May 31, 2012

2011/12 Season Review part 2: The Players

Cisse and Ba

This end of season review is part 2 of 3 and will reflect on everything Newcastle United in the 2011/12 season. Unlike some, we decided to wait until the season was complete before conducting our post-mortem. We continue our review with the players:

Player of the season

Tim Krul player of the seasonRD and Smith: We naturally start with the big one, and after a season like Newcastle have had it’s difficult to quickly pinpoint any one player as the catalyst for our success.  But after much deliberation, we both agreed upon Tim Krul. The young Dutchman has had a storming first full season for Newcastle, and we feel he has performed at an extremely high level, more consistently than any other player this season – saving us countless points (well beyond the 10 Alan Pardew predicted pre-season), ending the season with an impressive 15 clean sheets to his name.

Credit also goes to Alan Pardew – firstly for having the strength of conviction to make and state Krul as his number one for the season, rightly ignoring the sentiment bound to the loyal but aged Steve Harper, and secondly giving Krul the confidence to rise up to the role.

With Maarten Stekelenburg struggling for fitness, Krul looks set to be first choice for The Netherlands in this summer’s European Championships, and should that campaign prove successful, Krul has all the potential to be both Newcastle and Dutch number one for years to come. He’s a superb professional with the world at his feet, and all of it in a Newcastle shirt – here’s to the future!

Note: credit also goes to Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez – two model professionals who have performed excellently all season and only miss out for the individual contribution of Krul.

Goal of the season

RD: Papiss Cisse 2nd vs Chelsea (a). There were so many superb goals scored by Newcastle players this season that you could easily fill a top 10 list. But for the sheer audacity and uniqueness of Cisse’s 2nd in the 2-0 win at Chelsea, I can’t look past it. In fact, I must have looked at it over 100 times by now. On the night it was scored, I sat in front of my laptop at midnight just staring at a GIF of the goal on loop for about 20 minutes. Like Demba Ba after Ramadan, I just couldn’t get enough.

To hit a shot from that angle, with the outside of the foot, and to lob Peter Cech who was practically on his line at the time, takes some beating. It had it all – pace, power, spin, accuracy. Magnificent. I’ve seen a few try to dismiss it as a fluke or that Cisse was trying to put the ball out of play to waste time, with the latest hilarious reasoning being that ‘anyone could have done it’. No, Cisse knew what he was doing and there was a reason why he received the Barclays, Match of the Day, and Sky Sports goal of the season awards. An unforgettable goal, like Alan Shearer’s volley vs Everton, that was set up by Shola Ameobi.

Here’s the goal of the season described by pundit of the season, Gary Neville:

Smith: A near impossible task given the quality of goals on show – from individual shots, to individual skill to team goals. But for me, Hatem Ben Arfa’s piece of individual genius against Blackburn in the FA cup was a simply astonishing goal – a goal only a rare few players are capable of.

Picking the ball up just past the centre circle, towards the dug-outs, Hatem was instantly under pressure, having his shirt tugged by Pederson. He quickly broke free, skipping a sliding challenge from Givet and breezing past Formica to the corner of the 18 yard box. He then feinted to cut inside Martin Olsson, only to head straight for the goal-line sandwiched between two Blackburn defenders. Space was running out, but with a lightening twist he was free – rifling a shot over the well placed Robinson from the edge of the 6 yard box.

The ball hit the back of the net with no less than three Blackburn players on the floor, with another two standing completely shell shocked at the improbability of what had just happened. It’s fleeting appearance on ITV’s FA cup coverage was nothing short of scandalous – meaning the goal will be largely lost to the mainstream, living on mainly through Youtube and personal recollection. A great shame for it’s probably the best goal I’ve personally witnessed in my lifetime.

Here it is, viewed in the only way it’s possible to properly digest it – in slow motion!

Assist of the season

RD: I’m tempted to agree with Smith on his choice – a perfectly weighted pass that the majority would have been unable to see, let alone complete – but, as I’m a sucker for a Trivela pass with the outside of the boot, my vote goes to the lesser spotted assist by Gabriel Obertan vs Nottingham Forest in the Carling Cup.

With the scores level at 3-3 and in the final minute of extra time, Obertan received the ball on the left of Forest’s penalty area; being predominantly right footed, he used the outside of said foot to delicately and accurately curl the ball to the back post for Coloccini to head the winner. Completely unexpected, given that Obertan’s delivery from the right has been mixed at best, but an excellent piece of ingenuity and technique from our Gallic winger nonetheless.

Smith: Cabaye’s assist for Cisse vs Stoke (h) gets my vote – an assist that simply got better on every subsequent viewing. His individual performance in that game was flawless, only being narrowly beaten for that award (more on that later), scoring twice to go with his assist. And it was that assist which was the diamond of that performance – a defence AND midfield splitting pass to create a chance simply out of nowhere.

Picking up the ball midway in the Stoke half, Cabaye was presented with a simple lay-off for the breaking Ben Arfa who had clear ground in front of him. Instead, the intelligent vision of Cabaye spotted Cisse making a run across the Stoke defensive line and opted to play a ball so perfectly positioned and weighted it almost defied belief. Simply – the world moved one way, whilst Cabaye passed the ball the other… absolutely superb.

Best individual performance of the season

Jonas vs StokeRD: Jonas Gutierrez vs Stoke (a). I was tempted to go with Danny Guthrie’s performance in the home fixture vs Chelsea – such was his range of accurate passing and control of the midfield area, by far the best game I’ve seen him play – however, Gutierrez’ selfless performance in the away game at Stoke set a tone for the fixture and indeed the season in terms of hard work, determination and putting the team first.

Gutierrez played almost as a second left back in front of the out-of-position Ryan Taylor at left back to double up on Jermaine Pennant, Stoke’s preferred attacking option on the night. Jonas sacrificed his own attacking ambitions and dropped deep whenever Stoke attacked on their right. He made 5 tackles and 2 interceptions, not bad for a left midfielder. Even on a night when Demba Ba scored a hat-trick, it was a stand-out man of the match performance by Spiderman. Gutierrez’ performance also didn’t go unnoticed by Gary Neville, on pundit duty for Sky Sports, who described it as one of the best individual performances he had seen up to that point in the season.

Smith: The nature of our season has meant the majority of wins have been attributed more to a team output rather than an individual to credit. However, Hatem Ben Arfa’s performance in the 3-1 away win at West Brom was as good as it got from any Newcastle player this season. Scoring once himself and assisting both others, Hatem was simply unplayable, being the fulcrum for all our attacking play – only being denied a further assist by the usually ruthless Papiss Cisse failing to score when 1 on 1 and another goal by a smart save from Ben Foster.

In my opinion, this was the first time we’ve seen what Ben Arfa is really capable of – rather than the very memorable but very brief flashes of brilliance shown previous. The first time his true potential has been harnessed in a Newcastle shirt and one which gave huge hope for the future.

Most improved player

James Perch

RD and Smith: James ‘Perchinho’ Perch.

“In his 6th game he managed to direct a bullet header into his own net to give Stoke the match-winner, capping a disastrous start to his Newcastle career.”

Those were the words we used to sum up the start of James Perch’s Newcastle career just last season. The turnaround he has made since then is testament to the character of the player that the fans now refer to affectionately as Perchinho.

Signed by Chris Hughton, Perch must have thought his short-lived days at Newcastle were numbered under Alan Pardew, as he travelled to Holland for pre-season with the reserves, rather than to the United States with Pardew and the first team. Yet, Perch didn’t make a fuss. He simply kept his head down, worked hard and looked to make the most of first team opportunities to come his way. And that he did: impressing, growing in confidence and improving with each game he played. A notable defensive performance against Didier Drogba, perhaps being the one which caught Pardew’s eye.

From looking like he was not going to feature for Newcastle this season, Perch played 25 games and has shown a willingness to fill in where the team needs him. Maybe not as technically gifted as some of his teammates, his determination and desire is second to none. Featuring at both full back positions, centre back and central midfield – and performing well in each – his versatility has been vital for the club this season. A sound tackler and reader of the game, the ever understated and reliable Perch has developed into a key member of this Newcastle squad.

Most disappointing player

Nile RangerRD: Nile Ranger. I hate to sound like a preacher, I mean, if I was on the type of money Ranger will be earning getting when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I’m sure I would have done some regrettable things (the drinking, not the law-breaking). He’s still a young lad, after all. But, I’m pretty sure I would have learned from the error of my ways by this point. That’s where the problem lies with Ranger, though: he’s made mistakes, big mistakes, but he doesn’t seem to learn from them and know when he’s on to a good thing.

He has gone from a promising youngster, on the edge of first team football, to making the grand total of 0 appearances for Newcastle this season. Farmed out on loan to Barnsley in the Championship and then Sheffield Wednesday in League One, Ranger’s stock has dropped considerably. And the sad fact is that the raw ability that brought him into first team contention is probably still there, it’s just a shame the attitude isn’t. It’s the same tired rhetoric when it comes to Ranger, unfortunately.

After scoring for Sheffield Wednesday to secure promotion, Ranger wore a t-shirt with the message ‘I am a changed man’. I would love it if this were the case and Ranger could turn his Newcastle career around; however, I think it’s one misdemeanour and attitude problem too far for the self proclaimed ‘gangster first, footballer second’.

Smith:  A player I had decent, if not very high, hopes for was Dan Gosling. The hope was he would recover from his various injury woes and slowly work back into being a useful squad player – perhaps mainly as an alternative/additional defensive midfielder. However, he’s struggled for fitness, which has made it impossible to gain any sort of reasonable match form which has abandoned him after such a long lay-off.

His dismissal in the away defeat at the hands of Norwich may have perhaps been a little harsh, but nevertheless epitomised how drastically he has struggled to regain Premier League pace. His contract does not expire until 2014, but it remains to be seen whether he will remain at St James’ – a loan move to the Championship could do him the world of good. Providing he stays fit, next season could be huge in the direction of his career.

Underused resource

Gabby ObertanRD and Smith: With resourcefulness being one of Alan Pardew’s many attributes, this question was one which we were almost unable to answer.  However, a big area of potential for both player and team arguably being overlooked is harnessing the awesome pace of Gabriel Obertan.

Firstly, a role as an impact sub when pinned back (particularly away from home) was used only once to great effect, with him registering his first goal for Newcastle against Blackburn, back in January. The willingness for Obertan to contribute defensively and to break with the ball on his own can give us an excellent threat, without sacrificing the defensive position of, say, central midfielders in doing so.

Secondly, a more positive role since our implementation of the 4-3-3 system could see him playing as left sided forward, with the potential to open up his pace and cut inside onto his favoured right foot after one of his infamous slalom dribbles – his height and physique also suiting the role very well.

Of course, we’d not expect him to be transformed from the willing but inconsistent Obertan he is now, to an equal of Ben Arfa overnight, but we certainly feel harnessing that attacking talent and the blistering pace could certainly make a very useful player of Gabriel.

One to break through in 2012/13

Haris VuckicRD: There are many youngsters who are in contention to step up to regular first team football next season – Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and those identified by Smith below – and a few probably will, but choosing just one I would go for Haris Vuckic.

The young Slovenian, surprisingly still only 19, has been spoken of highly in the last few seasons and featured in a couple of Premier League games in the season just gone, against West Brom (h) and Liverpool (a). It was against West Brom that he impressed, looking composed and certainly not overawed, he demonstrated his primary attributes – driving forward from central midfield and unleashing a number of efforts from range with his powerful left foot.

With the Europa League campaign potentially adding 17 extra games onto next season’s schedule, and hopefully with lengthy runs in the FA Cup and Carling Cup to come, we are going to need to use all our playing resources and I can see Vuckic getting his opportunity and prevailing in the role of the most attacking of the central midfielders in our new-found 4-3-3 formation.

Smith: For the first time in some years there are a number of very exciting youngsters on the fringes of the Newcastle squad – enough to get more than a little giddy about any substitute glimpse or naming on the bench. From Sammy Ameobi at the forefront, to Remie Streete at the further end of youth, any of these fledglings could break the first team should circumstances and progression prove favourable.  However, the player I would most fancy like to make a serious break onto the first team stage would be Mehdi Abeid.

The French born midfielder was brought to St James’ under the pretence of having a season in the reserves first, before being seriously considered for first team duties – and having excelled in doing so on the field, whilst building a very promising partnership with Haris Vuckic, this season ‘should’ see Mehdi far more involved in the first team.

Also, as a wildcard mention, should transfer activity not go as hoped and Danny Simpson depart as it appears he will, it would be difficult to understate the chances of James Tavernier being fast-tracked into first team football. The 20 year old has earned rave reviews whilst on loan at a variety of clubs and could provide a cheap, organic alternative to any potential right back vacancy.

Next up, in the last of our 3 part end of season review, the opposition…

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  • Great article as always lads and glad to have you back writing again.

    Looking forward to the third installment!

  • Looking forward to seeing Mehdi Abeid develop as well! He has pace, skill, and an attitude that could serve him very well. Mehdi also seems to be extremely versatile across the midfield, which can only help his case.


  • NUFC blog varying from inane rantings to precision statistical analysis. Alternative match previews & reports plus a broader based (and heavily biased) footballing opinion on anything worthy of annoyance.

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