There is a theme developing here. In fact there’s a couple. The first being that our bunch of pampered EX-Premier League standard players need to wake up and man up. The Championship is full of players willing to graft for their team – players that will go in hard for those 50/50 balls. The referee’s turn a blind eye to robust challenges. Get used to it boys. Welcome to the Championship. Now step up or watch your careers fade away into oblivion – because tippy tappy sideways passes whilst pointing somewhere expecting your teammates to take a hit for you or run those extra few yards is just not going to cut it.
The second thing screaming out at us has to be the dire need for a large, physically influential striker. It seems obvious from the radio commentary and game highlights, but i’ll qualify that with some facts. After all, Rafa likes facts – and so do I. The main piece of evidence being the 9 completed crosses, 7 of which were between the penalty spot and 6-yard box and 2 of which were on the 6 yard box. 5 of those crosses consisted of Newcastle’s total of 7 goal scoring opportunities – and yet not one of them hit the back of the net. In fact, from our total of 13 shots only 3 of them was a header (a sitter for Gayle, which went wide and a later miss for Ritchie), with Gayle’s follow up from a penalty, which was unopposed and does not really count .
That is shocking. It’s all very well calling for 4-4-2 or whatever else you want – with traditional wing play etc etc. But who’s going to get on the end of the ball? 4-2-3-1 is not a problem for us when it comes to getting crosses in. We managed 32 to Huddersfield’s 6. This was not a one off. The numbers are similar for the Fulham game too. We just need a big man to get the ball down and rough the opposition defenders up. I’m sure if we had that, then the likes of Gayle, Perez and Ritchie would be on queue with a follow up into the bottom corner.
Jamaal Lascelles is getting a bit of stick. He is being portrayed as unable to handle the pressure of being Captain. He’s an average defender that talks big but delivers little. I think that’s harsh. Take a look at the goals in this clip.
The first goal is truly shocking. Huddersfield walk the ball down their left wing, with a man in support. Janmaat fails to close the man in possession down, whilst nobody from midfield busts a gut to prevent a 2 V 1 situation on the wing. I can’t work out what’s worse – Janmaat pointing at the extra runner and nobody coming to assist him, or the fact that in the end he fails to chose either man to close down and instead ends up somewhere in between the two, thus allowing a free cross into our penalty area. Shelvey came over to help out eventually, but failed to commit. The cross into the box is not attacked by either Hayden but especially Mbemba and the ball falls to Wells, who puts it away. No question Lascelles was escaped by his man and has to take equal responsibility for conceding the goal. But for me, Janmaat created he problem, the midfield then failed to provide back up, Mbemba stood around and failed to attack the cross and then Lascelles lost his man. That was a proper team effort of cock-ups.
The second goal is a long ball attacking our right wing. The first thing I will point out is that neither of our right sided payers are anywhere to be seen until Janmaat comes jogging back when it’s way too late. Our center back pairing get pulled out of shape as a result and Mbemba has to cover the right back slot, leaving Lascelles exposed on his own. Mbemba does take a little dig into his back during the challenge, but he is far too soft here. This is the Championship son! Mbemba should have won that ball all day long, but he allows the attacker to turn the ball inside and gets left for dust. Now Lascelles is in between a rock and a hard place here. He knows he has to keep a high line with most of our team stranded at the other end of the pitch. He tries to draw the referee’s attantion, briefly, to the foul on Mbemba. Maybe that cost him a second, but I don’t think so. His eyes are on the ball, knowing Mbemba is about to be left for dust. He needs to keep himself in between the ball and the goal.
Payne then comes running in from midfield. Lascelles can’t run at Payne because all the momentum is coming the other way. A Toon midfielder should have been on Payne. Look at the footage closely when the ball comes over the top. You see Payne stood right next to Hayden. A couple of yards in-field to them is Shelvey. Watch what happens next. Payne goes for it like a bat out of hell. Hayden seems oblivious to the fact HIS man has taken off and instead decides to go over to help Mbemba. He should have seen Lascelles had this covered. Hayden realises his mistake far too late and is out of the game. The ball gets released and Lascelles tries to make up for the mistakes of his two teammates but it’s too late. Dummett comes racing back to help out, but for some reason instead of challenging Payne, who Lascelles has managed to shepherd out wide, steps inside and neither challenges Payne nor gets in between the ball and the goal. Bizarre. Look one more time at the footage and ask yourself this. Where is Shelvey? He should have been busting a gut to get back and support his teammates, but he is nowhere to be seen.
Lascelles made 3 blocks, 5 clearances, 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 4 headers. Mbemba has similar numbers, resulting in 16 successful defensive actions for Lascelles versus 12 for Mbemba. The numbers are similar for Huddersfield’s CB pairing, with 14 and 12 respectively. The massive difference however, is in central midfield from a defensive perspective. Take a look at the pic below to see successful tackles from our respective central midfielders, Shelvey and Hayden Vs Hogg and Mooy.
As you can see, the Terriers’ central midfielders won 11 tackles in total, compared to the Toon’s 3. The spread was even between their midfielders, with Hogg winning 5. Meanwhile, Hayden won all 3 of Newcastle’s. Shelvey did not win a single tackle. It gets worse. Hayden failed 3 attempts to tackle, but at least he was trying. Shelvey failed none, because he did not make a single challenge. In total Hogg and Mooy made 18 tackles attempts, winning 11. Hayden made 6, winning 3 – whilst Shelvey made none.
Shelvey did create 2 goal scoring chances, made 4 good crosses and had one shot on target. Compare that to Diame, who failed his two take on’s, had no shots, put in no crosses and created no chances. It was his first game, but he was anonymous. Shelvey is better suited to an advanced role. Yes he likes a Hollywood pass, but he actually connected with 80% of his long passes and was our best creative output.
The trouble we have, is not having specialists for specialist positions. If we are playing 4-2-3-1 then we need two effective defensive midfielders otherwise Hayden will be caught out trying to cover the area of two players. Rolando Aarons showed he has a lot to learn by being bullied off the ball and failing to put a single cross in. He will get there and is a good squad player, but we are desperate for a senior left winger. Anita on the wing managed only 2 crosses, neither of which were accurate (one went out of play and the other almost left the box). Newcastle improved massively in the second half and that was in no small part of Matt Ritchie, who showed what having the right players in the right positions can do. In 45 minutes he managed 10 crosses, 2 of which were goal scoring opportunities. Trouble is, there was no big man to ruffle a few feathers in the box.
Janmaat only completed 1 of his 10 crosses and made not a single positive defensive action. Yes he did create a chance, but surely we need a full back who’s first duty is to defend? His fruitless marauding is often the catalyst for opposition attacks and it needs to be put to bed. He is a good defender on his day. Paul Dummett did more defensively, created a goal scoring chance and succeeded with 3 crosses. Credit where it’s due.
One final observation I will show you, is this.
This is all of Huddersfield’s shots on goal. Note that how all bar one are to Mats Selz’ right side, almost exclusively in the bottom corner, where both goals went in. Have they done their homework and discovered a weakness in our man between the sticks?