Having taken just two points from the last possible 18, it is perhaps unsurprising that arguments are beginning to break out amongst the Toon faithful with regards to why our form has taken a somewhat dramatic nose-dive in recent weeks.
We all knew we would suffer a difficult period at some point and the question is not who or what is to blame, but how will the lads respond? They have been derailed and need to try and get back on track quickly. If they do so, then NUFC will still be comfortably inside the top-eight with half the season passed despite a recent poor run. It’s not all bad, the lads just need to show us they have the resolve to snap out of it. A couple of signings in January and a bit of form and we will be right as rain! An away match against Bolton is a good place to begin the turnaround.
Marcos Alonso (foot) has been ruled out for over a month following his injury during the midweek win over Blackburn. Long term absentees Chung-Young Lee and Tyrone Mears (both broken leg) will be lucky to see any action this season, whilst Stuart Holden (knee) is nowhere near a comeback following his injury against Man Utd back in March. Sam Ricketts (achilles), Joe Riley (hamstring) and Sean Davis (knee) have all returned to Reserve team action recently although this game may come too soon. David Ngog sustained a knock against Blackburn and Ricardo Gardner (knee) has been injured since the Stoke game at the beginning of November. Both are rated as 50/50. David Wheater returns to the fold following a four game suspension.
Dan Gosling serves the last of his three game suspension following his sending off against Norwich. Steven Taylor (achilles) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) are both out in the long term. Taylor’s absense in particular is being felt in the heart of our defence, which has fallen apart of late. Danny Guthrie (groin) is a good fortnight away whilst Davide Santon (fluid on right knee) misses out. He will be replaced by Ryan Taylor, but may be back for the Liverpool game. Yohan Cabaye thankfully returns from a one game suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards, whilst Peter Lovenkrands (calf) is out for three weeks. Nile Ranger has been recalled to the club for treatment following a foot injury he sustained whilst on loan at Barnsley. He will be out for two months. Mike Williamson is still lacking match fitness, but can expect to at least make the bench if not the starting line up against a tall Trotters side.
Shamrock’s Top 10 Really Interesting Facts and Stats:
1 – With the exception of Stoke (131), Swansea (140) and Aston Villa (142), Bolton have the worst volume of shots at goal in the league with 146. Newcastle share 13th place (171) with Norwich. Man City lead the pack with 242, whilst Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Spurs have all broken the 200 barrier with ease.
2 – Despite their lack of efforts on goal, the Trotters have hit the target 55% of the time. This puts them TOP! of the table with closest rivals Man Utd (54%) and Tottenham (52%) sitting in their shadow. With 42% of our own efforts on target, we sit in joint 13th again…
3 – Bolton are the only side in the Premier League this season that have neither gained any points from a losing position nor dropped any after going ahead. This makes them the first team in history to go 17 league games without a draw from the start of a season in the Premier League.
4 – Fabricio Coloccini looked poor against West Brom, almost like he was not committing to challenges. An explanation could lay in the fact that he is on four yellow cards this season. One more and he is banned, further deepening our defensive crisis…
5 – Newcastle actually established themselves in the top four last season…. For all the wrong reasons! Arrests in England for football related disorder showed Newcastle in 4th spot with 123. Top spot went to Man Utd with 275 and Leeds took second with 149. You have to appreciate it’s all relative though as we have some of the highest gates in the Country. To add a silver lining to such shocking reading, Sunderland took 3rd place with 126 arrests despite having an average gate of 7,000 less than the Magpies.
6 – There have been 11 Bolton V Newcastle Premier League fixtures. Bolton have won 8, losing 3 with a total scoreline of 20-16. Our last win at the Reebok Stadium came on 11th August 2007 during Sam Allardyce’s 1st game of his ill fated spell in charge of the Toon against the club where he made his name. Obafemi Martins (2) and Charles N’Zogbia sealed the points for us. Last season they battered us 5-1…
7 – If Leon Best and Gabriel Obertan start, we can expect them to be the players replaced by substitutes at some point, having been taken off 17 times between them this season.
8 – Shola Ameobi is still looking for his 50th career league goal, or 25th in the last 5 seasons.
9 – The bookies do not seem to be able to call this one, with Coyle’s men backed with odds of 11/8. This just shades Newcastle’s odds of 15/8. If you want to be daring then consider a bet on an exciting 3-3 draw! When you couple our current defensive frailties with the Trotters being the proud owners of the worst home defence in the league, the above scoreline could well be realistic. Oh and it will fetch a whopping 50/1.
10 – It will be nice to have Yohan Cabaye back. He will break up play in the middle and distribute some decent passes, holding our play together. He is actually joint 2nd in the league this year when it comes to tackles made, sharing the spot with Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva (68). Top spot goes to QPR’S Faurlin (74). However, those tackles only amount to 65% of Cabaye’s attempts, meaning he is also prone to giving away the odd foul.
Tactical thoughts and Ponderings:
In a nutshell I don’t think us fans ask for too much – we want to see some half decent defending, some half decent tackles from the middle and a bit of distribution of the ball, a few crosses and shots on goal from our wingers and two strikers banging them in.
In recent weeks we have seen none of that with the exception of the odd glimpse. Maybe recent events have combined injuries, fatigue and unstable partnerships in both defence and midfield to produce a temporary bubble, which has provided a microcosm of the old NUFC? Hopefully as we get players back to fitness and form, that bubble can be burst and we can return to enjoying the more technical and confident football we witnessed from our warriors at the beginning of the season. A new signing or two this January would certainly help reinvigorate a jaded and stretched squad, struggling with a lack of numbers and quality in certain areas.
I’m not going to suggest Pardew tries out a different formation, or anything risky this week as despite recent selection problems he has proved to us that he is a creature of habit. He has two formations in his plans, one is 4-4-2 whilst the other is 4-4-1-1. We can expect one or the other for Bolton and can rule out our Benny or the very impressive Vuckic playing in the hole behind BOTH Ba and Best. To be honest our squad has probably been unsettled enough when you consider recent injuries and bans, so it is probably very wise of Pardew to stick to tried and tested formations.
We can expect a defensive line up of Krul, R Taylor, Coloccini, Perch or Williamson and Simpson. In midfield it will be Gutierrez, Cabaye, Tiote and Obertan. We will then have Ba up front to be joined by Best in a 4-4-2, or go with a 4-4-1-1 incorporating a ring rusty Hatem Ben Arfa in the hole. After young Haris Vukic’s impressive attacking performance against West Brom, it has been suggested by a few fans that he should be given a game in either Best’s or Benny’s position. I’m not sure he will get a start, but we may see him from the bench for one of the two at some point. Young Haris has a great left foot on him and seems to be able to carve open space with subtlety and ease. A great prospect if used correctly and although it is madness to compare him with the living legend that is Zinedine Zidane, our fledgling Slovenian certainly has the makings of a few of the qualities the French Master used to display in his playing days.
Despite the lack of service from our wing play, Pardew looks set to persist with Obertan on the right. With Guti on the left we can look forward to approximately zero shots on target from our wingers and zero successful crosses from them too, but ‘worry – Guti will be defending for Ryan Taylor (who actually pings in a fair few crosses himself) whilst Obertan will be looking to cut inside and shoot wide, or fail to find a pass, or fail to look up…. He is really quick though. That alone will win you games.?!! OK, It’s evident I’m not a fan of the lad. So far this season he has been pretty awful in my opinion, but we could say the same about both Captain Colo and Jose Enrique during their fist half seasons with us. They both ended up being amongst our very best players.
We certainly do not want Obertan being harranged by his own supporters whilst he is out there wearing our colours and I hope the fans get behind him and show a bit of support for the period of time that he spends on the pitch. Maybe he just needs to hear the roar of the crowd behind him to get him over the line? I know he won us a free kick last week in a dangerous position and also remember his deft little cross for Ba to score against Stoke, but his general standard of play has not been up to scratch this season so far and he needs to improve. Pardew and his staff see him every day on the training pitch and must see something in him that us fans are not privy to. Hopefully Obertan will begin to demonstrate whatever that is regularly and immediately against Bolton.
Pardew has this to say about the ex-Manchester United winger: “Our fans need to be patient with him as I and the staff need to be at times because we know what he can do. I don’t think he has been as good as he was before he came out of the side with an injury. He hasn’t come back as good.
“Because he is so quick the crowd think he can just beat the full-back by racing him on the outside all the time but he can’t do that, he’d be too one-dimensional. I think he’s only young and he’s still learning. He’s very young in term of his time playing, he’s hardly played.
“He is yet to find the net for Newcastle. That’s the next step for him. He’s got to look like he’s going to score a goal, getting in on the far post, cutting inside and releasing shots like Jonas does for us on the other side. He has to threaten the goal (now).”
Some have suggested both Coloccini and Tiote have had their heads turned following less than impressive performances against West Bromwich Albion. On one hand it could be true, but Colo is our Captain and I hope he takes the role as seriously as he appears to. I refuse to believe he would compromise his performances on the pitch by allowing himself to be distracted by a potential pay day elsewhere for the 90 minutes he is required to concentrate. More close to the truth would be that a) he has an impending suspension hanging over him if he picks up another yellow card and b) he is still carrying a niggle following his recent injury. No doubt our staff will have wanted him back sooner rather than later after our dismal display against Norwich and that is bound to have had an effect on him. Same could be said for Tiote, who actually had a long spell out and will no doubt be slightly rusty and off the pace.
As for Bolton, they will probably field a 4-4-2 come 4-3-3 with Chris Eagles moving into an advanced position on the left. In Wheater and Cahill they have two imposing centre backs that will be a handful defensively and offensively in the air. Add to that Kevin Davies and Klasnic and our centre backs could be struggling without Steven Taylor. Perch has not done too bad standing in, but he is probably one of those players in the ‘in-between-league’ like Routledge who is not quite up to it in the Prem but more than adequate for the Championship. It’s not his fault, but we need reliable and dominant cover next to Colo as soon as possible. A fit Williamson would be a wonderful thing for this game!
Nigel Reo-Coker and Fabrice Muamba will be looking to stifle our central midfield pairing, with the latter in possession of a dangerous long range shot. Kevin Davies will no doubt be looking to bully his way into the box as he plays just off Klasnic, so we will need to have a plan for him. Newcastle were criticised against West Brom for playing a high line and getting caught out. In fairness and respect to the Baggies, they possess some very good, pacey and tricky players and in hindsight I think Pardew would maybe accept that he made a mistake regarding his defensive line.
However, for Bolton I would keep the line as high as possible. Their wingers are not bad, but not in the league of the opposition we faced last week. They tend to drift inside, so the likes of Tiote and Cabaye will need to sit back often to stifle them. Staying high would pretty much keep Davies out of harm’s way as he cannot hurt us in the air from there and his lack of pace means he will not threaten our defence with a quick, well timed run. Klasnic has a bit more pace, but again the threat to us is dramatically reduced with the above plan. Obertan will have a chance on the right to tear their stand in left back apart and I hope he takes it. Genuinely.
52-year-old Northamptonshire born and based Peter Walton takes this one on. As his age suggests, he is very experienced having been involved in Premier League games for no less than 17 years! First as an assistant and then as the man in the middle from 2003. Despite this wealth of experience, he has not been involved in European competition or International fixture as the main official from what I can tell.
His most recent game for us was the 0-0 draw with Arsenal, whilst he has taken charge of a further six games of ours dating back to 2003. We have not won a single game under him, taking only one draw against Charlton in the 2003/2004 season. Otherwise we can count two 3-0 losses to Liverpool, a loss to Derby County and a home F.A Cup 5-1 battering by Birmingham City amongst our Walton lowlights.
Are you feeling confident?
Bolton Wanderers V Newcastle United
Venue: Reebok Stadium
Monday 26th December 2011
Kick Off: 15:00
Howay the lads!!