven points behind 17th if results really go against them.

Given the side have won just once all season and have dropped 21 points from winning positions, it’s hard to see how they can turn it around right now.

Transfer window saviours?

The transfer window is a slight remedy to Newcastle’s dire situation by providing hope that players can come in to significantly improve the side for the remainder of the season.

Trippier has done that and Wood is a necessary attacking option, but it’s clear the side are in desperate need of some solid centre-back options.

The partnership of Fabian Schar and Jamaal Lascelles has worked just once all season as the side kept their lone clean sheet against Burnley.

At least two quality centre-backs will be needed this month or else Newcastle’s time in the Premier League could be drawing to a close for the third time.

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