This is the third and final part of our end of season review, reflecting on everything Newcastle United in the 2011/12 season. We end the trilogy with a review of the opposition:
RD and Smith: Manchester City. This could perhaps be seen as an easy choice, but as far as opposition go (particularly at St James’ Park) the eventual Champions were simply incomparable in ability, organisation and work-rate. The biggest shame for City’s plaudits was only winning the title on goal difference, despite being vastly superior to their illustrious neighbours: “United” a shadow of their previous self in both fixtures this season.
Of course, the timing of when Newcastle played the Citizens this season will have helped facilitate this view, but Man City are no less worthy having looked every bit as impressive when observed in their other fixtures. The only sour point of note was the involvement of Carlos Tevez after going AWOL – yes, refusing his return could have cost City the Premier League title, but from an outsider’s perspective it’s hard to find affection for such a man. Nevertheless, for one Tevez there was an array of admirable players and performers – such as the influential, model professional Vincent Kompany and the colossus Yaya Toure – players who are a delight to watch even when they are upstaging your own in the process.
Opinion isn’t exactly unanimous on whether City’s surge to their current lofty position by way of financial doping is good for the English game (personally thinking it’s more detrimental to the progress of the likes of Newcastle) but it the sheer footballing ability and professionalism Manchester City possess cannot be overlooked, and should not be overlooked. Simply a brilliant footballing outfit.
RD: Blackburn Rovers. One of just 3 sides that we took maximum points from, in the company of Bolton and Stoke, Blackburn edge it as the worst opposition that we have faced this season. Not just because of the aforementioned 6 points that we picked up from them, but more so because of their lack of quality and, criminally, their lack of application.
In the fixture at St James’ Park, we were 2-0 up within half an hour as Blackburn were hopelessly outclassed. On 64 minutes, Martin Olsson was dismissed for a second yellow card (remember that lack of application?), and we eased to a 3-1 victory. In truth, with 21 shots to Blackburn’s 3, it could have been a much higher score line. In the return fixture at Ewood, Rovers put up more of a fight, but ultimately lacked the quality to get on the score sheet in a 0-2 defeat, even failing to convert a penalty with the score at 0-1. Lacking consistency and an effective manager in the hapless Steve Kean, it was of little surprise to see Blackburn relegated in the final weeks of the season.
Smith: Likely to be received as a surprise choice to most, Swansea were in my opinion the worst opposition faced this season, simply due to the sterile football served up in both fixtures. As QPR’s fans sang to them “it’s just like watching paint dry”, Swansea are the only team I’ve known who will see the game out for you if you’re winning with a string of sideways and backwards passes – as they graciously did when we played them at the Liberty Stadium. 77% possession – 0% goals.
‘Sterile domination’ probably the best description I’ve heard of their football – a bluntly honest statement in a footballing world who’s slightly bizarre fixation with debatable possession stats has seen Swansea elevated to a team who apparently ‘play the right way’ (presumably with the only alternative being for a team to hoof and rush). It remains to be seen whether much will change in their play after Brenden Rogers’ departure to Liverpool, taking key back room staff in the process – here’s hoping for just a little more positivity…
Best opposition player
RD: Emmanuel Adebayor. Although we didn’t exactly do ourselves any favours with our overzealous attacking approach and defensive play, Tottenham’s on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor was simply unplayable as he helped his side to a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane.
Adebayor’s all-round forward play was impressive, but it was his intelligent movement that stood out in particular as he regularly drifted to the right to find space and link up with Kyle Walker and Niko Kranjcar. He was involved in everything good that came from Spurs and played a part in all 5 goals with 4 assists in the first half alone, 2 of which originated from his taking up of that position on the right. Adebayor then deservedly scored a goal of his own in the second half to cap a memorable performance. 4 assists and 1 goal; quantity and quality.
Smith: Yaya Toure – narrowly edging it over his exceptional team-mate Vincent Kompany. The younger Toure was a colossus in the Champions 2-0 win at St James – simply the difference between a very good side and a Championship wining side. He dominated Cabaye when playing in his more regular deep midfield role, and then Tiote when moved forward, as City pushed to win the game. And indeed it was Toure who won the game for them, almost single handedly, scoring twice and dictating play for the opposition. Newcastle gave a very good account of themselves that day, but titles are won and lost by performances like Toure’s, and in my view it was a performance completely worthy of a champion.
Worst opposition player
RD: Ahmed Elmohamady. The man nicknamed ‘Elmo’, put in a performance worthy of his muppet namesake in our 1-0 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Deployed on the right of Sunderland’s midfield, Elmohamady’s task was presumably to use his pace to unsettle the out-of-position Ryan Taylor at left back. Yet, for all that Raylor performed his defensive duties admirably, Elmohamady was of little threat and lacked any semblance of quality in the final third. Having pace is one thing, knowing how to use it effectively and consistently is another and therein appears to lie Elmohamady’s failings. Unsurprisingly, he is yet to start a game since Bruce departed and the party with Marty began.
Smith: Anthony Modeste – Blackburn (A). Presumably one from the Dennis Wise school of player scouting. On first viewing, Modeste ‘looks’ to have the makings of a fearsome striker –the wide shoulders topping his 6ft 1inch athletic frame suggest a pacey, powerful, dominating front man. And it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Modeste was woefully ineffective in our sloppy win against Rovers at Ewood Park in January – failing to capitalise on an array of slack play, including missing what was to all purposes an open goal after a dreadful Krul clearance.
It’s comfortable to say with some half decent forward play that night we probably wouldn’t have left Ewood with all three points, let alone a clean sheet – but with the likes of Modeste in the ranks it’s little wonder Blackburn were eventually relegated. Having only been on loan from Bordeaux – it’s unlikely we’ll see Modeste plying his trade in England again. Unless of course he takes up a trade more suited to him than football…
Best opposition manager
RD: Only one side managed to record a home and away double over us in the season just gone: Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. Both Newcastle and City went into the meeting at the Eastlands in November unbeaten. Mancini gave his two wingers – Samir Nasri and James Milner – nomadic license to cut infield, helping to provide another option in central midfield and creating space for the full backs – Gael Clichy and Micah Richards – to push forward. Richards made the difference, winning a penalty and scoring a goal as City went on to win 3-1. A tactical victory for Mancini; however, it was at St James’ in the penultimate game of the season when his tactical nous really prevailed.
With the score at 0-0 and Newcastle providing sturdy opposition, Mancini withdrew Nasri for holding midfielder Nigel De Jong. With De Jong taking up his place alongside Gareth Barry, this allowed Yaya Toure to play in a more advanced position off Sergio Aguero and proved to be an inspired move by Mancini. Freed of his midfield responsibility, Toure opened the scoring 10 minutes later and scored again to seal a 2-0 win with only minutes remaining to all but secure City their first title in 44 years.
Smith: Although tempted to agree with my counterpart on this one, I’ve opted for the since departed Norwich manager Paul Lambert. While his tika taka infatuated, newly promoted counterpart Brendan Rogers was elevated to near genius status by the media, Lambert guided his equally ill-experienced squad of lower league purchased success stories to an impressive final position of 12th place in the Premier League (two points more than ‘established’ ‘top ten contenders’ Sunderland, I must add).
What impressed me mostly about Lambert is his ability to identify critical weakness in an opposition and change his team’s strategy to exploit that weakness. Our 4-2 loss at Carrow Road was perhaps an example which doesn’t do the extent of his success justice – with Norwich far more impressive in their narrow 1-0 loss at St James’ Park, strangling Newcastle’s play through an industrious five man midfield and looking positively to create their own chances when in possession.
His move to Aston Villa is on paper a sensible one – a natural progression at the perfect time when establishing Norwich as a stable Premier League team would take years of hard work. However, it is Aston Villa and although we try to remain as objective as possible in our opinions I can’t extend my best wishes to him on this occasion. Regardless, Lambert looks to have all the attributes to be a top class manager, and on his newly elevated platform could very well prove that sooner rather than later.
Worst opposition manager
RD: Tony Pulis.
“His guidance in simplistically but effectively undoing NUFC on two occasions was as equally frustrating as it was admirable“.
That was our verdict of Tony Pulis, through gritted teeth, last season as we suggested him for best opposition manager. This season, however, Pulis has been tactically out-thought by Alan Pardew in both meetings between Newcastle and his Stoke side and has watched his side comfortably beaten – 3-1 and 3-0 – on both occasions. Of course, this isn’t playing down the superb performances put in by Pardew’s men, but Pulis showed little in the way of a plan B when his team’s direct approach failed to pay off.
Smith: Kenny Dalglish. In short – his management in the fixture at St James could only be described as clueless. From the off, his rigid front three struggled to really cause Newcastle problems relying mainly on the efforts of Andy Carroll for a spearhead, only to substitute Carroll despite his efforts and laying him open to a torrent of jeers in the process. Dalglish was also instructed off the field by his team captain whilst remonstrating, and paid so little attention to his own changes ordered substitute ‘keeper Doni to get stripped to fill in for the dismissed Pepe Reina, despite having already made his three substitutions.
After the game, our former gaffer could have praised the purring Newcastle side which had outplayed his, but instead chose to mumble moans at the officials for poor decisions, in particular saying anyone who didn’t see Danny Simpon’s ‘handball’ would need to “go to Vision Express” – despite himself making no appeal at the time…
Dalglish’s handling of the Suarez incidents (take your pick) only further built a just reputation of a grumpy, delusional old man to further alienate him from the rest of the footballing world – ironically taking a large amount of attention away from his inferior tactical and strategy decisions. He may have been a legend off the field, but I hope to see little of him again involved in football off it.
Opposition goal of the season
RD: For the importance of the goal and the sheer composure of the finish, I’m going for Yaya Toure’s 1st in the home defeat to Manchester City. As mentioned above, the younger of the Toure brothers had been pushed into a more advanced position by this point, as City looked to break the deadlock, and his opening goal was one of calm and class.
With 20 minutes to go, Toure received the ball from Nigel De Jong 25 yards from Tim Krul’s goal. A quick one-two with Sergio Aguero allowed him to lose his marker – Yohan Cabaye – and get into a more central area. Receiving Aguero’s return pass on the edge of Newcastle’s penalty area, and with Coloccini closing him down, Toure stepped up to the ball and confidently curled a powerful shot with the inside of the right foot, low into the corner of Tim Krul’s net. Unstoppable.
Smith: Franco Di Santo – Wigan (A). An unlikely source for a goal of stature from an opposition player, Di Santo’s goal was as admirable as it was hard to take in our 4-0 reverse at the Dave Whelan (Dave Whelan, everyone) Stadium. Only Di Santo’s sixth goal from a paltry seven all season, the young Argentine took the ball centrally on the field and roughly 25 yards from goal, ignored the attention of the onrushing Tiote by talking a deft touch then side-footing a beautifully controlled shot at an angle over a helpless Tim Krul.
Everything Wigan hit in that first half went in as we were blown away by their vastly superior passing and movement – Di Santo’s goal personified a brilliant half of football from Wigan and a minor disaster for Newcastle. Credit also goes to Steven Piennar’s similar long distance strike on the final day and Junior Hoillet’s rocket into the Gallowgate end in the first our four fixtures against Blackburn.
Part 3 concludes our review of the 2011/12 season – a season which has been as thoroughly enjoable to watch as it has to have been part of. Here’s to the future!
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