Jan 22, 2011

Lil Wayne returns to London

Routledge returns to QPRFor the 4th successive transfer window Wayne Routledge has found himself on the move, this time to his old club QPR on loan from Newcastle until the end of this season.

Routledge signed for Newcastle just over a year ago for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £2million and was a key player as Newcastle went on to win the Championship. Routledge featured in 17 of the remaining Championship fixtures and added some required balance and pace to the starting line up, also weighing in with 3 goals and an impressive 7 assists.

However Routledge failed to produce this form at the highest level and having also played 17 games in the Premier League for Newcastle failed to score a goal and could only register 1 assist. Routledge is no slower than some of the most dynamic Premier League wingers such as Nani, Aaron Lennon or Adam Johnson but he does not know, or doesn’t have the technical ability to go with it, to use his pace. However the most frustrating aspect of Routledge’s play has been his crossing, of 68 attempted crosses into the box this season, only 30 have found a teammate which is a disappointing 44% succession rate.

Routledge has found himself playing backup to Joey Barton who has excelled in the right midfield position in recent weeks and has been unable to displace him under Alan Pardew. In fact Routledge has only featured in 4 games since Pardew took over, including 3 appearances as an injury time substitute and under the new manager has only racked up 26 minutes of playing time.

Pardew, in his short time in charge, has seemingly made an assessment of Routledge that he is not good enough to play in the Premier League and that even at his 6th Premier League club he looks unlikely to score his first Premier League goal. A loan deal initially looked a strange move as at 26 Routledge is unlikely to return a better player having spent time at QPR, however the rumours are that a permanent move will be completed at the end of the season if QPR get promoted, which at this stage looks fairly likely.

The transfer leaves Newcastle short of a man in midfield and although Routledge was unlikely to gain a starting place he was a decent option from the bench for his pace alone. Hopefully Pardew has someone lined up or at least in mind to replace him as with a thread bare squad and injuries piling up, Newcastle desperately need reinforcements in the wide areas.

As for Routledge, he was brought in to help Newcastle to secure promotion to the Premier League last season which he  did but ultimately his final ball and figures haven’t tallied in the Premier League, failing to refute the suggestions that he is a ‘Championship player’. He is a good signing for QPR manager Neil Warnock however and will no doubt do the job that he did for Newcastle last season in helping secure promotion.

Jan 20, 2011

Preview: Tottenham (H)

22.01.2011 – Saturday 3:00pm

"I'll frrow in this laaavely cutlery set as wewl - naay let's see Andy..."

Barclays Premier League

Location: St James’

Prospects: Can we have our first XI playing at the same time at least once this season?

Pre-match Gut Feeling: A result can be ground out.

The Gaffer: Harry Redknapp:  ‘appy ‘arry has done little to endear himself to the footballing population since the previous Tottenham preview only 24 days ago, particularly with Newcastle.  He employs his own unique method of tapping up by first declaring his admiration / undying love for a player to then do a figurative 180 turnaround and dismiss any chance of buying said player (unless of course the now unsettled player hands in a transfer request and forces the hand of his employers, who all of a sudden are in a position of having to not only sell, but sell cheaper than they would have originally wished).  His overtures are as subtle as a car crashing into the side of a house, but despite this he throws a ‘I deserve respect, rather than should earn it’ style hissy fit whenever anyone talks about his beloved Gareth Bale (world’s greatest footballer™) who of course he didn’t try to dispense of only 13 months ago.  In his own world he would never conduct this kind of behaviour, say for example with Andy Carroll once, twice or even three times in the space of a month… And of course, let us not forget Harry is a genius for moving Luka Modric into a deep lying play maker role, something which was in no way at all a last chance solution to keeping him on the pitch (after succeeding in a chance buy of the sublime Rafael Van Der Vaart, and discovering Gareth Bale was actually a good player after all and maybe a bit more worthy than a loan move to Nottingham Forest).  Oh, and whatever you do – don’t mention the Inland Revenue to him – but, howay, who really enjoys paying taxes…

The Team: In the last preview, just days before the transfer frenzy opened, I suggested “If there is any money left in the bottomless transfer kitty at White Hart Lane then the defence will have to be addressed before their ambitions can be achieved”.  Since then they have bought midfielder Steven Pienaar, seemly not just to p#ss of Chelsea but to also bolster a midfield which needs little to no improvement, even when speaking about the squad as a whole.  Oh and they’ve tried to sign Andy Carroll for something equivalent to two double-dips and all their transfer listed players (plus extortionate wages), and continue to look for a striker despite possessing at least 1 prolific goalscorer in Jermaine Defoe.  Despite these moves, don’t you dare refer to ‘arry as a wheeler dealer… (he’s a facking football manager….) Danger men: Rafael Van Der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric . Weak link: Michael Dawson / Gomes on set plays.

Key to success: Same as last time, give ‘em as good as you get – even more so this time without the midfield steel of Tiote or Smith.  Sustaining the more direct game of late can reap rewards as Tottenham’s defence can be easily displaced, however an aerial battle will be expected therefore aiming balls to be taken down at rather than attempting headed flick-ons would be wise, especially given the lack of pace present up front with Ameobi and Best.  Both full-backs will have to be on guard as the majority of away attacks will begin on the flanks, the pressing of their full backs is something that we must be wary of, but also something that can be exploited if we push wide while countering.  Keeping Nolan in and around Luka Modric could prove useful in disrupting the flow of their attacks and extinguish some at the source.  Belief has an unusually significant part to play, not being overawed by a Tottenham team who are impressive in attack, but possess underlying frailties that have lead to them having almost an identical away record to Newcastle.

Direct your abuse at: ‘arry.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends his time ‘aap norf’ trying to coax wor Andy back onto the Spurs team bus.

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?

Jan 10, 2011

Stevenage (A) in 5 key points

08.01.11 – Saturday 5.30pm
FA Cup

Stevenage celebrate 3rd goalStevenage 3
og (Williamson) 50, Bostwick 55, Winn 90+3

Newcastle 1
Barton 90+2

Newcastle began their FA Cup 2010/11 campaign with a 3rd round away fixture against Stevenage at Broadwall Way. The two sides had met 13 years earlier in the same competition in a tie which Newcastle went on to win at the expense of a replay, however in 2011 there was a different outcome. Stevenage gained revenge with a 3-1 victory over a hopeless Newcastle side 75 places above them in the English football pyramid. In front of the ESPN cameras Newcastle crumbled in spectacular fashion, with their humiliating exit being likened to the 1972 FA Cup defeat at Hereford, and deservedly exited the competition.

We take a look at the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective:

1. Imbalance on the wings

Pardew made 5 changes for the fixture mainly as a result of injuries to his first choice 11. Harper, Taylor, Enrique, Tiote and Gutierrez were replaced by Krul, Williamson, Perch, Routledge and Smith. Barton was inexplicably moved to the left side of midfield to accommodate Smith in the centre which was the first of Pardew’s tactical mishaps. Quite why you would play your most creative player out of position on the left side of midfield is a mystery and is one which only Pardew can answer.

Predominantly right footed, Barton does not possess the qualities of a left winger in being able to beat a man with pace and trickery, although no-one could question his delivery. As he tried to find a way into the game he continuously cut inside and with James Perch, also out of position at left back, Newcastle posed no direct threat down their left side and were hopelessly one-sided and reliant on the right hand side partnership of Simpson and Routledge.

2. Central midfield struggle

With Tiote taking up a place on the bench after picking up a knock against West Ham in the previous game, Pardew selected Smith to partner Nolan in central midfield. In the last fixture that Newcastle lined up with Smith and Nolan in central midfield they lost 5-1 away to Bolton. After that game we highlighted that the pairing of Smith and Nolan resulted in Newcastle lacking pace and agility in central midfield and it was the same again against Stevenage.

Both players were hampered by their highlighted shortcomings and were completely overrun by a more energetic, agile and determined Stevenage midfield. It’s not unreasonable to say that Smith and Nolan were virtually anonymous in midfield, if they struggle as a partnership against a League 2 side they simply can’t be risked as a partnership in the Premier League.

3. Lack of creativity and ideas

With no threat posed down the left or through the centre of midfield, with Routledge continuing to frustrate with his inability to beat his man or put a decent ball into the box and with neither Best or Lovenkrands showing the intelligence or movement to drop deeper and link up play, Newcastle looked completely devoid of any creativity going forward and were weighed down by Pardew’s team selection.

There was too much emphasis placed on Barton to find the killer pass and time after time when all other options weren’t working, Newcastle resorted to launching a long ball up to Lovenkrands and Best in the hope that something would happen. It didn’t. Newcastle never looked like scoring but did however get on the score sheet in injury time through the one-man driving force Barton who struck a stunning 25 yard shot which resulted in a goal, however it proved to be too little too late.

4. Plan B fails to pay off

At half time and with the score line at 0-0 Pardew brought off Best for Ranger, resorting to a 4-5-1 formation with Ranger up front on his own, Barton moving into central midfield and Lovenkrands moving to left midfield. Presumably this was an attempt to nullify Stevenage’s dominance in the central midfield area by adding Barton to the mix, as well as to readdress the imbalance issue with Lovenkrands offering an option down the left. However the Plan B failed to work as Stevenage went on to win the second half and the match 3-1.

Smith had even less of an impact in the opening 13 minutes of the second half before he was substituted, so bringing Barton into central midfield and putting Lovenkrands left midfield only served to leave Ranger completely isolated up front. This didn’t stop the Newcastle defenders from continuously hoofing aerial balls up to him, a fruitless tactic which unsurprisingly failed to materialise.

5. Down to 10

Chasing the game at 2-0 down, Pardew made the decision to bring on Tiote in place of Smith in an effort to get Newcastle back into the game. A strange decision considering Tiote has neither scored nor assisted a goal this season. However after being on the pitch for only 13 minutes Tiote was shown a red card for a tackle which was judged by referee Andre Marriner to be a reckless lunge with both feet off the ground.

In this day they say that you can’t tackle like that, but a counter argument would be that when Tiote made the tackle it was with one foot, no studs showing, no one was injured and he won the ball. He did however leave himself open to the referee’s perception of the incident which didn’t go in his favour and a 3 match ban now looms, although at the time of writing Newcastle are appealing to the FA for the red card to be rescinded. As Newcastle struggled with 11 men on the pitch, they stood practically no chance with 10 men and 2 goals behind following Tiote’s dismissal.

At the end of the day…

It was another FA Cup humiliation and performance for Newcastle to forget. For years to come the fans, players and anyone associated with the club present and future will be forced to endure the Stevenage goals as the FA Cup 3rd round comes around. It was a gutless performance from Newcastle in which they were outfought, outclassed and outplayed and deserved nothing more than the early exit which they suffered.

Stevenage belied their league position, 3 divisions below Newcastle, and were the better team from the opening minute to the last. They had more shots on goal, 6, than Newcastle, 4, and enjoyed the majority share of possession with 53% to Newcastle’s 47%. They were first to every ball and deserve their place in the FA Cup 4th round. Good luck to them.

Of course the result was a major source of anger, frustration and embarrassment for Newcastle fans particularly those that travelled, but after a few days to reflect getting knocked out of the FA Cup can only benefit Newcastle’s Premier League campaign. Less games, less chance of injuries/suspensions and a chance for the thread-bare squad to gain more rest between games.

Newcastle must reflect upon what went wrong in this game but quickly move on to preparing for the next game, the local derby against sunderland, Sunday 12pm at the Stadium of Light.

Team selection depends hugely upon the return to fitness of several players – Enrique, Gutierrez, Ameobi and Carroll, particularly Ameobi who loves scoring against the mackems. Steven Taylor has already been ruled out through injury . There is also the issue of whether the club are successful in appealing Tiote’s red card and whether he will be available, although with Newcastle’s record with the FA we’re not overly hopeful.

Presuming the injured players are fit to play and Tiote, by some sort of late Christmas miracle, is available Newcastle could line up in a 4-4-2 consisting of Harper, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson, Simpson, Gutierrez, Tiote, Nolan, Barton, Carroll and Ameobi. Without Tiote, Pardew faces a huge problem in replacing him and may move Barton inside alongside Nolan with Routledge on the right side of  midfield. Although with the game still 6 days away, Newcastle may be able wrap up the signing of and hand a debut to Sebastian Larsson who is rumoured to be signing from Birmingham for £1million.

Whichever XI is selected, all need to put in 100% and scrap for every ball. The mackems will be out for revenge and another performance of the type seen against Stevenage will only result in defeat, each player in black and white must fight for the Newcastle cause – Newcastle United will never be defeated. Howay the lads!

Jan 7, 2011

Preview: Stevenage (A)

08.01.2011 – Saturday 5:30pm

"What'd you mean you can't play on this?"

FA Cup -3rd Round

Location: Broadhall Way: Apparently also known as the Lamex Stadium (aye, me neither). The Bernabeu of Hertfordshire was expanded in 2001 (probably on the back of Newcastle’s replay money) and now has a swollen capacity of 7,100 (most of which aren’t seats).  This time at least they have a pitch that doesn’t resemble the Somme…

Prospects: A walk in the park on any other day…

Pre-match Gut Feeling: …but it’s the FA cup and its live on TV.  Expect difficulties, but a win regardless.

The Gaffer: Graham Westley:  Already giving it big noise about the game being pay back for the ‘injustice’ of ’98, when big bad Newcastle tried to bully poor little Stevenage in a pathetic round of mind games that the media latched onto like an alligator on a hiker’s leg.  The man himself is something of a basement league footballing journeyman playing for 13 different teams, never achieving more than 41 appearances for any single club and 5 different permanent managerial positions, twice for Stevenage.

The Team: Slap bang mid table in League Two, going through indifferent form winning only 2 of their last 8 and a grand total of 3 at home all season (1 less than Newcastle in fairness….). They also sit 2 points ahead of Accrington Stanley who we have already beaten in the cup this season – although their attacking mentality doesn’t seem to be shared by Stevenage who have the equal best defensive record in their division. Danger Man: Chris Holroyd (on loan from Brighton) with 6 goals in 12 games.  Want a make a name for yourself son?  Look elsewhere…

Key to success: Garth Crooks believes it’s going to be ‘upset time’.  A fan quoted by their manager has been told to right the wrong of ’98.  Pin this up in the dressing room.

Direct your abuse at: Anyone that starts romanticising about the FA cup (best cup competition in the world, magic of the cup etc, etc), which will no doubt be reflected in the TV coverage pre-game and post-game (regardless if the result goes for Newcastle), and has already started by Football Focus touring the lower league towns, including Stevenage, in a vain attempt to smell out the slightest upset.  Get over it man.


  • 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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