11.09.2010 – Saturday 3.00pm
Barclays Premier League
Adam 45 (pen)
DJ Campbell 90
After a promising start to the season with 4 points from 9, Newcastle’s 4th game of the season brought a home tie against Blackpool, a team they beat 4-1 last season at St James’ and who finished 32 points worse off in the league. It was a game that Newcastle fans identified as one which they should be winning if they are to stay in the Premier League and without being overly unrealistic (take note sky), it was one which they expected to win.
However, this was a different Blackpool side to the one faced last season, a more organised and resilient side, strengthened by 13 astute signings over the summer by manager, Ian Holloway (and they say Harry Redknapp is the wheeler dealer..). It was also one which left St James’ Park with all 3 points following a 2-0 victory with goals at the end of each half; a penalty in the 45th minute by Charlie Adam and a counter attacking DJ Campbell goal in the 90th minute.
Here at Leazes Terrace we take a look at the 5 key points to analyse where it went wrong for Newcastle and right for Blackpool:
1. Newcastle’s change of formation fails to pay off
The 4-5-1 that Chris Hughton has adopted this season has had a relative degree of success, especially in the previous two games against Aston Villa and Wolves. The midfield trio of Nolan, Barton and Smith have combined effectively to pressurise and shut down opposition attacks, while Nolan in particular has got forward well to support lone front man Andy Carroll.
However adapting the formation to 4-4-2 for this game left the midfield short of numbers in the middle and highlighted a few weaknesses in the team.
2. Kevin Nolan ineffective up front
Pushing Kevin Nolan into a centre forward position highlighted his lack of pace and positional unawareness. When the ball was flicked on by Carroll, Nolan either didn’t have the pace to get onto the pass or wasn’t in the right place to receive it. This isn’t being critical of Kevin Nolan as a player, on another day he could have had a goal and an assist, but more that he was played out of position and was unable to adapt and have an impact on the game.
This was highlighted by the fact he only completed 13 passes (compared to Barton’s 46) and had 1 shot on target. If Nolan is to play, he is more effective from an attacking midfield position where he can link up with the other midfielders while choosing his moments to get forward to support the attack, as he did well in the previous games against Wolves and Aston Villa where he completed an average of 18 passes and had 3 shots on target.
3. Alan Smith unable to stamp authority in midfield
Alan Smith struggled in the 2 man midfield against the 3 man midfield of Blackpool, he sat deep but was unable to break up the play, conceding more fouls (1 free kick, 1 penalty) than he did tackles (1), whilst also unable to make a telling contribution going forward, completing only 18 passes, again compared to Barton’s 46.
Again if we look at Smith’s stats in the previous games against Wolves and Aston Villa, we can see that he averaged more completed passes (24) and more tackles (2), suggesting that he may work better as part of a 3 man midfield.
4. Newcastle’s poor wing play
Both Newcastle wingers had poor games and struggled to create anything of note. Jonas Gutierrez attempted 6 crosses into the box with 0 reaching a Newcastle player. Whilst on the other side Wayne Routledge only managed to complete 2 crosses into the box. Both players failing to turn the possession they had into goal-scoring chances for the forwards.
Shola Ameobi and Hatem Ben Arfa appeared in the second half replacing Gutierrez and Routledge, however although Ben Arfa showed some positive and direct touches while in possession of the ball, neither could grab an assist or get on the scoresheet. If Newcastle are to play with Andy Carroll as a front man they must utilise his aerial ability with better crosses into the box.
5. Blackpool defending in numbers
After going a goal up at the end of first half, the second half saw Blackpool revert from their 4-3-3 formation to a 4-5-1 with each of the midfielders behind the ball while Newcastle attacked, leaving DJ Campbell on his own up front to chase down any lose balls that made it his way.
Blackpool spent the majority of the second 45 camped in their own half, a stat which is highlighted by the fact that Fabricio Coloccini didn’t make a single tackle or block in the whole game, and was left relatively unchallenged to complete 33 out of 34 attempted passes.
A combination of good organisation and dogged and disciplined defending in numbers proved successful as Newcastle were unable to find a way through. Blackpool also showed a real desire not to concede, the defence making 8 blocks in the penalty area, and goalkeeper Matt Gilks in seemingly unbeatable form. A worthy man of the match winner. Gilks’ shot stopping abilities are highlighted by the fact that after 4 games of the premiership season he has recorded the most saves in the Premier League with 20 so far.
At the end of the day..
This was an unexpected and very disappointing result for Newcastle, it was a game that on paper Newcastle should have won, yet to quote Sir Bobby, ‘games aren’t played on paper’. The fans shouldn’t be too disheartened however, Newcastle had the majority of possession and created the most chances and on another day it could have been a different outcome had Nolan, Barton and Carroll taken their chances. Yes, this was an opportunity lost and a reality check but this game has to be put to one side, the season is decided over 38 games not after a 0-2 defeat or a 6-0 win.
Hopefully Chris Hughton will review this game and will be working on his choice of tactics, team selection and the crossing of his wingers (!). If a 4-4-2 formation is to be used then the right players must be selected, ie. a midfielder who can play as part of a 2 man midfield and a centre forward who can play alongside Carroll.
After keeping faith with the same team for the opening four games of the season, this defeat gives Hughton the opportunity to make changes, perhaps replacing the disappointing Smith and Gutierrez for Tiote and Ben Arfa from the start, while probably returning to the 4-5-1 ‘away’ formation seeing Nolan drop back into midfield. Lovenkrands’ inclusion is also worth considering as he brings pace and movement to compliment Andy Carroll’s strength and aerial ability.
Interestingly James Perch kept up his 100% record of being booked in every game this season, the only player to hold this record in the Premier League – played 4, booked 4.
PS – If you would like to see the game again for yourself, you can buy the celebratory DVD from the official Blackpool FC website for £5. No word yet on the open top bus parade..