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.

Jan 6, 2011

West Ham (H) in 5 key points

05.01.11 – Wednesday 7.45pm
Barclays Premier League

Leon Best scores against West HamNewcastle 5
Best 18, 39, 60
Nolan 45
Lovenkrands 63

West Ham 0

For the 4th time in only 11 days Newcastle were in Premier League action with a home fixture against West Ham. Continuing their 100% record in 2011, Newcastle strolled to a 5-0 victory against an awful West Ham side and in the process recorded their first double of the season having beaten West Ham at Upton Park in October.

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

1. Best by name…

The inclusion of Leon Best was the only change to the Newcastle side which was successful against Wigan 3 days previous following a late injury to Shola Ameobi, as Newcastle again lined up in an attacking 4-4-2 formation. Since signing for Newcastle a year ago, Best had only featured in 14 games for Newcastle failing to score in any and was perhaps a surprise inclusion in the starting line up.

Starting his first Premier League game, Best began in an energetic fashion looking to prove a point to the doubters who had already written him off, as well as impressing his new manager and couldn’t have hoped for a better full Premier League debut. A hat-trick of well taken left footed goals, a solid all round performance and the Man of the Match award were well deserved for the Irish International and fully justified Pardew’s decision to start him.

2.The Best support act goes to…

Although Best took the plaudits for his hat-trick, he was ably supported by his strike partner Peter Lovenkrands. The Dane displayed some accurate passing in the final third and gained an assist for Best’s first goal with a well timed pass. He was also the creator for Best’s second goal, drilling the ball across the West Ham 6 yard box which found it’s way to Best to slot home. Lovenkrand’s rounded off a lively performance with a goal of his own later in the game, getting on the end of a low Joey Barton cross.

Kevin Nolan also shared the creative duties providing the assist for Best’s third goal with a clever first time pass and got on the scoresheet himself, bringing out the ‘I feel like chicken tonight’ celebration following his 9th goal of the season. Nolan’s goal capped off an inspiring performance from the Newcastle captain who while going forward was also efficient in breaking up play with 3 tackles, 3 clearances and 2 blocks.

3. Newcastle’s reliable midfield duo

The reliable twosome Joey Barton and Cheick Tiote were excellent again and were the driving force in the Newcastle midfield. Such is their importance and influence for Newcastle when either has a rare off day, as Barton did against Tottenham, Newcastle tend not to play well and when they play well so too do Newcastle, as was the case against West Ham.

Barton was involved in the majority of Newcastle’s goals and demonstrated his accurate passing and quick thinking, while Tiote covered the width of the midfield and was a calming presence in possession for Newcastle. Both were effective when attacking and defending and combined to complete 95 passes, 6 interceptions and 5 tackles.

4. Efficient defending with added class

What little danger West Ham posed in an attacking sense the Newcastle defence dealt with efficiently, effectively and in the case of Fabricio Coloccini in particular – with a touch of class. Coloccini broke up West Ham attacks time and again with an apparent ease and calmness, making 4 tackles and 6 clearances. He also showed some skillful touches including a Zidane-like 360 degree turn on the edge of his own box after dispossessing Carlton Cole, class.

Enrique block on AnichebeJose Enrique was another of Newcastle’s defenders who put in a solid performance. Equally adept at attacking and defending, Enrique completed the most passes of any player on the pitch with 59 and linked up well with Jonas Gutierrez down Newcastle’s left side, while also nullifying the threat of West Ham with 5 interceptions and 3 clearances. It is a joy to watch as a Newcastle fan when an opposition winger knocks the ball past Enrique and then tries to beat him for pace/strength – there is just no getting past El Toro.

5. It’s a West Ham roll over

While Newcastle played very well and were deserving of their 5-0 victory, they were aided on their way by an awful West Ham side. The Hammers failed to display even the basic laws of defending while showing little drive, creativity or quality going forward and only managed to build up any attacking momentum when Newcastle stepped off the gas at 5-0 up.

Pre-match, Scott Parker took a break from pirouetting to highlight West Ham’s chances, “Newcastle is somewhere we can go and win. We are confident and it is a winnable game“, just like the time he chose to vent his anger at the SJP East Stand mid match, this was another piece of poor judgement from the former Magpie. At 3-0 down the West Ham supporters had given up all hope for the claret and blues and began chanting, “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”, and “you’re getting sacked in the morning”, as the first half came to a close – the type of ‘support’ that won’t be missed if they do get relegated at the end of the season.

At the end of the day…

It was important that Newcastle didn’t allow this game to follow the same pattern as other home defeats earlier in the season against Blackpool, Blackburn, Stoke etc. However after coming out of the blocks quickly and taking an 18th minute lead there was only going to be one winner. West Ham were woeful and Newcastle duly brushed them aside in a fashion reminiscent of the ruthlessness Manchester United have served up to weaker opponents in recent years. Newcastle were by far the better side and deserved the 3 points. They showed some clinical finishing, Leon Best in particular, with 9 of their 14 shots on target and were good value for their 5 goals.

The win put Newcastle up to 8th in the table, on 28 points after 21 games. Survival is still the aim but with 40 points as the benchmark, and without getting carried away, Newcastle aren’t far from achieving their target and presuming they reach that they can then assess their ambitions and realistically look at a top 10 finish. It is now 3 wins out of 5 for Pardew and if Ashley, as reported, sacked Hughton because of his inability to secure wins against lesser sides then Pardew has started off well in that respect.

Interestingly Newcastle are the only Premier League team to score 3 first half goals in 3 separate games this season. They are also the only team to have scored 3 hat tricks this season with no team managing to score 4 hat tricks in a Premier League season. Providing Ameobi is fit to return against sunderland we may see Newcastle break that record.

Next up for Newcastle is a trip to Stevenage in the third round of the FA Cup this Saturday (8th January) in a televised game on ESPN, 5.30pm kick off. It is expected that Pardew will rest a few first team players and will give opportunities to a few of the fringe/younger players – Guthrie, Smith, Ranger, Ferguson etc. A win will nicely keep confidence rolling into the derby match against sunderland the following Sunday (16th January).

On the day that Newcastle announced the permanent signing of Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling inched closed to full fitness, a 5-0 victory topped off a positive day in the fortunes of Newcastle United.

Jan 4, 2011

Preview: West Ham (H)

05.01.2011 – Wednesday 7:45pm

Now at Barca, Man City & Newcastle. Which one did best...

Barclays Premier League

Location: St James’

Prospects: Pivotal for the season either way.

Pre-match Gut Feeling: Timely and important home win.

The Gaffer: Avram Grant:  A manager of rare ilk in England as one who has never played the game professionally at any level, starting his coaching career at a tender 18.  Something of a powerhouse in his native Israel, winning numerous honours at a variety of clubs before his final ascension to national manager, narrowly missing out on guiding his country to the World Cup in ’06.  He arrived in England as Chelsea and Jose Mourinho’s director of football, his arrival adding to the rift between board and manager which eventually lead to Mourinho leaving and Grant taking his place.  Despite inheriting a squad capable of matching anyone, anywhere, Grant failed to win silverware in his one season there – reaching and losing both the League Cup and Champions League finals, while also finishing second in the league.  He spent some time out of football before re-emerging again as a director of football at Portsmouth, eventually overtaking Paul Hart as manager of an already half sunken ship, but heroically guiding them to an FA cup final only to lose to his former employers Chelsea.  Since then Avram has had the unfortunate look of an embattled club’s manager, leaving Portsmouth for West Ham and enduring a catastrophic start to the season not winning a match until November, and only leaving the relegation zone as a manager for the first time last week, since the day he took over at Portsmouth on 26th November 2009. The debate is still out whether he can cut it in this country with extenuating circumstances at all three clubs he has managed within England.  Perhaps if he didn’t look like a Gordon Brown’s granddad he would be taken a little more seriously…

The Team: The academy of English football, but not in the way West Ham fans would like to think they are.  Over the last 10 years and beyond they have possessed a platter of players that would eventually play at the top levels, some world class, but all for other clubs.  Although it would have been an incredible ask, the current West Ham team could have feasibly included Carlos Tevez, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Javier Mascherano, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe.  Yes, there are many entwined factors like player development and current form but it’s just a thought… The current incarnation however are one that find themselves in a relegation threatened predicament more through imbalance, inconsistency and lack of squad harmony (by way of excessive player turn over) than outright lack of ability.  Danger men: Scott Parker, Victor Obina

Key to success: Get out the traps early and hit them hard.  West Ham have had an upturn in form recently and confidence is slowly being nurtured back, but playing away from home and putting them on the back foot early on the damage could be done before the game has got underway in earnest.  Without a doubt Scott Parker will be the heart beat of West Ham and should be neutralised as he was in the reverse fixture.  Sparing the availability of Carroll, the same starting XI from Wigan should be maintained (although I’m still at a loss at why Williamson has lost his place to Taylor so easily).  Despite their lowly position, they still have enough quality not to be taken lightly, as they showed at Fulham recently – another professional performance is required

Direct your abuse at: David Gold:  The louder half of the Gold and Sullivan partnership is as fond of the sound of his own voice as he probably is the smell of his own farts.  And who could blame him, with the sort of business brilliance that accrues millions of pounds via the genius of selling knickers and porn mags.  Who needs James Dyson…


  • 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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