Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Game 7: Manchester City vs Newcastle United

As startlingly and dramatically as he arrived, Hatem Ben Arfa's season is likely over courtesy a tackle by Man City destroyer Nigel de Jong. This loss – in the fourth minute of Sunday's match – compounded Newcastle's defeat to a curiously set up Citizens team whose aim seemed to be ensuring defensive stability at the expense of offensive creativity. That City chose to display their creativity at the wing position however was astute as, usually for this season, right-back James Perch was the weakest link in an otherwise tightly-fought game.

Perch has achieved the admirable record of seven games for six cards this term as he struggles to establish himself as the Toon right-back for the future. Perhaps Ryan Taylor's spectacular first performance for the season last week at Chelsea has unsettled him further; again on Sunday he was exploited as David Silva and James Milner consistently forced him into poor defensive position and his inexperience in the top-flight put his teammates under pressure time and again.

He was hardly the only one though. With Coloccini – unexpectedly Newcastle's “pacy” central defender – injured in the 36th minute, Hughton was forced to call upon Sol Campbell to partner Mike Williamson. Williamson was made to pay for his lack of legspeed as he gave away a controversial penalty: from the stands, it looked a certain penalty while replays only clouded the matter, but whatever the result he must be thankful that he didn't receive the automatic red card that should have accompanied the spot kick. That the Tyneside centre-backs (and indeed Perch) are so immobile seems to be their Achilles heel: forever being beaten for pace, they are then forced to tackle from inopportune positions and risk fouling the opposing forwards. That they have been able to achieve a measure of defensive strength so far this year is credit to their technique but it is an ill omen for whenever they are face speedy strikers.

That Adam Johnson went around two Toon defenders (Enrique and Barton) before beating Tim Krul – who has so far delivered exactly what was expected of him: good shot stopping but less of a box-presence – in the 75th minute is an indictment on the defenders Hughton has used this season. It is understandable to rely on Enrique and Perch given the paucity of options but the entire back four has too often been shaped too squarely and allowed opposing defenders to break the offside trap and to create easy chances. That the scorer was Johnson, with the most tricks of any Sky Blue winger, is unsurprising as he again is a mobile flanker rather than a positional threat.

Jonas Gutierrez was superb on the left flank and will need to maintain performances of this level should creative hub HBA remain on the disabled list. His 24th minute goal following up his own cross left five Man City defenders bewildered and bemused in his wake. More repeats of a similar tune from Newcastle though – presence through the wings (if slightly effeminate ones with lightweights Routledge and Gutierrez), with the impressive Barton and Tiote manning the centre of midfield.

Shola Ameobi made his third straight start for the Magpies, leaving Andy Carroll on the bench. The Boy Wonder came on with thirteen minutes remaining in place of Kevin Nolan who was both sporadically effective and subdued. Long a whipping boy of the terraces, Ameobi scored thrice in his first two starts this year to earn himself another attempt in the opening lineup and comments from the manager (thinly veiled at Carroll) that no-one's starting place is considered holy. Even neutral observers have can say Ameobi's had a better fortnight than the New New Messiah. Unfortunatley, Shola basically doesn't have the same ability or Greek-god physique that Carroll sports, meaning he doesn't have the same happy knack of creating time for himself or others in the opposition's area. His appeals for a late penalty were optimistic but had he not been dispossessed as easily by Gareth Barry ten minutes before, perhaps the Toon wouldn't have needed a late spot kick. Simply by virtue of their respective talent levels, expect Carroll to start again at home to Wigan after the international break.

Another close defeat by Newcastle. They seem to be making a good fist so far of staying up – apart from the first match against Man Utd they've been in every match until quite late. However, it is time for the Magpies to start turning close-run defeats and draws into wins. This will come with greater defensive efficiency and more consistency going forward from their so-called flair players.

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