21.12.2011 – Wednesday 7:45pm
Location: St James’
Early prospects: Needlessly nervy
Newcastle United take to the field at St James’ for the second time in five days to take on Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion, looking for a win to achieve the targeted ‘30 points by Christmas’.
Just like the Swansea game four days earlier, the game presents a very reasonable opportunity to prevent a fruitless run of fixtures turning into an actual slide. A weaker NUFC side were unlucky enough to go five games without a win last season, on two occasions in fact, but never managed to let it slip to a more concerning 6th. Our points already on the board have made this rough patch far easier to ride, but with the dreaded trio of fixtures long since played and the centre back injury crisis drastically eased by the return of Coloccini it’s time once again to get back to winning ways before we hit the road during the Christmas holidays.
Despite a couple of worrying moments where players looked to be struggling against Swansea, NUFC are again without a new injury to worry about. However, a fifth yellow card for the season for Yohan Cabaye means he will serve a one game ban. With Guthrie still out injured, Gosling suspended and Alan Smith seemingly finished as a starter for NUFC, we can chose from Hatem Ben Arfa, Medi Abeid or Haris Vuckic to play at central midfield alongside Tiote – the latter perhaps being tested out by Pardew in the latter stages of the Swansea game when it was already known Cabaye would be suspended. James Perch had a far more comfortable game alongside Coloccini and could keep his place, although it’s likely Williamson will come back into the starting XI if deemed fit enough to get matches back under his belt.
Liverpool legend Roy Hodgson has kept a fairly consistent line-up this season with only 14 players having made more than one starting XI appearance – sticking largely with a traditional 442 layout, but occasionally deploying a 4411. With both star strikers Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long fit and it’s likely The Baggies will field a very similar 442 line-up as the one which beat struggling Blackburn at Ewood Park on Saturday. Paul Scharner, Youssuf Mulumbu and James Morrison are all rated doubtful for this game, but all played at least 80minutes on Saturday, so the expectation is that they may all make it for this game. Anything that keeps NUFC menace Somen Tchoyi away from us, the better…
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
• Forward line: With the smart purchase of Shane Long this summer, West Brom have the advantage of a dynamic, balanced and fairly potent forward line. Combined, the two have been responsible for eight goals so far this season, although that figure is arguably underplayed by Odemwingie having only started eight of WBA’s matches so far this season. The pair are driven, intelligent, can created their own chances and rarely waste an opportunity when they get it. They’ll be a handful if given space to play.
• Technique: A particular danger is WBA’s danger from long range shots, from the likes of James Morrison, Chris Brunt et al. Although not often highlighted, NUFC have a tendency to back off play when in front of our own penalty area looking to maintain defensive organisation. The likelihood is we’ll need help from midfield to close down and dissuade shots from distance – and with nearly half of their shots come from outside the 18 yard box that help will have to be at hand consistently.
• Organisation and balance: Coming naturally with Roy Hodgson’s managerial side, WBA stick to a pretty disciplined, perhaps rigid, layout but with the advantage of having an even mix of grit and flair in midfield. Their shape allows them to provide support from the full backs (both Steven Ried and Nickey Shorey registering assists this season) while retaining a pretty solid core with Mulumbu and Scharner.
Up against a likely 442 / 4411, NUFC should find this game far more to their taste than the previous. However, some of the problems that lead to us finding it difficult to break down Swansea could should be looked to be remedied in this game.
• Get the left flank working again: A second start for Davide Santon at left back was perhaps not surprising after an assured enough performance against Norwich, but his 2nd appearance highlighted a particular issue – the attacking contribution of Jonas Gutierrez. Santon’s assurance in defence, and positivity going forward meant he didn’t require the same level of protection that Ryan Taylor has been afforded, effectively leaving Jonas fairly under-used during the game. Although still getting to grips with playing as a partnership, it would be beneficial to see Gutierrez take a more positive approach to attacking in this game with support from the eager Santon, to provide what is a very capable threat from the left side.
• More deliveries from Obertan: Without getting into an unnecessary debate over the long term playing benefits of our 22 year old Frenchman, one thing that could do his game a great short term boost as well as benefiting the team as a whole is him simply attempting more crosses. Against Swansea he attempted only five crosses (completing two, shown right) in his time on the field, despite being heavily involved in the first half. He may have shown inconsistency with his crosses, but he undoubtedly has the pace to create himself an opening to cross – and with the aerial threat of Ba in particular it could reap rewards. A little positivity could go a long way.
Final thought and gut feeling:
Far from this being a ‘must-win’ game in the sense that Blackburn vs Bolton will be tomorrow, we have to get back to winning ways sooner rather than later – lest we watch our brilliant start go to waste. We’ve struggled against a more flamboyant West Brom outfit in recent times (failing to beat them in the last five meetings), but their vulnerability at the back remains and their new found rigidity has seen them create and score less than recent times. With home advantage I fancy us again, but again, only just: narrow home win.
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