It was obvious for everyone inside St James’s Park.
Rafa Benitez’s long seen it. And the 51,444 crowd on Saturday could see it.
Newcastle United are missing something. Not much, but something.
The thing is, owner Mike Ashley wasn’t there to see it.
And the thing that Newcastle are missing is quality, especially in the forward areas.
Rafa Benitez has long felt that he needed another striker. And another winger. And a No 10.
Benitez has built a discipline, organised and motivated team over the past 22 months, but the hardest thing to do in the Premier League is score goals.
That’s why strikers cost upwards of £25million.
Joselu – who scored Newcastle’s equaliser in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Swansea City – cost £5million.
The record transfer fee paid by United is £16million, and that dates back to the 2005 signing of Michael Owen. Newcastle haven’t come close to breaking that longstanding record during Ashley’s decade as owner, yet Benitez – and most of his predecessors – have somehow been expected to compete in a division awash with big-spending teams.
The Premier League moved on during the club’s year in the Championship, and playing catch-up is hard, especially on a budget.
There are bargains out there – £6million signing Christian Atsu has been one of the club’s best players so far this season – but they’re hard to find. A £25million striker might well have taken one of the first-half chances created against Swansea, the league’s basement club.
With so much at stake, how can Ashley afford NOT to back Benitez this month?
The TV-rights money is there in the club’s accounts, but managing director Lee Charnley can’t pursue Benitez’s targets without the go-ahead from Ashley, who has been reluctant to give his manager an “exact” budget.
And the loan market is looking like it offers Benitez’s best hope in this month’s transfer window.
The hard work should have been done last summer. Had Ashley fully backed Benitez, then Newcastle could well have built upon a promising start to the season. They might be in a more comfortable league position, and a deal might well have already been done to sell United.
Right now, would-be buyer Amanda Staveley and others are wary of buying a club which could lose its top-flight status.
Newcastle didn’t do much wrong for 45 minutes against Swansea, though Mohamed Diame was fortunate to stay on the field after handling a shot in the box. Dwight Gayle saw one header saved and put another wide, while Ayoze Perez and Paul Dummett also had chances.
Swansea – who had more possession over the 90 minutes – regrouped and created chances of their own.
And Jordan Ayew beat Karl Darlow at the second attempt in the 61st minute after Mike van der Hoorn crossed from the right.
Benitez replaced Gayle with Joselu, and four minutes later Newcastle were level.
Perez delivered a low ball to Joselu at the far post, and he turned and shot back across goal and into the far corner of the net.
United had DeAndre Yedlin to thank for stopping a late shot from Wilfried Bony on the line.
So Newcastle’s long search for a home win goes on.
And there’s no telling whether Benitez will have any reinforcements in by the time the club next take to the field at St James’s Park on January 31.