10.12.11 – Saturday 3pm
Barclays Premier League
Holt 59, 82
Ba 45, 71
Gosling sent off 66
A depleted Newcastle side suffered their 3rd defeat of the season in a 4-2 defeat to Premier League new boys Norwich City at Carrow Road.
The game’s opening goal came 6 minutes before the half time interval. A debatable corner was awarded to the home side – when Tim Krul was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line – who profited from the decision when Andrew Crofts’ header ricocheted in off Wes Hoolahan. However, Newcastle were level on the stroke of half time. Yohan Cabaye’s perfectly weighted chipped through ball was well controlled by Demba Ba who side footed past John Ruddy to make the score 1-1 at the break.
Newcastle started the second half brightly and had good chances to take the lead, but were behind again when a Norwich corner was headed home by Grant Holt - the striker quickest to the rebound after his initial header was stopped by Krul. And it was 3-1 only 4 minutes later, Steve Morison powerfully heading Crofts’ cross past the helpless Krul. Newcastle were reduced to 10 men in the 66th minute when Dan Gosling, having already been booked, was shown a red card by referee Martin Atkinson for a slightly rash challenge on Russell Martin. Yet, refusing to give up, Newcastle reduced the deficit 5 minutes later when Ba hit a left footed effort past Ruddy following good work from Shola Ameobi. But the game was ended as a contest 8 minutes from time when Holt was found in the penalty area by Bradley Johnson’s free kick to head his 2nd and Norwich’s 4th of the afternoon.
1. Team selection and tactics
Newcastle, hampered by injuries, made 5 changes to the side that had lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea last weekend. With no fit senior central defenders available – first choice pairing Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor joining Mike Williamson on the sidelines – Newcastle were forced into a defensive reshuffle. James Perch came into the side to partner Danny Simpson in central defence, while Ryan Taylor moved to right back with Davide Santon making his full Premier League debut at left back. Jonas Gutierrez returned from suspension to replace Peter Lovenkrands on the left wing, Dan Gosling took up the place of the injured Danny Guthrie in central midfield and Shola Ameobi was preferred to Hatem Ben Arfa to complete Newcastle’s changes. Norwich manager Paul Lambert made 4 changes to the side that had lost 5-1 at Man City the weekend previous with Zak Whitbread, Wesley Hoolahan, David Fox and Grant Holt replacing Leon Barnett, Elliott Bennett, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington in the starting line up.
Having used a 4-4-1-1 formation in their last 3 games, to accommodate Hatem Ben Arfa in the ‘number 10′ role, Newcastle returned to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation as Alan Pardew looked for his 2 front men – Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba – to hold the ball up in the opposition half and reduce pressure on the makeshift defence. Norwich, after adopting a more cautious 4-5-1 formation at City, also used a 4-4-2 formation; Lambert sensing an opportunity to profit from Newcastle’s defensive frailties. With both sides adopting similar styles and attacking intent it made for an open and entertaining game of football.
2. Newcastle switch off at set pieces
A common feature of the game which ultimately proved to be Newcastle’s undoing was their inability to defend set-pieces. The makeshift central defensive pairing of Simpson and Perch simply struggled to deal with the aerial power and movement of Norwich strikers Holt and Morison, and it’s telling that neither Newcastle defender won a header in their own penalty area.
Up until this fixture Newcastle had started with the same back 5, including Krul, for every other league game this season and had built a reputation as one of the league’s meanest defences. However, the absence of Coloccini and Steven Taylor proved to be a major disruption and setback for Newcastle against Norwich. Playing with 2 full backs at centre back, the understanding and organisation was naturally missing and proved to be Newcastle’s downfall. Not surprising then that 3 of Norwich’s 4 goals came from set piece situations, with the other a header from open play.
3. Newcastle defend deep and narrow
Unable to rely on their formidable central defensive partnership Newcastle instead attempted to deal with Norwich’s attacking threat by defending deep, to restrict the space centrally for their opposition to play into and to provide additional support for stand-in centre backs Perch and Simpson. Perhaps wary of the danger of giving away set pieces Newcastle also looked to win the ball back by anticipating the ‘next pass’, highlighted by the fact that they made 22 interceptions compared to only 6 tackles.
By defending so deep and narrow, however, only played to Norwich’s strengths, encouraging the Canaries to play down the wings to exploit the space and to play crosses into the box for the forwards to attack, which they did on no less than 21 times. In hindsight, a better defensive strategy may have been to adopt a high line so as to not allow Holt and Morison space and opportunities to attack the ball in the penalty area, although this is easier said than done with no natural leader in Coloccini’s absence to co-ordinate the defence.
4. Norwich nullify Newcastle wingers
It was a fairly unproductive afternoon for Newcastle’s wingers – Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan – who were unable to getter the better of their respective full backs – Kyle Naughton and Marc Tierney. Gutierrez, as has been the case of late, generally took up a more defensive position, while Obertan tended to cut inside rather than to take on his marker. As such, neither managed to put in a single completed cross to a team-mate with wide play quality generally lacking for the Magpies.
Newcastle instead looked to Ryan Taylor and Davide Santon to provide attacking support from full back, which they did well. Taylor was Newcastle’s most involved player with 81 touches, while he also put in 8 crosses from normal play – more than any other Newcastle player. Santon, meanwhile, showed a willingness to get forward, run with the ball and had the 2nd highest amount of touches for Newcastle, behind Taylor, with 77. The high involvement of both players adding weight to the suggestion that full back has became the most important position in the modern game.
5. The Magpies retain attacking intention with 10 men
In the space of 7 second half minutes to forget for Newcastle – from the 59th to the 66th – they conceded 2 goals and were reduced to 10 men. Following Gosling’s dismissal, and with heads possibly dropping and discipline starting to waver, the thought may have crossed Alan Pardew’s mind to take a damage limitation approach by withdrawing a striker for a midfielder and settling for not conceding any more goals rather than chasing the game. Former Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce has spoken of employing these tactics when his sides have been 2 or 3 goals behind, thankfully Pardew is not of the same school of thought.
Pardew, instead, retained faith that his side could get back into the game and kept his 2 strikers – Ba and Shola Ameobi – on the pitch and switched to almost a 4-3-2 formation with either striker expected to drop back into the midfield when required, still giving Newcastle 2 options to aim for up front. Pardew’s belief in his side appeared to give the Newcastle players a lift and only 5 minutes after going down to 10 men they were back in the game at 3-2. The admirable effort and work-rate of Newcastle’s 10 men was unfortunately unable to yield an equalising goal, yet, surely better to go down fighting than without a fight at all.
At the end of the day…
Those who have been uncomfortable with Newcastle’s presence near the top of the table, reserved by Sky Sports for ‘the big 6, will no doubt take joy in their points return of 1 from the last 4 games. However, much like against Chelsea last week, Newcastle could well have taken something from this game and can take some solace in their determined performance, particularly Demba Ba who impressed again up front.
Any Premier League side would arguably struggle without their 3 first choice centre backs and had one or even two of Coloccini, Taylor or Williamson been fit it’s not inconceivable that Newcastle could have taken 3 points home from the trip to East Anglia.
As it was, even with Newcastle down to 10 men for the remaining 24 or so minutes, it was a fairly even game with Newcastle just edging Norwich for shots on target; 6 to 5, and Norwich narrowly leading Newcastle for passes completed; 315 to 301. Most importantly, though, it was Norwich who were more clinical in front of goal and who are therefore deserved of the 3 points.
The defeat saw Newcastle drop down to 7th place in the Premier League table, however still with a healthy 5 point lead ahead of 8th placed Stoke. Not quite the ‘crash to earth’ or ‘bubble bursting’ that some would like to claim…
Next up for Newcastle is a home fixture against another Premier League newcomer – 11th placed Swansea – on Saturday 17 December, 3pm kick off. It is hoped that at least one of Coloccini or Williamson will be fit to return, while better news is hoped for on the prolonged injury of Cheick Tiote as Newcastle look to get back to winning ways on home turf.
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