Dec 6, 2010

Match Report: West Brom (A)

05.12.2010 – Sunday 1:30pm

Bomber - 100% graft

Barclays Premier League

West Brom – 3

Tchoyi, Odemwingie (2)

Newcastle United – 1

Lovenkrands

Location: The Hawthornes
MOM: Tchoyi
NUFC Performance: 1/10

A question of graft…

Note: this was started before the events of Monday the 6th…

Newcastle’s unbeaten record in Sunday 1:30pm kick-off’s pitifully came to an end with an inexplicable and indefensible, pathetic showing against a West Brom team that barely had to break sweat to record their first win against Newcastle in the Premiership.  Newcastle finished a healthy 11 points clear of West Brom in the previous season’s Championship table but looked embarrassingly far behind their opponents despite being their supposed betters – continuing with the previous week’s tactics of cheaply surrendering possession to the opposition, defending like school children and treating the opponents penalty box like it was as dangerous to enter as the sea off Sharm el Sheikh.

16 months previously, Newcastle arrived at the Hawthornes in tatters with the odds firmly stacked against them, playing a team hungry to make a statement for the Championship season ahead – on that day the away side started brightly and took the game to the home side in staunch defiance.  This time however, the away side were tame, timid, scared – seemingly watching the home side attack almost head on through an anonymous midfield, directly at the away defence who were easily displaced and disorganised, with the no relief coming from the forward line who were static and coated with Teflon, with seemingly nothing sticking up front.  Now, my esteemed colleague here at Leazes Terrace will pick apart the bones of this farce with far more precision than my rantings with his 5 key points, so I would like to steer clear of a thorough post mortem and focus on the one point which this season I have found both genuine annoyance and hope from – effort.

Our performances this season have been a rollercoaster, this is obvious, and it can be said that this undulating form feeding through the results returned has originated simply from the games where we have wanted it more and won.  Adversely the games where we have looked lethargic and lazy, we have more than often lost.  Ability to hack it at this level generally doesn’t seem to be the problem.  There are of course exceptions to this hypothesis – the Blackpool and Man City losses returning a harsh zero points when 4, even 6 would have been easily justified.  But when you start to scan the other results it manifests itself in alarming style – the 6-0 humping of villa, the 5-1 braying of the makems both games where every player fancied the fight and worked professionally for 90minutes.  Equal can be said of the Everton and Arsenal wins.  Conversely the draws with Wigan and Fulham combined with the losses to Blackburn and today were almost entirely down to not working as hard as the opposition, granted for the first time today the opposition had a decent amount of football in their locker, but nothing we couldn’t have matched in ability as the league this season and last has shown.  This is no groundbreaking secret of football revealed though – even Stacey Solomon knows any team that is up for a game improves its chance greatly.  So why we insist on delivering inconsistency on the effort front is baffling.  Are the players incapable of self motivation?  Have we already reached the arrogance stage?  Not showing up for the less than glamorous fixtures then chucking everything plus the kitchen sink at games like Arsenal and the makems (granted the latter I wouldn’t have changed for the World…).  It’s the nitty gritty games the likes of this which keep you in the Premiership year after year – we know this as we managed to get through the years between 1997 and 2001 without being relegated despite being totally sh#t with team which possessed an arthritic Ian Rush and barrel shaped John Barnes. We can’t go on just fancying some games and then chucking the towel in and putting an Audley Harrison display of fight in the home games against garbage the likes of Wigan and Blackburn.

It’s over a month since we recorded our impressive 3 straight victories which at the time had us on 17 points and hope of coasting the rest of the season without fear of an instant return to the 2nd tier.  Our 5th game in a row without a win now leaves us with a season looking as comfortable as sand paper and a tricky Christmas period to negotiate… Howay lads – roll your sleeves up…

Dec 5, 2010

West Brom (A) in 5 key points

5.12.10 – Sunday 1.30pm
Barclays Premier League

Peter Odemwingie celebrates goalWest Brom 3
Tchoyi 32
Odemwingie 71, 89

Newcastle 1
Lovenkrands 90+2

For the 2nd successive Sunday, Newcastle took part (used loosely) in a 1.30pm televised fixture live on Sky. This week it was a trip to the Hawthorns to face fellow newly promoted side West Brom. Newcastle were poor and never looked remotely close to taking anything from this game and West Brom duly obliged in taking the 3 points which were gifted to them by the away side.

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

1. Too many below par performances

Chris Hughton kept faith in the same starting 11 that earned a point against Chelsea the previous weekend, although it could be argued that his team selection was picked by default with options limited due to the unavailability to several first team players – Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, missing through injury and suspension.

As in the previous away fixture against Bolton, there were too many off performances from Newcastle players. Sol Campell struggled to keep up with the pace of West Brom’s play, Danny Guthrie was largely anonymous in midfield putting the pressure on Cheik Tiote to act as the ball winner and playmaker, Jonas Gutierrez was too often caught in possession and gave the ball away 10 times, while Shola Ameobi ‘s sole contribution was only 8 completed passes. Carrying so many off form players will be punished in the Premier League, as it was today.

2. Newcastle 4-4-2 vs. West Brom 4-5-1

Newcastle lined up in their familiar 4-4-2 formation but struggled against a West Brom side playing 4-5-1.  It was a slightly naïve tactic to allow a man advantage in midfield to a side well versed in ball retention as West Brom are.

West Brom knocked the ball around with ease, completing 416 passes to the 290 completed passes by Newcastle, and were particularly efficient in the midfield area with the central midfield 3 of James Morrison, Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans completing a combined 121 passes. Newcastle never dealt with the 1 man disadvantage in the midfield area and ultimately paid the price. Perhaps it’s time for a return to the 4-5-1 formation that served Newcastle well in away victories over Everton and Arsenal earlier in the season.

3. To press or not to press?

With both sides taking up different approaches to defending, this fixture served up a lesson in sitting back (Newcastle) vs. pressing the opponent (West Brom). Although West Brom displayed a high level of passing accuracy, their task was made easier as they were put under so little pressure when in possession. The Newcastle players sat back and invited pressure on their goalmouth, however they weren’t solid enough defensively to deal with the West Brom attacks and were duly punished.

The West Brom players in turn, hassled and harried the Newcastle players in possession, not giving the time to pick a pass and making it difficult to build up any sort of attacking momentum. Somen Tchoyi was the prime example of how to pressure an opponent in possession, he was in the face of Enrique and Gutierrez, forcing errors from the Newcastle men and winning the ball back for his side with 8 tackles.

4. No creativity, ideas or movement.

While Newcastle criminally gifted goal scoring opportunities to West Brom, they never looked like getting back into the game such was their lack of creative intelligence. With no creative play coming from the central midfield area and with 2 ‘big lads’ up front, the tactic was always going to be to exploit their aerial ability with high balls and crosses into the box.

However the Newcastle forward pairing of Andy Carroll and Ameobi struggled to get into the game due to a lack of movement on their part to find space or lose their markers, as well as having to feed on scraps such was the lack of quality crosses from the Newcastle wide men. Crosses that made their way into the box were hopeful and poor, highlighted by the fact that only 1 cross from Gutierrez and Wayne Routledge found a Newcastle team-mate. Joey Barton’s passing and crossing ability and accuracy has been sorely missed in his absence.

5. Shooting themselves in the foot

While West Brom deserve credit for their passing ability and taking chances, the fact is that they didn’t have to do a great deal to win the game as Newcastle gifted time, possession and opportunities and repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with sloppy play and mistakes. As was the case against Bolton, all of the opposing goals were a result of Newcastle mistakes.

For the 1st goal, Gutierrez had the opportunity to clear the ball on the edge of the area but instead tried to chip it over the foot of his opponent, West Brom retained possession,the defence backed off and Tchoyi took the time presented to him to bend the ball into the goal. For the 2nd goal Danny Guthrie hesitated in possession and then gifted the ball to Odemwingie who, while still with a bit of work to do, put the ball in the back of the net. The 3rd goal was a simple ball over the top which caught the Newcastle back 4 ball watching, Odemwingie collected the pass and completed the easiest 2 goal brace he will ever score.

At the end of the day…

4 of the last 6 meetings between West Brom and Newcastle at the Hawthorns have ended up in a draw, including last season’s 1-1 draw in the Championship. However, Newcastle never looked like taking anything from this game and West Brom were worthy winners.

It was another performance bordering on the arrogant by Newcastle in that it appeared as though they were just expecting to turn up and win while putting in the minimum effort. It was lazy, uninspiring and far too casual. There was a collective lack of effort, desire and urgency offered by Newcastle and they deserved to end up on the losing side. Gifting time, possession and opportunities to opponents will get punished with far more ruthless efficiency in the Premier League than the Championship as Newcastle found out today.

Earlier in the season, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson described Newcastle as being like a bag of Revels as you never know what you are going to get. Although Paul has blatantly plagiarised a line out of Forrest Gump (replacing a box of chocolate with revels), his theory stands correct as Newcastle continue to be inconsistent and unpredictable. After a promising start to the season, Newcastle have now picked up only 2 points from the last 15 available and need to start picking up some points soon before they are dragged towards the bottom of the table.

Inconsistency could well prove to be Newcastle’s downfall. Sustaining a level of performance similar to that seen in the West Ham, Aston Villa and Sunderland victories then they will no doubt achieve their goal of staying in the Premier League, but more performances of the likes seen in the last 2 away games against Bolton and West Brom and they will struggle to put together enough of a run to climb up the table and away from danger.

Next up for Newcastle is a home fixture live on ESPN against Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool in a 5.30pm kick off. It is a fixture in which the Reds have won the last 4 Premier League meetings between the 2 sides and who have scored 14 goals in the process. Not the best omen for a Newcastle side desperately in need of points.

Newcastle will hope to have Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan back from injury to add some creativity and a goal scoring threat to the midfield, and will likely line up in a 4-5-1 formation to match that of Liverpool, with Guthrie and Ameobi making way for the returning Nolan and Barton.  Liverpool will be missing Steven Gerrard through injury but will still start the game as favourites, if Newcastle are to take anything from the game they must be up and at it from the 1st whistle to the last and can’t afford to surrender possession or make any more mistakes or they will again be punished.

Dec 4, 2010

Contract Concern (A Cynical View)

Contract imageYesterday afternoon brought the welcome news that both Mike Williamson and Nile Ranger had committed to signing new long term 5 and a half year contracts, keeping them at Newcastle United until 2016.

Both players have earned their status as important players in the Newcastle squad. Williamson has nailed down a place in the starting 11 keeping Steven Taylor and Sol Campbell out of the side. While Ranger has worked his way up the pecking order to 3rd choice striker, showing his potential when coming on as a substitute this season. The contract awards are representative of hard work and progress.

Add the contract news of yesterday to Andy Carroll signing a 5 year contract in October, tying himself to the club until 2015, and it bodes well for the future of the club – 3 young English players who will play an important part in the club’s future for years to come.

However taking a cynical view, it could be argued that these are 3 of the lower earners in the squad (compared to the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Alan Smith), and that there are more pressing contract concerns for players currently on higher wages whose contracts are fast running out:

Jose Enrique

Jose Enrique was 1 of a gang of players signed by Sam Allardyce on a 5 year contract worth a reported £60,000 a week. After a slow start to English football he has since been a revelation. Rarely beaten by his marker thanks to his stocky frame and pace, teamed with his desire and ability to get forward have made ‘El Toro’ a fans’ favourite, and at the age of 24 he has already established himself as 1 of the club’s best players. With his contract expiring at the end of next season, and as the only recognised left back at the club, huge efforts have to be made to make Jose Enrique another of those tied to a long term contract.

Joey Barton

Barton is another of Sam Allardyce’s £60,000 gang, signed at a time when money was seemingly no concern. After a disappointing 3 years filled with indiscipline and injuries, it looked as though it was going to be money down the drain. However Barton has turned this opinion around and has been a key player this season, dominating the midfield even when played out of position while forming a good understanding with Carroll – creating 4 of his goals already this season. At 28, Barton is in the prime years of his footballing career and with his contract also expiring at the end of next season, is another that the club must look to hold on to.

Of course there is the issue of Steven Taylor’s contract which runs out at the end of this season, but that’s a story for another day, reports indicating that the club have offered Taylor a contract but the player being unhappy with the terms.

With Mike Ashley looking to reduce the wage bill at the club, there is a concern that with Jose Enrique and Barton both already on inflated salaries that Ashley will look at the financials and see them as dispensable commodities – £120,000 a week off the wage bill, rather than the impact both players have on the pitch.

A cynic may say that Ashley is happy to sign up those on lesser contracts but wants the higher earners off the wage bill. This is fine for the likes of Nicky Butt, whose contract ran out in the summer, or Alan Smith whose contract runs out at the end of next season, both players effectively picking up huge sums for sitting on the bench. But the same – ‘gets paid too much, get rid’ approach has to be applied on an individual basis and Barton and Jose Enrique are simply too important and too good to lose.

Hopefully Chris Hughton and Ashley are already working on the contracts of Barton, Jose Enrique and Taylor and can carry on the good work of yesterday, signing players to long term contracts while the team spirit is high, the feeling is good and dismissing this cynical view as a ridiculous theory.

Dec 3, 2010

Preview: West Brom (A)

05.12.2010 – Sunday 1:30pm

ATTACK!

Barclays Premier League

Location: The Hawthorns – small, slightly cobbled together, but by no means a dump and when things are going for the home side it’s a very, very noisy and feisty ground.  Possesses a fair amount more character than most redeveloped stadiums and a boat load more than the flat pack stadium plus supermarket sh#t rolled out at a number of other locations.

Prospects: An open and entertaining game – goals shouldn’t be in short supply.

Pre-match Gut Feeling: Split.  Both sides are indifferent in form and have expansive attacking options.  All pivots on which team defends better, which I think Newcastle is more capable of.  A high scoring game with an edged away win.

The Gaffer: Roberto Di Matteo.  The shiftiest eyes in English football and constantly chewing like a friesian cow.  Being an Italian international midfielder in his playing days, and a pretty decent one at that, it would be expected as a manager he would be defensive minded and organised like many of his fellow countryman.  But Di Matteo bucks this trend and in some style, opting to adopt the footballing philosophy of the Dutch – technique and intelligent movement based attacking at the expense of being stretched in defence but counter acting this with excellent retention of possession.  At 40 years old Di Matteo has the best of his managerial years ahead of him and on the basis of his progression and abilities shown so far the only way is up for this man.  If only there were more like him…

The Team: Should be no strangers, having matched the fortunes of Newcastle almost exactly for the last 18months.  Even now the two sides are only separated in the league by goal difference.  West Brom are a team similar to Blackpool in that they perform greater than the sum of their parts – producing an output style which is very exciting and easy on the eye.  They also have shown very little fear this season, picking up points at Old Trafford and The Emirates by attacking the home sides, but equally showing frailties in losing their less daunting looking fixtures.

Key to success: Defence, defence, defence.  We must be organised defensively and in particular the full backs must be on their toes to limit flanking manoeuvres which are West Brom’s primary source of supply to the forwards.  Simpson suffocating the service from Jerome Thomas could be decisive to the result.  Starting with almost the same team as Sunday would be wise, with the returning Barton replacing Guthrie.  Ranger being handed a start to replace Ameobi is an option although the latter will probably be more effectual given he sticks to his position and will provide a more reliable focal point up front – although him sticking to his position is more through laziness than discipline…  Simply – West Brom will attack – it is up to us to nullify these attacks and exploit the defensive weaknesses they create in the home defence.

Direct your abuse at: No-one!  Seriously, this is a difficult one as West Brom have very few points to be aggrieved with – they play good football, they don’t cheat, their fans are loyal and noisy.  The only vague link to anything undesirable is former smoggie youngster Chris Brunt – although he is Northern Irish by birth and never broke into the first team while under the toxic clouds

Dec 1, 2010

Match Report: Chelsea (H)

28.11.2010 – Sunday 1:30pm

Tony Soprano: respect very much required...

Barclays Premier League

Newcastle United – 1
Carroll

Chelsea – 1
Kalou

Location: St James
MOM: Campbell
NUFC Performance: 6/10

Respect where it’s not due

Showing respect, in football, is generally a wise thing to do.  Respecting an opposition in the build-up to a game makes for thorough preparation. Respecting the opposition’s abilities guards against complacency.  But there comes a point when showing too much respect can work against you.  On the back of a horrific result against Bolton the previous week it would be unfair to say that Newcastle shouldn’t have approached this game cautiously, but in the end an over showing of respect almost cost the home side a vital and well earned point, and it could be argued a more aggressive stance could have reaped greater rewards.  However, given the disappointing points return from the previous 3 games this was a welcome point against a team far superior, even without a number of their world class regulars.

Mother nature tried her hardest to stop this tie going ahead by dumping enough snow on top of Tyneside to make a penguin shiver, but a stellar effort by the club staff combined with the council health and safety advisors presumably too scared to venture beyond their front doors lead to the game going ahead as planned.  This was to work in Newcastle’s favour as Chelsea’s missing trio of Essien, Lampard and Terry were all close to return, but with those still missing there was an eagerness to get Chelsea’s trillion Rouble team out to play while weakened at the spine.  A late injury to Nolan had forced a change, with Routledge returning and Guthrie moving back to the central midfield position he refuses to leave (even when being told to play right midfield…).   This refreshed the midfield and added dynamism and balance which has been sorely missed in Joey Barton’s absence – in addition the reason for Nolan’s absence was interesting, being claimed he has been carrying an ankle injury recently, which begs the question why he has been wheeled out onto the pitch to deliver anonymous performances in every match since his outstanding contribution in the demolition of the makems.

Newcastle looked eager to make amends for the previous week’s showing and at the same time looked genuinely scared of what a Chelsea side with the firepower they possess could do if the performance was repeated.  As such, the home side were out the blocks quickly, getting in the faces of the opposition and moving forward quickly when in possession.  After only 2 minutes a Newcastle free kick found the head of the returning Steven ‘directing traffic’ Taylor whose flick forced an excellent reaction save from Cech, which Ameobi failed to follow up with the ball falling kindly to him at point blank range.  Smelling a weakness the home side continued to pester and as an under pressure Alex received the ball he folded and played it past the oncoming Cech for Carroll to chase and slide into the Gallowgate net with inches to spare – crashing into the snow before jumping to his feet to celebrate a league goal for the 9th time this season.  The positive start justified the scoreline but with 85+ minutes left to play surely Newcastle wouldn’t try to just sit back and see this one out….?

This was exactly what Newcastle did….  Now, as mentioned earlier, it would be harsh to say this was a strategy that was wholly wrong, but from this point on the home side only invited problems onto their defence, which although had plenty of experience was still coming to terms with how each other played.  League debutant Sol Campbell had a large influence in organising a newly re-organised back four and moulded a defence that looked steadier after every Chelsea attack.  But because of our cautiousness these attacks increased in frequency and by the 20 minute mark the game had practically turned into training ground style attack vs defence.  However Chelsea, missing creative lynchpin Frank Lampard, were making hard work of it with a stubborn Newcastle defence refusing to flap and launching away anything that came near them like they were a live grenade.  As the first half neared its close Newcastle were entrenched in their own half – Bosingwa and Cole now pushed so far up they were playing as secondary wingers.  This invited pressure paid off somewhat fortuitously just before half time as a number of opportunities to clear the ball were not taken and Kalou capitalised to draw the away side level, with the help of a significant deflection off Simpson.

The second half continued much in the same manner, with the tiring (and surprisingly, captain) Ameobi contributing little to help the ball stick up front thus making it harder to break the pressure exerted on the home penalty box.   The frustration with the inability to break away was personified by Tiote, who after escaping the home box with the ball after a cleared corner had to stop short of the half way line with his hands out in exasperation looking for a team mate to release said ball to.  This served to instill some life into the Newcastle attack and shortly afterwards a botched Cech punched clearance dropped straight to Routledge on the edge of the area, who fired a stinging volley past the stranded keeper only to see it cleared off the line by Cole and deny the winger his first Premiership goal.  This was Newcastle’s only clear cut chance in the second half and the away side looked the more likely to score a winner.  First Drogba fired a warning shot by taking down and shooting on the turn to force a save from Krul.  Soon after the same player had the ball in the net, but this time taking the ball down by using his arm, which had been spotted by the usually useless Andre Marriner and rightly disallowed.  Not heeding any of these warning signs, Taylor was caught dithering with a simple lofted ball forward allowing Kalou to sneak in and with the help of a bundle past Campbell and Krul was left with the goal at his mercy, but to great relief he poked wide.  Sturridge came on as the away side opted for the Steve McClaren approach of ‘throw all your strikers on the pitch and you’ll score’, with the substitute coming close with another swivel shot inside the Newcastle box.  At the other end, the energetic Ranger replaced the almost statuesque Ameobi and provided a realistic outlet by sticking on the shoulder of the Chelsea back line which were pushed far, far up the pitch.  Indeed, had it not been for some seriously scandalous dithering leading to another trademark run into a blind alley by Gutierrez, Ranger could have been presented with the opportunity to steal at the end – had only a simple through ball into the acres of space behind the Chelsea back line been presented.

But a steal is all it could have been justified as, and in reflection a point was well earned today rather than well deserved.  In respect (or over respect) of the opposition, it was a welcome point given the recent returns, however the thought always lingers at what might have been if the midfield had maintained the aggression shown in the opening exchanges, and if the lively Ranger had replaced Ameobi earlier.  Newcastle exit November having only won once out of their 5 fixtures, with a 5 point return – 4 of which came off so called ‘big four’ sides.  Looking into the festive period the fixtures are a mixed bag, but with more winnable games than difficult ones on paper (only Spurs away standing out as a truly daunting proposition) our form in this period will be potentially decisive for the outcome of this season.  We could quite easily enter January on the same 19 points we possess now, and equally as easily we could be sitting on a 27+ point tally which would leave us on the home straight towards safety.  One thing is for sure, the abilities and performances so far this season by no means warrant a relegation fight, with the same going for the other 2 promoted sides, and if anything mid table is a realistic prospect.  But not succumbing to footballing garbage of the likes of Blackburn, Fulham and Wigan is crucial to our prospects and something we have proved we are better than.  Think positive thoughts…

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