12.09.11 – Monday 8pm
Barclays Premier League
Newcastle returned to action, following a 15 day break, with a trip to Loftus Road to face QPR and continued their unbeaten start to the season with a somewhat fortuitous point against the newly promoted Hoops.
QPR began the brighter of the two sides and enjoyed the better of the first half chances with Jay Bothroyd and Sean Wright-Phillips going close, while Newcastle were also thankful to Danny Simpson and Steven Taylor for goal-line clearances. At the other end Leon Best saw a low side footed effort tipped round the post by Paddy Kenny. The second half continued in a similar fashion with QPR enjoying the better of the chances, but they were unable to capitalise as the game ended goalless.
Here we take a look at the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective:
1. Team selection and tactics
As predicted, Newcastle lined up in the same 4-4-2 formation that they had used in their 2-1 victory over Fulham with the fit again Shola Ameobi replacing Peter Lovenkrands in attack. Ryan Taylor continued to deputise at left back, while there was a place on the bench for new signing Davide Santon. Following a hectic end to the transfer window, QPR manager Neil Warnock made 6 changes to the side that lost 2-0 at Wigan and handed debuts to 5 of his new signings with Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traore, Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Matthew Connolly, Bruno Perone, ‘One size’ Fitz Hall, Akos Buzsaky and Tommy Smith. Jay Bothroyd was the other change, replacing Patrick Agyemang as the central striker in QPR’s 4-3-3 formation.
In opting for a 4-4-2 formation, Pardew set his side out to attack as he explained post match: “we played with two strikers, it’s a small pitch and we took a bit of a gamble that we might be able to boss the two centre-backs, but we didn’t really”. However, whereas the decision to play with 2 up front merited some success against Fulham, who also used a 4-4-2 formation, against QPR’s 4-3-3 formation it left Newcastle short of bodies in key areas as QPR took advantage.
2. Outnumbered in central midfield
Newcastle’s midfield pairing of Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye found themselves at a numerical disadvantage in the central midfield area against QPR’s midfield trio of Alejandro Faurlin, Sean Derry and Joey Barton. And it showed as, although they fulfilled their defensive responsibilities to a degree in preventing opposition attacks through the centre, they were largely starved of possession against the QPR trio who kept the ball and used their man advantage well.
Adel Taarabt, stationed on the left but with license to roam, posed another problem for Tiote and Cabaye as he often drifted into the central area between midfield and attack from his wide starting berth. Although Newcastle’s wingers – Gabriel Obertan and Jonas Gutierrez – looked to tuck inside to support their midfield colleagues, when they were fulfilling their attacking duties further up the field it left Tiote and Cabaye facing a potentially overwhelming 2 vs 4 scenario in the centre of midfield.
3. Wright-Phillips exploits the space on the right
Newcastle, as they had done against Fulham, attempted to form 2 narrow banks of 4 when defending to prevent space through the centre for QPR to play into. However, in doing so, it created a wealth of space in wide areas for QPR to attack and left the Newcastle full backs badly exposed – a facet that Sean Wright-Phillips was keen to exploit against Newcastle’s stand-in left back Ryan Taylor.
Taylor has performed admirably out of position at left back this season however, although Gutierrez attempted to get back to support him, against QPR he was woefully short of the pace and protection to deal with QPR’s primary threat of Wright-Phillips who continually used his speed and the space on the flank to get in behind, creating chances for his teammates and himself.
4. Wasteful finishing costs QPR the victory
While Newcastle defended well as a unit and will get praise for their 3rd clean sheet out of 4, and deservedly so, in truth they were fortunate to encounter a QPR side who didn’t have their shooting boots on and, like Sunderland only a few weeks ago, couldn’t capitalise when on top to convert their chances into goals.
As highlighted above, Wright-Phillips was the main antagonist for Newcastle and was unlucky not to get on the score-sheet, with one shot cleared off the line and another three going narrowly wide, while he also came close to providing an assist for Bothroyd with two low crosses that the former Cardiff man was unable to convert. However, for all Wright-Phillips’ good work it was to no avail as QPR proved wasteful in front of goal, hitting the target with only 4 of 16 shots, and with Newcastle looking even less likely to score, hitting the target with only 1 of 8 attempts, the R’s will likely look back on the game as an opportunity to take all 3 points missed.
5. Little link up play between Newcastle midfield and attack
There was an all too familiar feeling of frustration with Newcastle’s attacking play that invoked recent memories of gripes that were evident at the end of last season, as the play continously broke down with little link up play between midfield and attack. In midfield the naturally defensive minded Tiote and Cabaye sat deep to protect the back 4 and were primarily occupied with breaking up play rather than creating, nullifying any attacking tendencies they may possess. While the usual outlets – Gutierrez and Obertan – in fulfilling their defensive duties were stationed too deep and, both appearing to be lacking their usual sharpness, surrendered possession too cheaply in attacking areas.
Up front, Best and Shola Ameobi were deprived of decent service from the flanks with Newcastle often resorting to playing high balls in their direction. With neither player able to dominate aerially and ‘make the ball stick’ up front and with little support or link play from the midfield, attacks regularly broke down for Newcastle in the final third due to a lack of numbers, options and quality. Newcastle’s ineptness in their opponent’s half reinforced the need for a fully fit Hatem Ben Arfa to play in between the midfield and attacking lines, much like Taarabt did for QPR, to create a bridge between midfield and attack.
At the end of the day…
Although Newcastle disappointed in an attacking sense, they again showed an ability to pick up points when not playing well – a feature which owes much to the team spirit and collective desire not to be on the losing side which currently eminates from the Newcastle dressing room. Of course there are areas on the pitch to be worked on but at this early stage, sitting 4th in the league, unbeaten, with 8 points from 12, 3 clean sheets from 4 and with the joint lowest amount of goals conceded in the Premier League – there are plenty of reasons to be positive, now just to sort out that forward line…
In terms of the match itself, QPR were the better side, enjoying more of the possession with 58% to Newcastle’s 42% and having quadruple the amount of shots on target to Newcastle with 4 shots to Newcastle’s 1, however an inability to convert their chances coupled with some stout Newcastle defending has helped Newcastle, on balance, earn a slightly fortunate point, but a welcome one all the same.
Post match, Pardew commented:
“That extra midfield player that they had allowed them to control the game, I tried to stay with that system, but really it was only my confidence in the back four and the goalkeeper that allowed me to do that.
I’m not disappointed we didn’t get more, because we didn’t deserve anymore. We went with two strikers today and in hindsight with the exuberance and players they’ve now brought in, perhaps I should have helped out central midfield a little.
“We struggled and they dominated that area of the pitch and offensively we never created enough to warrant winning the game.”
With the tendency for Premier League managers to blame the referee, agents, or anything else they can think of for their team’s downfall (looking at you Brucey), it is refreshing to hear Pardew reflect on the game with an honest and balanced critique of proceedings. However, it is interesting that in recognising that his game plan was faultering, with QPR controlling the midfield and the strikers not having their desired impact, that he didn’t opt to revert to a 5 man midfield until there were only 9 minutes left. In which, although it is obviously a short sample, Newcastle looked far more comfortable and on par with their opponents with the extra man in midfield.
Given Pardew’s acceptance that his 4-4-2 game plan did not go as planned, and he gave it 81 minutes for it to do so, we may see Newcastle adopt a different formation, presumably 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, and implement a few personnel changes for this Saturday’s league fixture (3pm kick off) against Aston Villa at Villa Park, as the Geordies look to hold on to their Champions League place…
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