Jan 17, 2011

Sunderland (A) in 5 key points

16.01.11 – Sunday 12pm
Barclays Premier League

Nolan celebrates his goal against Sunderlandsunderland 1
Gyan 94+1

Newcastle 1
Nolan 52

After suffering a 5-1 mauling at St James’ in October the talk from the sunderland camp in the run up to the game, and in particular from manager Steve Bruce, was about getting revenge over the Magpies. The new found confidence apparently coming from the mackems sitting in 6th place in the Premier League, yet ignoring the small matter that sunderland have only beaten Newcastle once in 3 decades on Wearside.

The pre-match confidence from the mackem camp never materialised on the pitch in a game that Newcastle completely dominated. Having taken the lead through Kevin Nolan in the 52nd minute, Newcastle controlled the game and were unlucky not to leave with the 3 points as sunderland grabbed an undeserved equaliser right at the death via Asamoah Gyan’s chest.

Discussing the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective…

1. 4-4-2 is more than a match

442 diagramFor the third league game in a row Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, having previously used what appears to be Pardew’s preferred formation to record wins over West Ham (H) and Wigan (A). With Cheick Tiote suspended Pardew handed Alan Smith a place in central midfield alongside Kevin Nolan, resisting the temptation to move Joey Barton inside from his right midfield position where he has excelled this season. Shola Ameobi, Mike Williamson and Steve Harper were the other changes at the expense of Peter Lovenkrands, Steven Taylor and Tim Krul.

With top scorer Andy Carroll missing through injury and with sunderland expected to attack and seek revenge in a 4-4-2 formation, Pardew could have brought in an extra midfield player in a 4-5-1 formation with the aim of crowding out sunderland’s attacks. However the 4-4-2 selected was a bold statement from Pardew that his side were going to have a go and that man for man his Newcastle players were more than a match for their sunderland counterparts, faith which was repaid as the Newcastle players won their individual battles all over the pitch.

2. Defending with control and style

Colocinni clearances

Coloccini aerial battles. Blue - won, Red - lost.

When the sunderland starting line up was announced, the obvious area of concern for Newcastle was the £23 million strike partnership of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan (we know better than to jump on the media hype around Jordan Henderson). However such was the quality of the Newcastle central defensive partnership of Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini, apart from a lucky deflected goal, Bent and Gyan were well taken care of.

Williamson continues to impress by doing the simple things well, against sunderland he made 13 clearances, 4 tackles and won 5 aerial battles. However it was Coloccini who stole the show with his classy approach to defending, he made 13 clearances, 4 tackles and 2 interceptions and his timing and positioning was so often superb. Interestingly, the Newcastle defence were playing a very high defensive line – presumably this was to deal with the height advantage that the sunderland strikers had over Coloccini, Newcastle apparently happy to concede aerial battles further up the pitch where they were less of a direct threat as the chalkboard above indicates.

3. Winning the central midfield Battle

With the Newcastle defence holding a high line they were in danger of leaving themselves open to a through ball in behind from the sunderland midfield, and it was therefore essential that the Newcastle central midfield pairing of Smith and Nolan didn’t allow Henderson and Kieran Richardson time to pick a pass and that is exactly what they did. They were quick to pressurise their opponents breaking up play with a combined 2 tackles and 2 blocks and lent strongly on their experience, with an added dose of passion and determination, to halt any early sunderland onslaught.

Smith went off injured on 36 minutes and was replaced by Danny Guthrie who played his part in adding stamina, agility and ball retention to the midfield. Nolan registered his 4th goal of the season against sunderland and his 10th overall in the Premier League, becoming 1 of only 4 players (including Andy Carroll) to reach double figures already this season. Smith, Nolan and Guthrie all played their parts in winning the central midfield battle for Newcastle and succeeded in somehow keeping Jordan ‘FIFA’s one to watch’ Henderson quiet.

4. Leading from the front

Having scored 6 goals in the last 4 games against sunderland, Ameobi seems to relish playing against sunderland and looked up for the challenge again against Newcastle’s local rivals. In Carroll’s absence, Ameobi acted as the target man and did well to hold up play as well as occupying and generally being a handful for the sunderland defence. He was effective in linking up with midfield, completing 73% off his passes and was unlucky not to add to add to his Derby game tally early on, sliding a superb through ball from Barton just wide of the post.

Leon Best was given the nod ahead of Lovenkrands to partner Ameobi up front, perhaps in no small part because of his hat trick two games previous against West Ham. Although Best spent the majority of the game chasing loose balls he showed himself to be a willing runner and that when in possession of the ball possesses a decent range of passing (75% completion rate) as well as a directness, and like Ameobi on another day may have had a goal to his name but instead dragged a late right footed effort wide.

5. Lacking cutting edge in front of goal

NUFC shots: White - Goal. Grey - Blocks. Red - Off Target.

Although Ameobi and Best deserve praise for their committed shifts and contribution to the Newcastle cause they were both guilty, as were others, of missing good chances and failing to extend Newcastle’s lead. It may be harsh to criticise the performance of any of those in Black and White who were by far the better team and deserved of all 3 points, however there did seem to be casualness in front of goal as there was in the last Premier League away game at Wigan.

Although Newcastle looked relatively comfortable when 1-0 up there was always the danger of a sunderland equaliser and although the focus has been on Gyan’s lucky equalising goal extremely late in injury time, if Newcastle had taken their chances and extended their lead then the post match discussion would have been about Newcastle’s deserved victory. The chalkboard above displaying Newcastle’s shooting accuracy highlighting Newcastle’s wastefulness in front of goal.
 
At the end of the day…

Sometimes there are days when a manager can prepare and motivate his team and get his tactics right but can be undone by a bit of bad luck, this was unfortunately one of those days for Newcastle United and manager Alan Pardew.

On the balance of play, this is a game which Newcastle fully deserved to win. They were the better team from the opening minute to the last winning individual battles, dominating possession and play and having taken the lead shortly after half time looked as though they were going to safely see the game out until being cruelly denied the 3 points by an equalising goal deep into injury time. It’s rare that 5 minutes injury time is awarded and the fact that sunderland grabbed an undeserved equaliser in the 4th minute of added time left a particularly sour taste.

For the Newcastle manager, players and fans the feeling of victory being snatched away in the final seconds made the result feel like a loss whereas sunderland fans celebrated the goal like they had won the World Cup never mind gaining their first point of the season against their supposedly inferior rivals.

However a point away from home is still an excellent result and is one which the majority of Newcastle fans would have accepted pre-match. 4 points from 6 with a 6-2 aggregate, including a 5-1 thrashing against sunderland at St James’ is a fantastic record for Newcastle against their rivals in their return to the Premier League. Those involved in both games, not forgetting Chris Hughton, have played their part and have helped contribute to restoring the Geordie pride and the Derby day reputation of the Magpies – Newcastle United will never be defeated.

As for the sunderland fans, it’s difficult to know where to start with describing the bizarre and obsessive behaviour with Newcastle of some:

* Spending their pre-match drinking time gawping at and taking videos of the Newcastle buses.
* Responding to Newcastle’s 5-1 chants with chants of 9-1 – referring to a fixture which took place before all inside the ground, excluding the odd 103 year old, would have been alive to remember.
* Giving up on their ‘by far the greatest team’ with 15 minutes to go and missing the equaliser.
* The all too predictable pitch invasions.
* The 17 year old fan running on the pitch to push Harper over following their equaliser.

A constant source of embarrassment. Even Steve Bruce managed to make a complete arse out of himself by revealing in the run up to the game that he had chosen a song to play when his team ended the game winners, and when talking about the fan pushing Harper asked “why he couldn’t just celebrate with the other 50 odd thousand fans?” The ground holds 49,000 the Derby brought a season high of 47,869 of which 3,100 were Geordies – stop deluding yourself Steve.

The point left Newcastle in 9th position on 29 points after 22 games. With 18 games to go, continuing with performances in this manner and it shouldn’t be long before the 40 point survival target is achieved.

Next up is a Premier League fixture against Tottenham at St James’ Park this Saturday 22 January, 3pm. With Tiote suspended and Smith now injured Guthrie or Gosling will likely deputise in central midfield alongside Nolan, while Best can expect to drop down to the bench should Carroll be available again following injury. Another point towards safely would be a good result against a side brimming with attacking talent looking to sustain their aim of a Champions League spot.

Ps – Brucey where’s your song?

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