Nov 26, 2012

Thin Pickings: The NUFC striker shortage

The recent return to the senior fold of both Nile Ranger and Xisco has seemed to some like a short term response to a temporary shortage in strikers. A telling comment on the molecule-thin squad at Newcastle, certainly, but no more than that. Can more be read into it?

Both Ranger and Xisco have been out of favour for so long they had ceased to be considered as options even. Ranger’s repeated off-field misdemeanours had led to Alan Pardew removing him from training with the first team, saying that he wouldn’t get another chance until he could be on time for a full six weeks. Pardew expressed doubt that Ranger would ever play for him again. He showed every indication of being someone who was on his way out of football for good.

Xisco has been out on loan pretty much permanently since 2009. Having been surplus to requirements for a number of years it seemed that he was neither rated nor wanted at the club, and his continued presence was purely a result of the club’s inability to move him on elsewhere.

Papiss Cisse’s form this season meanwhile has not just deserted him, it’s declared itself a conscientious objector and begun to campaign against the concept of goalscoring. Even so, the disastrous injuries in the midweek Europa League draw against Maritimo to both himself and Hatem Ben Arfa have left Newcastle’s striking roster looking as sparse as Nadine Dorries’ well-wishers list. For although Ben Arfa isn’t known as a front man he could certainly play as a second striker if required. Indeed many feel his best position might be playing through the middle off a central striker. Suffice to say that beyond the thankfully in-form Demba Ba we are now very quickly looking at the untried or at least the unproven. The broken body of Shola Ameobi apart, Sammy Ameobi and Adam Campbell might yet develop into top-class forwards but for now you wouldn’t be comfortable relying on them for long.

So it makes sense to bring back our previously unloved less-than-deadly duo doesn’t it? Both have at various times been good enough to represent their country at age-group level. Xisco never seemed to get a fair chance in my eyes before being shipped out, and it’s hard to deny that at a footballing level Ranger is worthy of selection, despite his lack of first-team goals. He’s genuinely troubled Premier League defences with his power, enthusiasm and physicality. I remember a Liverpool defence in particular being ruffled by him and his appearance from the bench turning the game in our favour in one of Andy Carroll’s last games for us. Cue Ranger’s selection in the first team squad for this weekend’s match with Southampton.

The injury crisis explanation falls down though when you consider that both Xisco and Ranger had been returned to the squad and indeed to playing for the senior squad, albeit in the reserves, some time earlier than the injuries happened. Looking beyond that then, it would seem that they’ve been restored to the squad for one reason only. Newly Nigerian Shola Ameobi is to play in the African Cup of Nations in early 2013, and will possibly be unavailable from early January to mid-February.  We’ll be a chip off Ba’s glass knee away from Ameobi minor and Campbell being possible first choicers. If Cisse’s lack of form and confidence continues until then, that will be a striker crisis which outstrips the current one by an order of magnitude. It is of course only luck rather than judgement which means Ba & Cisse themselves won’t be attending.

The only question which needs answering is whether Ranger and Xisco have been restored to favour merely to bolster the squad in case reinforcements cannot be rapidly recruited in early January, or whether they’re to be our front-line pairing possibly for over a month while the AcoN continues. Past transfer windows suggest to me that Mike Ashley does not usually contemplate paying over the odds for short-term fixes. Some regard his stance as a gamble, which sometimes comes off and sometimes does not. His view is definitely more long term than to buy someone for the sake of a month’s lost points. Whether you approve of it or not, get used to the idea of this pair in Newcastle shirts soon.


Author: Mark Brophy

Website: http://markbrophy.wordpress.com/ for a back catalogue of Mark’s writing.

Follow Mark on Twitter @mark_brophy

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