Thursday, September 2, 2010

Game 3: Newcastle United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

What do you need to be successful in the English Premier League?
a) A burning hatred of Liverpool?
b) Pockets the size of small black holes?
c) An iron bar underneath your jersey
d) A recidivist superstar?
e) All of the above

It turns out that the answer is e) - capacious pockets and the not-so-secret key, while larcenous crowbars are important in thriving in the world's richest league. Joey Barton, for one, can swear to it after being the victim of several tough challenges on Saturday. As Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said after the game: “Really, Joey”? Without doubt the greatest positives to come from the game for the NUFC faithful came from those moments: firstly, that the team has stones to stand up to the physical pressure applied, coupled with the maturity with which Barton handled his rough treatment, the orders for which can only have come from Wolves' leadership. A new start for Toon? Is the immaturity that's marked the last 20 years replaced in one fell Championship-winning swoop?

Nothing in this game disproved what we already know about Newcastle United this season. Firstly, that they have both the talent – especially with new boy Hatem Ben Arfa and extraspecially with rumoured new alum Robbie Keane – and the wherewithal to defeat the teams needed to in order to remain in the top tier. Secondly, they have the size needed in order to defer any of the physical beatings the established clubs may want to administer.

The best case in point I can come up with stems from last Monday's Liverpool vs. Manchester City match. In central midfield, the Citizens fronted up Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong and Yaya Toure against the Reds' Steven Gerrard and Lucas – and even disregarding the numerical advantage, time after time the Reds were pushed off the ball by bigger and stronger players in the clinches. The result was 3-0 to the Sky Blues and was marked by one particular incident where Liverpool new boy Milan Jovanovic bounced four metres after incidental contact from Micah Richards. That the Magpies have size in midfield is a plus – any young upstart club could easily have folded with the physical pressure applied by Wolves. But this size and subsequent unwieldiness can be to their detriment defensively: Coloccini & Mike Williamson are much better at defending large target men rather than smaller, pacier centre forwards and the ease with which Ebanks-Blake's wrong-footed them for his goal directly represented this lack of agility. James Perch was lucky not to concede a penalty and his direct lack of pace when opposed to Matt Jarvis was also to blame.

Andy Carroll's monster header gave the Toon the equaliser they deserved after Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's 43rd minute goal – proof that Carroll is in the form of his life. Should his career arc continue on this upward trajectory then he should make a name for himself playing for the Three Lions, but talk of him as the best partner for Wayne Rooney is perhaps premature. Kevin Nolan again proved as cunning as usual in his forward machinations, able to create space and time in the box (making him sound like a TARDIS) in a manner not quite exactly unlike Carroll. His profligacy in the goal mouth however disappointed but gives hope he can be a 10-15 goal forward this season. That two of last week's stars, Routledge and Enrique were quieter was unsurprising given the physical sacrifices they've made to generate the speed required to play their type of game.

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