Points > performances but Saturday’s starting 11 said everything you need to know about our St. James’ Park struggles

At this stage of proceedings I couldn’t care less if every game is a boring 1-0 win, as long as we do what’s needed in the last 7 games to get this club back where it belongs –  playing Premier League football once again next season.

On Saturday, however, something occurred to me as I watched the side struggle to build up a full head of steam against a poor Wigan side – something we’ve seen all too often at St. James’ this season.

Whilst I took in the opening half an hour, it became obvious to me that our starting line up, to a man, was incredibly limited in an attacking sense:

NUFC XI vs Wigan (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Anita, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett; Colback, Shelvey; Ritchie, Diame, Gouffran; Gayle.

While Rafa’s decision to field a side full of experience and know-how was justifiable, given the stakes were so high, this sort approach is what we have came to expect at home this season, helping confirm, to me, why we have sometimes struggled to take the game to sides at home.

Before you continue, please note that this is not an attack on our team or tactics, just an observation of the players at Rafa’s disposal.

Starting with the defence. In Lascelles and Hanley we started with two no nonsense brutes. That is their job first and foremost but given the way Wigan and several other visiting sides sit back at St. James’ Park, our centre-backs receive a surprising amount of the ball, meaning it would be to our benefit if they were more capable in possession.

Moving on to the full-backs Anita and Dummett. The pair are not modern day full-backs. Capable defenders at this level, no doubt, but if you’re looking to attack the opposition and play on the front foot, you wouldn’t turn to Paul Dummett and Vurnon Anita.

In Midfield, Jonjo Shelvey is unquestionably one who does carry a genuine threat in the side, with an eye for a cutting pass in any area of the field. His midfield partner however, Jack Colback, appears to be a hindrance to Shelvey. Colback is limited in possession, often a liability in his defensive third and isn’t known for his attacking prowess in the final third either. He ‘keeps it ticking’ but ultimately, he doesn’t offer enough in and around Jonjo Shelvey, who often comes deep to gain possession and build an attack, thus limiting his creative influence in the final third.

Now for the attackers. Ritchie, like Shelvey is another of our genuine threats, but without overlapping speedster, DeAndre Yedlin in the side, it requires more patience and finesse to forge attacks with the more defensive minded Vurnon Anita. Ritchie possesses real quality, and his combinations with Yedlin have been missed, offering the winger that extra bit of space for his wand of a left foot to work with.

Yoan Gouffran. The Frenchman has done a job in the team this season, there’s no denying that, however a left hand side of Gouffran and Dummett is incredibly cautious and without doubt limits us offensively. Gouffran is solid in possession but like Dummett, seems incapable of taking on a man and playing on the front foot. This has often been how we’ve lined up down the left, meaning attacks have become very one-sided towards Ritchie and Yedlin. As a result of this, our main threats at St. James’ have become predictable, justifying Rafa’s move for Townsend in January to provide balance and an attacking force down the left hand side. .

Played off the striker, Mo Diame has been far from his best in his first season with the club. He’s often struggled to get into the game at St. James’ Park, however given he has been a central midfielder for the vast majority of his career, he’s not a natural in such an advanced role. Having watched him on several occasions during his time at Wigan and West ham, he is capable of explosive moments and can make things happen, but these moments have been few and far between for a man lacking in confidence.

Finally Dwight Gayle. Like Shelvey and Ritchie, he is one of three players in that starting line up who carries a real attacking threat. Played as a lone striker, however, he relies on service and support, which given all the above has often been lacking at home. Teams also sit deep at St. James’ Park, starving Gayle of the space in behind that his combinations with Jonjo Shelvey crave.

Granted, the influential trio of DeAndre Yedlin, Ciaran Clark and Isaac Hayden would all return to that side, if fit, but the above does demonstrate the limitations of this side’s attacking prowess at home. The crowd, like any home support, expects the side to play on the front foot and score goals, however, that side on Saturday, like many we’ve seen this season, is set up for a solid win more than a spectacular one.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, I would like to see Rafa field a side capable of playing on the front foot and causing Burton all sorts of problems.

In today’s pre-match presser, Benitez admitted that he fully expects Nigel Clough’s side to sit back and defend it out. With that in mind,  the likes of Atsu, Hayden and Perez would all provide timely returns to the side, adding much-needed spark and dynamism to the side.

Let me reinstate once again that this is not a criticism of Rafa our our team, with our league position suggesting we’re doing more than what’s required to get out of this division. It is however a relevant point to make, given the club plan to make strides forward in the coming future, should we be playing Premier League football again in August.

(Fancy having your say? Send any articles/ideas over to us at NUFCblogsubmissions@gmail.com & we’ll get back to you!)

About Olly Hawkins

Olly has been a Junior Magpie from birth. As a season ticket holder and avid Newcastle United fan - he eats, sleeps and breathes all things NUFC.

16 thoughts on “Points > performances but Saturday’s starting 11 said everything you need to know about our St. James’ Park struggles

  1. georgio: I was in Spain when Taylor went to that bar. The lad that runs Toon Army Chicago e-mailed me yesterday to ask if I was going on Saturday and mentioned Taylor was at the last game. Said the Chicago fire signed some bloke called Schweinsteiger instead.

    I don’t follow MLS. I think Chicago have been crap for a while but more importantly their ground is in the suburbs so I would have to drive there and watch the alcohol intake. I also get ALL premier league games live, the 4 main La Liga games live, Juve and the Milans live every weekend so there is more than enough football on TV to keep me occupied without MLS.

  2. Eric-

    If you are ever interested in going to a Chicago Fire match, you should check out Windy City Wanderers. It’s been a while since I’ve gone, but they were doing a thing where you could pay something like $15 or $20 and get a ticket, a bus ride to and from the game, and free beer on the way down. The bus usually picks up at two or three different bars, usually in Old Town/River North, Lincoln Park/Lakeview and Wicker Park or something like that.

  3. CP: they send me e-mails but I doubt if I will go. Saw them against Man U at Soldier field and they got beat 7-0. Obertan scored which tells you how bad they were.

  4. That’s it for the Mackems then. They need 5 wins from 8 games to even give themselves a chance.

  5. Olly – in general that’s fine piece but it was very noticeable how influential Anita was going forward. The left side is as dull as anything I can remember and I just can’t see what Diame is offering as a No 10.

  6. Nice read Olly, I do have to disagree re Anita though, I think he is brilliant and really under rated. He does what I like defenders to do, Defend well first and fore most. The likes of Debs and Janmaat drove me to distraction when with us. All that constant bombing forward catching the eye but leaving us horribly exposed with acres of space for opposition teams top run into. Actually Anita does get forward and get a cross in , difference is he does it when it’s appropriate to. For me the weak link this season has been Lascelles in defence, tends to hang on to the ball when he really should just get shot. That lad thinks he’s a footballer 😀 No seriously, we have coped very well defensively this season and I do think Rafa has played to our strengths where possible. I think he is desperate to get in a left sider to get some balance with the supply line to the front man. Now here’s a curve ball, If and it’s a big if, we can get a fully fit Siem De Jong back he has the intelligence to be a great link to the front man. Such a shame he’s a sick note. Rafa has been keeping a close eye on him and regularly chats with him they say.
    Anyway back to Anita and Yedlin, he has pace looks good on the eye but for me not as good getting back defending, but he will improve under Rafa no doubt.

  7. RE: Yedlin…

    I’ve always said when you have a full back so quick such as Yedlin, it pins back the opposition. Teams we play will think twice about sending too many men up for an attack when they know we have sheer pace on the break. If Rafa can iron out his defensive game he’s definitely going to make it as a consistent Premier League player.

    Comparing him to someone like Danny Rose a few years ago, he was a little rough around the edges but had the agility and pace to boot (I’d argue Yedlin is quicker though mind) and look at him now. Arguably the best LB in the country.

  8. I agree Rafa is hamstrung by having very little options in terms of quality, pretty much all over the pitch. Cant see Anita making an impact in the PL. Same for Gouffy but both are good pros and we wont be able to afford to change the whole squad in one window. Would not be suprised if they both stayed for another year. Colback has to go. We will need 2 x CM to keep Hayden and Shelvey on their toes, a striker, CB, LB and LW. Maybe even competition for Ritchie. That’s a lot of dough already. Colback, Mbemba, the Moroccan left back, Jesus and probably Krul all to leave. Then either Murphy or Mitto. Hopefully 1 or 2 of the Academy lads can step up like Roberts and Mbabu.

  9. Shamrock – looks to me that Mbabu’s a goner mate. Definitely need a DM. Colback and Hayden aren’t that. A better CB than Lascelles, a better LB than Dummett and I don’t think Atsu is good enough for the PL. Strikers? Need 2 very good ones. Gayle has proved already he’s a bit part player in the PL. Roberts and Arma? we’ll see.

    I’ve seen Delafeuo, Chambers and Shaw heavily linked. No strikers yet. Will be a very interesting summer that’s for sure.

  10. Eeek! forgot the No 10 too. Despite what Kim said De jong will NEVER make it in the PL.

  11. georgio:
    Eeek! forgot the No 10 too. Despite what Kim said De jong will NEVER make it in the PL.

    Don’t rate him then mate 😆 Sadly I fear you are right, I still think a fit S DJ would be a good fit though.

  12. Kim – he’s slow and clumsy. The least athletic footballer I’ve ever seen 😥

  13. Good article Ollie, and an interesting read… we definitely need some more quality attackers for next season.

    I’m really hoping that tonight isn’t going to be a banana skin, and that we go all out to win… unfortunately I’m Shanghai Toon again for a few days so I’m going to miss it as it’s 2.45am kick off here ?? and I have a full day meeting tomorrow… so fingers crossed that I wake up to a win or I’m going to be in a right strop tomorrow. ??

  14. I think I am one of the few that likes the new format as long as they leave a discussion thread up long enough. However, I thought there was going to be a variety of writers. There was Gaz Smith and Jake Swinburn and now Olly. I looked at an archive and Jake’s bio seems to have disappeared. Not that there was much written there just – Toon fan who wants to be a journalist.

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