AFTER two games against lower-division sides, Chris Hughton was looking for a step-up in class from Newcastle United's pre-season opponents - and he certainly got it.
While it was only a warm-up game against a team coming closer to the boil, there were ominous signs in the first half at St James’ Park.
Very few teams, even at the expensive end of the Premier League, will pass the ball as well as PSV Eindhoven did for 45 minutes on Saturday.
However, plenty would be able to take advantage of the time and space Newcastle negligently offered.
With so many nationalities in their line-up it is almost pushing it to call PSV a “Dutch” side, but their excellent first-half exhibition was in the best traditions of the country’s football rather than emulating the cloggers who disgraced last month’s World Cup final.
On the first anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson’s death, the style in which Fred Rutten’s side played was the best possible tribute to his much-loved predecessor. The only pity was Sir Bobby was not there to see it.
Players switched position at will and the formation changed with it.
At times there were four at the back, sometimes three and quite often two when PSV had the ball. Always, though, they had plenty in midfield to retain it.
Even with Danny Guthrie giving Newcastle’s conventional four a lop-sided look, they were powerless to take it back.
It is a problem Hughton must address by August 16 and signs of improvement are needed in Newcastle’s next friendly tomorrow night.
After all, that game is away to Deportivo La Coruña of Spain – the undisputed kings of passing football.
Few English sides will play with the sophistication of PSV (or quite possibly Depor) but, after the national team provided such a bad advert for 4-4-2 in South Africa, the top-flight trend towards five-men midfields is only likely to continue. An extra body may well be seen away from home, but such is his surfeit of fit forwards when Hughton went 4-3-3 for the final quarter his wide men – Xisco and Leon Best – were natural strikers more than midfield reinforcements. With the resources available, Newcastle sadly cannot hope to emulate Spain’s beautiful game any time soon, but they can certainly match the often-overlooked ugly side of their play.
The World Cup winners are masters of pressing and at this stage of their preparations a Newcastle midfield missing Joey Barton was woefully deficient.
Before kick-off Stan Valckx presented Hughton with the shirt he wore captaining Sir Bobby’s PSV to their first Dutch title under the son of Sacriston.
A heartfelt minute’s applause was pre-empted by chants of “One Bobby Robson”.
However, the generosity extended to the players in their new black-and-white strips once play began.
Balázs Dzsudzsák’s 40th-minute goal demonstrated it perfectly.
Picking the ball up on the left, the Hungarian fed it into centre-forward Marcus Berg and got it back in an embarrassing amount of space 25 yards out. From there he picked his spot perfectly.
It doubled a lead presented by James Perch’s foul.
The new signing was unconvincing in the right-back spot he seems likely to start the season in, and panicked when Ola Toivonen threatened to break into the area, bringing the Swede down on the edge of the box. A wonderful free-kick marked the blond playmaker out as one to watch.
Most of United’s promising moves were spoilt by the lack of a final ball or killer touch.
It was only when the teams turned around that Newcastle perked up.
It was hard to tell how much was down to their guests easing down and how much was United stepping up, but PSV repaid the favour of their last St James’ meeting two years earlier by turning a 2-0 lead into a draw.
There was better accuracy in Newcastle’s passing – though not for Ryan Taylor’s goal.
Shola Ameobi’s cross was cut out, but only redirected to Perch. His centre also found a PSV player, but goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson touched it into the path of Taylor, who took advantage of the space.
Best furthered his case by nodding in Taylor’s free-kick for his second goal of pre-season with 18 minutes left.
More encouraging than Xisco’s 25-yarder narrowly wide was the Gallowgate’s attempt to suck it in. It was a reminder Newcastle’s fans will always forgive past failings.
Everyone makes mistakes, the key is to learn from them.
Hopefully, the Magpies can do that in this final week of pre-season matches.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Harper (Krul 52); Perch (Tavernier 67), Coloccini, Williamson, Enrique; R Taylor (Vuckic 85), Smith (Xisco 72), Nolan (LuaLua 85), Guthrie; Løvenkrands (Carroll 67), Ameobi (Best 67). Subs (not used): Ranger, Donaldson.
Goals: R Taylor 52, Best 72.
PSV EINDHOVEN (4-2-3-1): Isaksson; Manolev (Hutchinson 64), Rodriguez, Salcido (Bouma 64), Pieters;, Engelaar, Bakkal; Lens (Amrabat 81), Toivonen (Nijland 87), Dzsudzsák; Berg (Reis 81). Subs (not used): Ramos, Wuytens, Ojo, Labyad, Ospitalieri.
Goals: Toivonen 10, Dzsudzsák 40.
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester).