The dilemma facing Graeme Jones at Newcastle United as he takes full control of team affairs
A telling clue on Newcastle United’s immediate direction will come at 2pm on Saturday.
That’s when Graeme Jones’s first teamsheet will be made public ahead of the game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
This week Jones will prepare the team on the training pitch AND choose the starting XI following the departure of Steve Bruce yesterday.
Jones was recruited in January for “fresh ideas” following an 11-game winless run, and the 51-year-old – who quickly got the respect of the squad on the training pitch, played an important role in the second half of the season as the club fought to stay in the Premier League.
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This season, the team is without a win in nine games in all competitions – and more fresh ideas are needed.
Jones will speak to the media tomorrow for the first time since his arrival at St James’s Park.
The Gateshead-born coach – who was on Gareth Southgate’s England coaching team at Euro 2020 – had raised eyebrows with his first interview, which had a managerial quality.
At the time, Bruce dismissed what he described as “conspiracy theories” surround the appointment of Jones – and claimed that the first signs of an improvement had come before his arrival.
Jones’s interview with the club’s website did, however, reveal how much influence he would have on the training pitch.
“I'm hoping to use all my experiences to try to get a style of play that benefits Newcastle United,” Jones told NUFC TV. “It's trying to get the best players on the pitch, in a system that suits us, to make us as strong as we possibly can.
“The big thing for me is always to try and control games with the ball. You can control games without the ball as well. There needs to be that balance.”
That balance hasn’t been there this season. The team has conceded 19 Premier League goals, which is more than any other top-flight club, and was wide open at times during Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
Bruce had tried to transition United to a more attacking style of play – but that change came at a cost in terms of goals conceded.
However, Jones – who assisted Roberto Martinez at Everton, Wigan Athletic and Swansea City – is an attack-minded coach, and his approach at Selhurst Park will be revealing.
One former Wigan player spoke to the Gazette about playing under Martinez and Jones.
“They shared the same beliefs,” he said. “Some of the stuff we were doing was cutting edge. They were very specific about what they coached during the week. It was impressive. Yes, it went wrong at times, but it was really special at other times.
“They were strong on their principles. They would stand by those principles, and this was instilled through Roberto. We would always play a passing game. It was ‘play – at all costs’.”
That philosophy will resonate on Tyneside, but the priority, right now, is stopping goals.
Now, Jones can do it all his own way. He can prepare the team, pick the starting XI – and decide on substitutions and tactical changes.
Hopefully, that will now bring some much-needed clarity – and direction – to the team while the club’s new owners interview potential managerial successors to Bruce.