Dec 10, 2010

Preview: Liverpool (H)

Public Enemy No.1

11.12.2010 – Saturday 5:30pm

Barclays Premier League

Location: St James’

Prospects: Militant, disarray throughout, unsavoury, heart breaking… All depends on how the players react to the events of the week (and that of the weekend before it shouldn’t be forgotten…).

Pre-match Gut Feeling: Given the expected riotous atmosphere I can only see this affecting badly on the pitch.  Memories of the events of Hull at home in 08/09 are all too clear.

The Gaffer: Roy Hodgson.  Previously jockeyed with Chris Hughton for the prestigious title of first Premiership manager to leave – congratulations Roy….  Has had mixed but lengthy experience in football management – the majority of it in Sweden, Switzerland and Italy, spanning from minnows IK Oddevold up to footballing giants Internazionale.  A good example of how experience doesn’t mean ability as a manager. Think that statement is harsh?  Hodgson has never won a major honour in a major league throughout his managerial career – his successes coming in the relatively timid waters of Denmark and Sweden with already established FC Copenhagen and Malmo respectively.  Nevertheless, they were competitions there to be won and he did so.  A steady man who focuses far more on creating a footballing side with military levels of organisation, rather than nurturing creativity and freedom of expression throughout.  An unpopular choice with Liverpool fans (to say the least) and is still battling to prove himself 6 months into the job – he’s just lucky he doesn’t have Mike Ashley to answer too.

The Team: Probably the weakest Liverpool has been since the pre Robbie Fowler days – steadily weakened by a number of woeful transfer decisions by the current and last manager (trying to force out Xavi Alonso in favour of Gareth Barry – clever…) but bailed out by a few top class signings that still make Liverpool very strong at the spine.  Reina, Gerrard and Torres, when in form, are a match for anyone – the latter two simply unplayable at their peak, but finding form patchy this season through niggly injuries.  Under the current Hodgson guidance they have made some questionable signings – Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen being 2 that have looked far from the part so far and are relying too heavily on fringe players like N’Gog and Babel who are not of a quality Liverpool are accustomed too.  They still exist as a decent team – players like Agger and Kuyt adding understated quality – but as a whole would need significant investment in the short term if they were to repeat their recent earnest title challenge of the 08/09 season – it will be a while before they get a chance like that again.

Key to success: Don’t sack Chris Hughton and p#ss off the entire squad, fan base and the rest of the country then replace him with Alan f#ckin’ Pardew….
Okay – there is still a game to be played somewhere behind all this.  Liverpool have unquestionable weak points in the defensive abilities of their full-backs – firstly in right back Glen Johnson, regularly leaving his post to buccaneer forward in support of attack but completely forgetting he’s supposed to return to defend straight after.  Paul Konchesky is also vastly out of form and suffering a serious lack of confidence being the main fall guy from Hodgson’s debatable summer signings – both wings are up for grabs for Newcastle providing they are interested in attacking this week…  Elsewhere Jamie ‘tackle with your arms’ Carragher is out injured, Steven Gerrard’s appearance is unsure although he is available after returning from injury, new father Fernando Torres is available again after missing the previous fixture against Aston Villa.

Direct your abuse at: Everything you’ve got at Mike Ashley.  I can only say for the sake of the team try to keep this outside the playing time – but my appeals will probably be in vain and I wouldn’t blame anyone if they ignored me.  This man needs to be taken out.

Dec 6, 2010

Hughton Sacked!

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has sacked Newcastle manager Chris Hughton. After guiding the club back to the Premier League following relegation, rebuilding team spirit and getting the feel good feeling back on Tyneside with thrashings of Aston Villa and Sunderland while picking up away wins against Arsenal, Everton and West Ham, Hughton’s reward was a ‘thanks but no thanks’ from the Newcastle board who released the following statement:

The board would like to place on record their thanks to Chris for his considerable efforts during the club’s transition from Championship to Premier League club.

Chris has shown exceptional character and commitment since being appointed manager in October 2009. The club wishes him well in the future.

Regrettably the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward.

The task of appointing a new manager now begins. An announcement will be made shortly regarding transitional arrangements pending the appointment of a successor.

We are currently in a state of shock and disbelief and more will follow but initially we would like to say:

* Good luck to Chris Hughton – with limited resources and a demoralised dressing room, you have more than exceeded what was expected of you when the club was relegated 2 seasons ago. Rarely one to complain, you have shown a level of humility and respect to colleagues, players, fans and officials rarely seen from managers in English football. You have provided us, the Newcastle fans, with some memorable times, results and easily one of the the most enjoyable seasons of the decade. An absolute gentleman who deserves so much better.

* To those in the Media who have helped cost a good man to lose his job – Malcolm Macdonald, Brian Woolnough and several others – you should be ashamed.

* To the players that gave half hearted and piss-weak performances against Blackpool, Blackburn, Bolton and West Brom – ditto

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


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.


  • 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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