21.12.11 – Wednesday 7:45pm
St James’ Park
Barclays Premier League
Ba 34, 81
West Brom 3
Newcastle extended their unwanted winless streak to 6 games with a 3-2 home defeat against West Brom.
1. Team selection and tactics
Newcastle made only 1 change to the side that had drawn 0-0 with Swansea at St James’ Park only 4 days, previous with Haris Vuckic coming into central midfield in the absence of the suspended Yohan Cabaye. West Brom manager Roy Hodgson also made just the 1 change to the West Brom side that had won 2-1 at Blackburn in their last outing; Jerome Thomas replacing injured pop crooner James Morrison on the right of midfield.
Newcastle, for the third game in succession, lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and generally looked to build attacks on the flanks with the full backs getting forward to provide support. West Brom also set up in a 4-4-2 formation and typically adopted a counter attacking style of play – always looking to exploit Newcastle’s natural, and sometimes over-exuberant, attacking tendencies through quick breakaways. Both teams were fairly evenly matched and, although using different strategies, both played to win which made for an entertaining and lively football match.
2. West Brom’s wandering strikers create width
Although West Brom lined up with two natural wingers – Chris Brunt on the left and Jerome Thomas on the right – they often drifted inside. Brunt, in particular, played 52% of his passes in the central area of the pitch, including the superbly weighted pass to Odemwingie for Albion’s opener. This gave West Brom extra bodies in the centre but short on the wings, areas which were adequately filled by the tireless strike partnership of Odemwingie and Long.
Both players, rather than sticking to their central striking roles, willingly took up positions in wide areas when required. They were clever in their movement, non-stop in their work-rate and, as such, posed as difficult an attacking partnership as any other that Newcastle have faced this season. Their movement into wide areas was key to West Brom’s attacking fluency and ultimately culminated in the winning goal when Long’s right wing cross was prodded home by Paul Scharner, following a smart header back from Odemwingie.
3. Newcastle’s high line exploited by WBA counter
Perhaps to encourage attacking play and to squeeze the game in their opponents’ half, Newcastle pushed far up the pitch and held a high defensive line. However, up against the speed and movement of Odemwingie and Long, both who held their onside position very well, and West Brom’s effective counter attacking football this was destined for disaster and so it proved.
The game’s opening goal resulted from a simple, but accurate, pass straight through the centre of Newcastle’s defence to Odemwingie, who used his pace to exploit the acres of space in behind before slotting past Krul. Shane Long then broke through the high line in the second half and should have put his side 3-1 up, but saw his shot cannon back off the crossbar with Krul stranded. Failing to heed their warning, Newcastle were undone again 5 minutes from time when Long again made full use of Newcastle’s high line frailties before crossing for Albion’s winner. A requirement for playing such a high line, as Chelsea have found out to their detriment lately, is that it requires pace – something which Newcastle’s defence was sorely lacking against West Brom.
4. Poor wing play sees Newcastle go long
Again, it was a day to forget for Gabriel Obertan. The Frenchman was frustrating in his decision making and delivery in the final third. Regularly passing backwards and cutting inside than simply using his pace to get to the by-line and cross the ball into the box, a la Keith Gillespie. A worrying pattern; Obertan failed to find a teammate with any of his 3 crosses and looks desperately in need of a confidence boost or, perhaps, being temporarily withdrawn from the line of fire. The jeering on his substitution from some parts certainly won’t have helped his apparent lack of confidence.
On the other wing, Jonas Gutierrez fared a bit better with 3 of his 8 crosses finding a teammate. However, with such little productivity or success from wide areas, Newcastle resorted to playing hopeful aerial balls through the centre to Leon Best and Demba Ba. Although Best and Ba did reasonably well in their aerial battles, and of course Ba played superbly overall, they were frequently too far apart to take advantage should one win a header, and up against the towering 6″6 Jonas Olssen and 6″3 Gareth McAuley this looked a flawed strategy from the start.
5. Plan B(en Arfa)
Just after the hour mark, with the score at 2-1, Alan Pardew responded to the calls of the St James’ crowd and brought on Hatem Ben Arfa for the tiring Leon Best. The introduction of Ben Arfa brought with it a change of formation as Newcastle switched to a 4-4-1-1, with Ben Arfa playing in a central support striker role behind Ba. Up until this point Newcastle were perhaps too one dimensional with their play, but the change of personnel and formation gave them another attacking angle and encouraged keeping the ball on the ground.
Ben Arfa was given license to roam from his position and often dropped deep to receive the ball from his defensive colleagues. He was positive in his approach play and, although dispossessed on a couple of occasions, his directness concerned Albion. He achieved the highest passing accuracy of any other player with 93% and laid the ball off for Ba’s second goal following some smart interplay on the edge of the area. Without another dynamic striker to partner Demba Ba, Newcastle’s 4-4-2 formation has looked limited of late and it may well be that, as his fitness increases, Ben Arfa will begin to see more game time from the start in forthcoming fixtures.
At the end of the day…
For the second time in only 4 days there is a feeling of deflation and disappointment, following Newcastle’s inability to take 3 points from a home game in which they created enough chances to win.
Like Swansea before them, West Brom had a game plan – to soak up pressure and hit Newcastle on the counter attack – which they executed to perfection and for that are deserving of the 3 points.
With a bit of luck and better accuracy, however, it is not inconceivable that Newcastle could have scored more than the 2 that they did from their 26 shots. Haris Vuckic twice went close from range, while Cheick Tiote’s shot was stopped from close range at the death. Yet, Newcastle simply weren’t as clinical as their opponents from the Midlands who were far more efficient with their chances; scoring more goals from less shots attempted (15).
With 8th place Stoke losing at Man City, Newcastle remained in 7th place in the table on 27 points from the 51 available.
Newcastle return to action on Boxing day with a trip to the Reebok Stadium to face troubled Bolton, 3pm kick off. Having lost their last 5 Boxing Day games in the Premier League, and only yielding 3 points from the last 8 trips to the Reebok, the omens aren’t exactly good for Newcastle who will be looking to pick up maximum points ahead of two difficult games coming up against Manchester United and Liverpool.
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