Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Game 4: Newcastle United vs. Blackpool

Game Four

Newcastle vs. Blackpool, Saturday 11th September

0-2 at St. James Park, Newcastle

Ronaldoisadiving[***]: “I'll say it again. Typical @#$%& Newcastle. Pardon my french, but i @#$%& knew we would lose today. Newcastle have to be the most frustrating team to support in the history of the game.”

BecksA09: “utter rubbish today. i can't stand these days! @#$%& weekend now.”

Ronaldoisadiving[***] again: “If we can't beat Blackpool at home then it isn't going to be a good season for us. Don't know about you guys, but my alarm bells are ringing that's for sure. Everton away next week? Can't see us winning that one either.”

It didn't take long, did it? After four matches, the Toon army has begun to turn on the players so gallant in achieving promotion last term. These are direct quotes from Tynetalk.com (http://www.thefootballnetwork.net/boards/list/s70.htm), a Newcastle United fans website where the Toon army can celebrate or commiserate anonymously after the team's weekend performances. I must admit to not watching the match as getting a live feed proved as difficult as it is for Sol Campbell to refuse a free buffet lunch, but from all reports and in all respects the Magpies were outclassed by lowly Blackpool.

It was for days like this that I chose to follow the Newcastle United journey this season – losses to clubs that statistics, commonsense and comparison put down as probable victories for the Geordies. But lo! After ninety minutes of spirited fight from both teams, a botched tackle in the box by Alan Smith and central defenders beaten on the break by two players yet to be fairly recognised for their abilities, suddenly the Geordie faithful are at the players throats again shouting out the usual laundry list of complaints: The Gaffer's too inexperienced. The players aren't up to it. If only Alan Shearer was still playing. If only Diana was still alive.

Blackpool finished thirty-two points in arrears of Newcastle in the Championship last year yet Ian Holloway has them playing an attacking brand of football capable of troubling the mid-table sides; the mid-table sides where Hughton needs to be focusing all his attention and where NUFC should be aiming to reside at season's end. By cultivating an “us against the world”, tight-knit attitude amongst his team, “Olly” has managed to take the Tangerines from “Dangerous at home” category to “Not at all a certain three points wherever we are”. Whether he can maintain this spirit and the results it's produced is very much still in question, but given the disparity in wages between the two clubs, the size of their fan bases, stadia and reputations, the fans on Tynetalk.com pre-match were confident and predictions of a 3-0 win were thrust willy-nilly onto message boards.

So where did it all go wrong? Blackpool aren't the most skilled side, neither are they the speediest. What they do have is a creative hub in Charlie Adam and a few goal poachers able to make their chances count. For the Magpies, though they controlled the ball for much of the match (57%) and generated nearly three times as many shots as their opponents it was for nothing as they were unable to pass Blackpool GK Matthew Gilks. The hype around Carroll has yet to dissipate fully perhaps meaning that too many heads were in clouds (or was the injury that prevented him from playing in the England U-21s actually genuine? Someone call “Tales from the Crypt”...) and new signings Tiote and HBA are yet to gel with the crux of last year's Championship winners. It's obvious that Hughton has faith in his team if not his new high-profile acquisitions as Ben-Arfa was only afforded 18 minutes of field time while Campbell and Tiote didn't play at all. In HBA's defence, he made a significant impact and the clamour now will be to replace a foundering Alan Smith with the Ivorian or the new boy from Marseille next week.

Given their past two results – a draw with Wolves and this loss to the Tangerines – it's obvious that Newcastle have had opportunities to really put their opponents in a vice and squeeze throughout both matches yet have failed to do so. Is this because the players aren't good enough? They should be given their sterling performances against Villa and Wolves. Because they were able to apply that pressure last year in the second tier without a second thought.

Hughton has talent on hand, but it just didn't perform this week. And his model of achievement both last year and this has been very much like Olly's – he's confident in his charges and has inspired that confidence in the players themselves. He is honest and humble, resulting in him having the backing of the team. That he prefers the back room rather than the spotlight makes him the diametric opposite of past bosses Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and to a lesser extent, Alan Shearer – and the players know full well where attention seeking managers got them.

But to sum up, all is not lost for the Black and White. The expectations of the fans have been tempered since their heady days of two years ago. Later, in the same conversation thread, I found the following posts from more moderate fans like tunyc:

“... To be fair, it sounds like their keeper had a blinder. It also doesn't sound like the forwards were the problem, as Carroll had chances and Nolan is described as lively-all for naught against a keeper who was very much on his game. That we surrendered a penalty on what I'm reading described as a foolish, unnecessary and late challenge by Smith is irritating... ... I really hope Tiote can offer some more pace and better tackling. Beyond that, meh- we hit a post before they opened and their second goal was at the end when we were throwing everything forward. If you guys thought this season would be a walk-even to survival-you're going to be proven wrong. Bring on the next one...“

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