After taking just one point from a possible nine, slipping down to the murky depths of 6th in the league and losing our entire squad to four-year injury layoffs, it’s only a matter of time until we are battling away in the Championship again.
And to top it all off Newcastle now face a daunting trip to Carrow Road, where a loud, slurring and terrifying Delia Smith awaits.
Things are not that bad are they? We have cleared over a third of this season and are still above Liverpool. Result! If NUFC are considered the suprise package in the Premier League this season, then 11th placed Norwich City must be a close runner up. We can expect our stretched resources to be thoroughly tested this weekend.
Elliott Ward (knee) has missed the entire season so far and is still nowhere near a return. James Vaughan (knee) has been laid off since September’s win over Sunderland and has no chance of playing against the Toon. Ritchie De Laet (back) is close to a return and could be involved, whilst Daniel Ayala and Zak Whitbread both come back into contention.
Steven Taylor (achilles) is out for the season. Sylvain Marveaux (groin) is probably looking at March/April, whilst Danny Guthrie has joined the sick list with the same injury and will be out for roughly a month. Mike Williamson is over his ankle injury, but well short of match fitness. Fabricio Coloccini’s thigh problem is not as bad as first feared, but he is still a major doubt for the Canaries and I think we can pretty much rule him out for this one. Tamas Kadar has been given the No40 shirt and is likely to be included in the squad. Cheik Tiote is not yet ready but Jonas Gutierrez is back following his one game ban and Leon Best is fit.
Shamrock’s top-10 mind blowing facts and stats:
1- If you took every Norwich V Newcastle league fixture ever and added up the score, it would be 28-26 to the home side.
2- Newcastle’s squad is considered to be worth £90m, almost four times that of Norwich at £25m.
3- Tim Krul is set for his 70th career league appearance.
4- Considering our midfield is so good, we have one of the lowest pass rates in the Premiership having completed just 3,413. That puts us down in 17th place. Fortunately, Norwich are placed below us in 18th place with 3,407 passes.
5- Demba Ba has the highest goals-to-shots ratio of the Premiership’s leading scorers with 36% of his efforts being on target. Edin Dzeko of Man City (34%) is next in line.
6- With the exception of Arsenal (24), Newcastle and Norwich share the joint youngest squad average age in the Premier League with Manchester City, Sunderland and Swansea at 25 years old.
7- Only West Brom have conceded as many penalties (5) as both Norwich and Newcastle this term.
8- Danny Guthrie and Steven Taylor are both injured for “trying too hard against Chelsea as a result of Mike Dean’s failure to send David Luiz off.” – It’s a fact. Just ask Alan Pardew.
9- Shola Ameobi is still looking for his 50th career league goal! Or his 25th in 5 years…
10- Norwich are hot favourites for this one with odds of 11/8. Newcastle could be worth a punt at 19/10.
Tactical ponderings and team selection:
What I do know about Norwich, is that they are relentless attackers. They average 13 shots on goal per game and do not fear anybody. 70% of their attacks come from wing play, so they will be testing our full backs. However, the Canaries are very good in the air and they are not afraid to pump a long ball up field to the head. Players like Grant Holt are very strong receiving such service and our centre backs will have a real battle on their hands.
Unfortunately for us Mike Dean injured Steven Taylor, who would have loved this sort of battle. Now we face the dilemma of who to select for such a scenario. James Perch is obviously a given. I don’t want to criticise him – he has actually been quite impressive of late during his late show cameos, however I’m not convinced by his aerial ability or physical strength for this type of role. That said, I really hope the travelling Toon Army get behind him and show great support in order to give the lad a bit of extra confidence. Perch is wearing our colours and will no doubt try his best. We cannot ask for more from him.
Moving on then – who is going to fill in? There has been talk of Danny Simpson or Davide Santon. We need a couple of strong full backs to counter their wing play, so I’d keep Simmo on the right. After Ryan Taylor demonstrated his lack of defensive know how without the guidance of Captain Colo or the tenacious work rate of Jonas Gutierrez last week, we have to wonder when Santon is actually going to get given a chance. Seeing as we are forced into defensive changes, I’d finally give him a go against Norwich and leave Gutierrez free to attack a bit more.
If Pardew decides Santon is still not ready to have a game in his best position and starts Ryan Taylor, then common sense would indicate that Santon is also not ready to play centre half! Tamas Kadar has been given a shirt number and is specialised in this position. He has no Premier League experience, but played a few games for us in the Championship (doing pretty well I might add) and has a bit of international experience. He is comfortable on the ball and fits the mould of a young Coloccini. Surely he would be the best option?
Sitting deep, inviting crosses and high balls with no Tiote in support is not advisable with such an inexperienced and untested partnership in the middle. We need to set a high line, be organised, hope communication does not become an issue and try to play a more attacking game than we have done previously this season. With Jonas back on the left, Cabaye set to be vital in the middle and Obertan likely to continue on the right despite a poor showing against Chelsea (that is being kind), Pardew has a decision to make regarding what formation to set out with now that Leon Best is available.
It would make sense for Dan Gosling to be given a role in the middle, perhaps sitting just in front of Cabaye who can add bite to our defensive efforts whilst utilising his impressive passing abilities from deep. Hatem Ben Arfa has been fairly rusty since he made his return from a long lay off, but has shown flashes of his old self. For me, I’d rather play Best and keep Benny on the bench. Norwich will have a go at us. When we have both Ba and Best on the pitch they tend to do quite well at defending from the front and are also handy defending corners etc. Benny would be great as a late impact sub if the game pans out that way and the requirement is made.
I don’t see how Pardew can go for the cautious approach here in light of our injury problems and lack of trusted, established backbone. It’s time to ‘bump our guns’ and see what we have got.
Taking the reigns is 40 year old Martin Atkinson. Bradford born and based near Leeds, he should be nice and impartial for this one. He has been a Professional referee since 2003, having spent most of his time prior to this as an assistant. By 2005 he was in charge of Premier League games and by 2006 he was on the FIFA list. Atkinson took charge of the 2011 FA Cup Final and has been the man in the middle for Champions League ties as well as international fixtures. We have played 17 games under his watch, winning 6 and drawing 4. He generally likes to keep play moving and is not over zealous with stopping play and dishing out cards (usually), so should compliment an attacking free flowing game quite well.
Former Star Spotlight – Ruel Fox:
He played in the colours of both the Canaries and the Toon. He made 219 appearances for Norwich and scored 25 goals, achieving a 3rd place finish in the league for the 92-93 season. He signed for King Kev for £2.25m in 1994, making 70 appearances for us and scoring 19 times. Ruel then jumped ship in 1995 for £4.25m, joining Spurs like so many other Toon stars have done over the years….
Ruel is now chairman of Ridgeons League Division One side Whitton United, who are unbeaten so far this season. He is also keeping himself busy as a personal fitness trainer and running boot camps.
“They’re not all household names (the Newcastle players) but there are some experienced players there. People might have thought they would struggle this season but Alan Pardew seems to have the same thought processes. They’re a tight unit in the same way with great team spirit and they are reaping their rewards.”
He hopes to get to Carrow Road, saying: “It will be the first time I’ve seen them live in two or three years. Norwich are very strong at home, I expect a very open game and there will be goals – but I have a foot in each camp so I’m going for 2-2.”
Despite our injuries, I’d be secretly disappointed if we failed to get something out of this game. Norwich will be up for it, but may underestimate us as a result. If we can sneak an early goal it will dent their confidence.
Venue: Carrow Road
Date: Saturday 10th December 2011
Kick-off: 3pm UK time
Howay the lads!