Aleksandar Mitrovic didn’t put a foot wrong outside the box against Watford – but he needs help inside the area.
That’s the verdict of Steve McClaren after Newcastle United’s season took another turn for the worse at Vicarage Road.
Watford beat McClaren’s relegation-threatened side 2-1 on Saturday.
And the result left the club 18th in the Premier League.
Striker Mitrovic, signed from Anderlecht for £13million last summer, laboured in the final third of the pitch and didn’t look like adding to his four-goal tally.
McClaren, however, felt the 21-year-old’s contribution was “excellent” with his back to goal.
He (Mitrovic) is really improving – he’s a real fighter for us, a focal point and a target – and someone that we need in the team because he brings other players into play and then we’ve got runners going through.Steve McClaren
“I thought outside the box he was excellent,” said the club’s head coach.
“He’s really improving – he’s a real fighter for us, a focal point and a target – and someone that we need in the team because he brings other players into play and then we’ve got runners going through.”
Newcastle, above all else, need goals, and Mitrovic – who is still adjusting to the demands of English football – needs help up front, in McClaren’s view.
“It’s not one man’s responsibility to put the ball in the back of the net – it’s other people’s as well,” added McClaren.
“He’s young, he’s growing, he’s getting better – a lot better than he was at the start of the season – and again, strikers, their confidence comes from sticking the ball in the net.”
Unless McClaren’s side starts finding the net on a more regular basis, the club will be relegated.
United are also struggling to keep the ball out of their own net.
McClaren’s striking options are limited with Papiss Cisse sidelined for up to two months, though Newcastle are looking to sign a striker in this month’s transfer window and developments are expected in the coming days.
Asked what he could do to rectify the team’s problems up front, McClaren said: “We have to keep doing what we’re doing.
“OK, the way we play, we might concede a goal, so we have to score two to win.
“But you can’t go away from home and score three to win – it’s difficult. And so you just have to keep (going).
“That’s what I admire about this group and these players.
“Week in, week out, we know the performances have been good – they’ve fought for 95 minutes. They’ve done everything possible, but they keep getting disappointed.
“But they keep coming back and that’s the message to them – we’ve got to keep coming back week in, week out.
“Eventually, it will turn, and eventually we’ll get the results that performances deserve, and if we keep doing that we have a very, very good chance of climbing up this league.”
Meanwhile, McClaren has revealed captain Fabricio Coloccini’s late withdrawal was “tactical”.
Watford had led 2-0 thanks to goals from Odion Ighalo and Craig Cathcart.
But defender Jamaal Lascelles, on his full league debut, had given United hope when he headed a Jonjo Shelvey corner past Heurelho Gomes in the 71st minute to halve the deficit.
Coloccini made way for fit-again Emmanuel Riviere in the 88th minute.
Asked if the defender had a problem, McClaren said: “It was just tactical – throw another striker on.
“I felt that Chancel (Mbemba) and Jamaal (could) cope with the pace of (Troy) Deeney and maybe score again from a set-play.”
It was Riviere’s first appearance of the campaign, with the striker having suffered a knee injury in pre-season which needed surgery.
McClaren felt his team, knocked out of the FA Cup at Vicarage Road a fortnight earlier, created enough chances to win the game.
The best of them fell to Mitrovic, whose shot was saved by Gomes.
“We created chances,” said McClaren. “We’ve come here again, similar to the cup game, and played very well again.
“Another good performance, created opportunities ... chances. That’s the difference, and we’ve been like that for quite a while.
“You can’t fault the attitude and application of the players, the way we’re playing and our football.
“But games are won and lost in each box.”