Saturday afternoon we’ll bear witness to an unbeaten, never say die Newcastle United side taking on an occasionally entertaining yet inconsistent and spineless Wigan Athletic at St James’ Park.
We are eight games in and we are going strong. Still in 4th place on 16 points having held off a strong Spurs side and looking to build upon their great start to the season with a win against a less than convincing Latics, who are sat joint bottom on five points having lost their last five league games.
Wigan can only be described as being in “freefall” at the moment. Capable of some terrific football and with a top young coveted manager at the helm in Roberto Martinez, Wigan are a team with potential, but this season it has just gone wrong. They look dazed and confused in defence and desperately unsure of themselves in front of goal. Newcastle will be looking to capitalise on this to continue their fantastic start to the season, while Wigan will be hoping they can find the resolve to turn their fortunes around.
The Toon are pretty much at full capacity. Alan Smith (hamstring), Haris Vuckic (broken hand) and Fabricio Coloccini (toe) have all recovered and should be available for selection with Mike Williamson remaining absent thanks to his ankle injury.
The likes of Alan Smith and Danny Guthrie are unlikely to feature due to the competition just being too hot whilst forgotten man Tamas Kadar is beginning to make an impression for the reserves again having captained the last outing against Liverpool – he is back to full fitness and may find himself on the bench some time soon if he continues his hard work. The likes of Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marveaux are pushing hard for starts.
Provisional squad: Krul, Harper, Simpson, R. Taylor, Santon, Ferguson, Coloccini, S. Taylor, Kadar, Tiote, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Marveaux, Obertan, Gosling, Guthrie, Ben Arfa, Abeid, Vuckic, Smith, Ba, Best, Shola Ameobi, Lovenkrands, Sammy Ameobi.
Ben Watson is likely to shake off his knock from the loss to Bolton whilst Hugo Rodallega could come back into the fold. Antolin Alcarez and Emerson Boyce are struggling for match fitness but likely to feature. Chris Kirkland has gone off on loan as has young McManaman.
Provisional squad: Al Habsi, Boyce, Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa, Watson, Diame, Moses, Gomez, McCarthy, Di Santo, Jones, Pollitt, Stam, Van Aanholt, McArthur, Lopez, Thomas, Sammon, Maloney, Crusat, Gohouri, Rodallega.
Stats and Facts:
This week the stats will have more bulk than tactical analysis. The reason I hear you ask? Simple. There is not a great deal to analyse for this match, but I’ll explain that in a minute…
Wigan have won just one of their last 12 Premier League trips to play the three North East teams (W1 D5 L6).
Although we have the joint best defensive record in the league with the two Manchester clubs, four of the six goals we have conceded this season have been at home.
Four goals have been scored by Ryan Taylor in this fixture…. All for Wigan…..
Although Steven Taylor gets stick for his last ditch rash challenges, that same style of play has seen him block more shots than any other Premier League player with 14.
Staying with our defence, they have made five goal line clearances this season – more than anybody else.
Newcastle have hosted Wigan five times in the Premiership, winning three and drawing two.
Wigan have only ever failed to score in our back yard once in all competitions.
The last two fixtures at home against Wigan have ended 2-2.
Demba Ba has 12 goals in 15 Premier League starts. He has the joint best goals to shots ratio of anybody in the league, with a success rate of 38% he can proudly share with Sergio Aguero.
Ali Al Habsi is rated as this season’s 4th best goalkeeper with 30 saves and a saves/shots ratio of 68%.
Victor Moses is the league’s best dribbler with 62. Impressive huh? Not really. He tends to run around like a headless chicken, managing 26 shots and hitting the target zero times!
Antolin Alcarez was statistically one of the Premierships best five central defenders last season notably making 171 aerial challenges.
Ben Watson can pass. He is successful 85% of the time.
Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote are the Premier League’s 4th and 5th best tacklers so far this season.
So this will not be in too much depth because Wigan really do not pose half as great a threat at Tottenham did. I don’t want to disrespect them, but their squad is unsteady, unproductive, in free fall and generally just not clicking this season. This week is not so much about countering what they have to throw at us, but how we should really be looking to dominate them all over the pitch and control the game.
Naturally as Newcastle fans, we are all aware of how our squad has changed. Last week I described the side as one making the transition from workmanlike to more technical and European. However, the spirit the lads showed against Spurs underlined that despite the French current now running through the side, there is still that steely British determination forming the teams backbone.
I remember a commentator looking at the Newcastle work rate and stating it was only a matter of time before the legs got tired and the performance levels drop off. It did not happen. As the game wore on, the boys looked even stronger. Why? They are clearly extremely fit and equally determined.
Newcastle covered 118km against Spurs, that is the 2nd best result out of anybody in the league so far and an accurate reflection of fitness levels. Cabaye and Tiote are covering about 12km of ground each per game themselves. That is good going and that is what breaks opposing teams down – simply not being able to keep up with the tempo.
Now then, Wigan like to pack the middle of the park in an effort to take control of the game, but with Watson passing the ball accurately to Moses, who then efficiently dribbles it into a ‘shooting position’ and promptly sends it wide – they can crack on quite frankly. They tend to begin disciplined, then get wider and wider meaning spaces open up. They are likely to sit deep and try to build up play against us. The problem for them, is when they build that pressure up they shoot too early (46% of their shots come from outside the area). From 16 shots against Bolton yielded only 2 on target. This shows they are short on confidence moving forward and I would like to think that with Fabricio Coloccini calmly dispossessing them and playing the ball out to feet, holes can be exploited in their midfield.
The key for Newcastle is simple. Keep up the high work rate. Hassle them into mistakes, run at them all day. Have Best drop deep and pull them out of position allowing Cabaye space to feed Ba that perfect ball, or Gutierrez to go an a mazy run and the breakthrough will happen. As long as we keep our shape, stay focused and disciplined and don’t get complacent then the three points and a decent goal margin is there for the taking. Sorry Wigan fans but deep down, you know it too?
This is Newcastle’s game to lose.
This season is Neil Swarbrick’s first as a regular in the Premier League. He was born not too far away from Wigan (Preston) so lets hope he is not more inclined to lean in their favour when decisions have to be made. That said, he has officiated us twice so far and we have not lost whilst on his watch. A 1-0 win against Leicester in the Championship and a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa this season reflect that.
Wigan are unbeaten under his watch too – because he has not taken charge of them yet….
He has given out 33 yellows and 1 red so far this season, so is generally a four cards per game ref.
Swarbrick started out a bit late in life with regards to the refereeing game starting at age 29 and making it into the Football League in 2005. He enjoys a growing reputation and was promoted to the select group of referees in June this year, having proven his worth last season at the top level in the Fulham v Sunderland and the Wolves v Blackpool games.
Lets hope the fans get right behind the team, they stay driven, focused and grounded and we could potentially be looking at a big win here on home soil. We could do with notching the goal difference up a mark or two before we run into the ‘Big Three’ in a few weeks time!
Newcastle United Vs Wigan Athletic.
Venue: St. James’ Park.
Kick Off: Saturday the 22nd October 2011 at 15:00.
Howay the lads!