Sunday, 20 April 2014

Newcastle 1 - 2 Swansea - All hail Big Wilf of Wind Street!

£12million for Bony is the best twelve million anyone has ever spent. On anything.

What a difference a day makes. About this time yesterday I was chewing my fingernails and anxiously awaiting news of the team selection; fast forward twenty-four hours and I'm still struggling to rein in the smile which has beamed from my face ever since Bony's injury-time penalty consigned Newcastle to their fifth straight league defeat, and ensured the Swans came from behind to win for the first time in the league this season. 

As Monk said in his post-match comments, we've played better than that and got nothing on our efforts. More than once in fact. I'd say since Monk came in that definitely ranks as one of the worse performances, and far from being in the top five or six. Considering we've only won three league games since his appointment, that should tell you how far from our best we were yesterday. 

Another indicator of how far from our fluid best we were comes in the possession statistics - a few minutes before half time we were marked as having had 48% of the ball - quite astounding given a) the average possession we've enjoyed on almost every occasion we've stepped out on the field this season and b) who our opponents were. We need the ball to control the game, and while I don't want to give too much credit to Newcastle, who were pretty rubbish, they must get a modicum of praise as they did stop us playing to a point.

Monk stuck with the same Swansea system we know and love, with De Guzman back out on the right in place of Dyer and Amat coming in for the suspended Chico. For the first twenty minutes or so we were excellent - De Guzman combing well down the right with Pablo, Shelvey, and anyone else who wandered close. The Dutchman was putting lots of clever passes into space which his fellow midfielders were running onto, and Pablo found space well but his cutback was behind both Bony and the supporting Routledge, coming in at the back post.

Newcastle, however, hadn't conceded and the Swans hadn't mustered an effort on target - despite five corners in the opening eighteen minutes. They took full advantage with a hopeful ball upfield being brought under control by the gangly powerful figure of Shola Ameobi, who took a couple of touches, beating Ashley Williams and Ben Davies all ends up, before poking the ball home left footed with Vorm wrong-footed. I thought it was pretty soft on the part of Ash & Ben to be honest, while no-one else could really do much about it.

The zip and vigour of our game (which granted, hadn't resulted in an effort on target to that point) seemed to disappear completely following the Newcastle goal, which came completely against the run of play. Bony had an effort blocked from point blank range after De Guzman whipped in a lovely ball from the right, but aside from that we struggled to impose ourselves for the remainder of the half. 

We gave possession away sloppily, and our pass completion was way below usual. With the half about to draw to a close, Swansea won a corner out of Tiote and Ben Davies' in swinger found Bony leaping at the near post - and the Ivorian made no mistake in planting a header across goal and past Tim Krul. The simplicity with which the set-piece move was executed begs the question; 'why don't we do it more often?' - Bony can out jump anyone and he's so good in the air, you have to ask why it took six corners before we managed to find the Swansea striker at the near post. It seems fairly obvious now that thats something we need to be hammering in training. 

So half time and 1-1 - not bad considering the second half of the opening period where we rarely threatened, and until our equaliser Newcastle must have been wondering how they'd coped so well with losing Cisse & Luuk De Jong to injury and having to make two enforced substitutions. I'd actually go as far as to say that the substitutions (well, the first one) had a crucial impact on Newcastle's opening goal. 

We'd started well and Newcastle couldn't retain possession, and whats more they didn't seem to have any answers to our pressing and attacking play. Cisse went off for Debuchy, Newcastle tweaked their shape slightly, and in the confusion that followed (for Swansea anyway, as they tried to adjust) Ameobi latched onto a pass to grab his goal. I can't claim to remember examples, but I'm sure that's not the first time we've struggled to adjust to an opponent tweaking their system [edit: I just remembered about Palace at home].

The second half started and…well… it wasn't really that exciting to be honest. The only efforts of note I remember (before we get onto the Swans' winner) were De Guzman curling one across goal which landed on the roof of the net, and Vernon Anita hitting a half-volley just wide of Vorm's goal. I commented at around seventy minutes that it seemed both sides were settling for a draw - something the Swans could ill afford to do - but I hadn't counted on Monk's tactical masterclass in bringing on Marvin Emnes - or 'Martin' as my inebriated chum in attendance at St James' Park referred to him throughout. He had admitted to being so worse for wear that he'd accidentally cheered on Newcastle though, so I think we can forgive him. My pal, that is. Not Martin Emnes. They do play in black and white too…

So, the winner. Emnes broke free and did well to make his way all the way into the penalty area. Jinking inside his man, he went back away from the retreating Cheikh Tiote but the Mozambique captain isn't one for pulling out of a challenge, and clipped the Middlesborough loanee resulting in a Swansea penalty. In the 92 minute. A huge moment, and for a while it looked like Jonjo Shelvey was taking it - it's rumoured a large section of the travelling away support closed their eyes and looked away at this point - but they didn't have to worry as only one man was ever going to be taking that. 

Step forward Big Wilf. Cool as you like, he stepped up and side footed it right into the top right-hand corner. A brilliant pen, and as awesome as the coolness of the finish was his emotional reaction to the goal shows, to me at least, that he's becoming more and more attached to the club who paid £12million for his services. He's spoken a few times recently about how he appreciates the support he's now getting from the fans, and it's important we continue to show him how much we appreciate him being our main man as he was the only reason we got any points yesterday. A towering header and a cool penalty, they were our only two shots on target in a match which was high on tension but low on quality.

The win gives the Swans a timely boost with Aston Villa next up at home, and if Bony keeps up his current form he'll give the Midlanders serious headaches. They won't be relishing dealing with our powerhouse centre-forward, but on current form it's unlikely anyone would.

Keep feeding the big man, and we'll keep getting results. In Wilf we trust. All Hail Big Wilf of Wind Street!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Newcastle v Swansea: Preview, team news, predicted lineups, stats, prior form, quotes & analysis

The Match

Newcastle can't buy a goal for love nor money, and the Toon Army are growing increasingly frustrated. Four losses on the bounce without scoring means they'll be praying Loic Remy returns to the starting lineup against opponents they've traditionally not done too well against in recent times. Having lose to the Swans on the last three outings, and seen their midfield significantly weakened by the departure of Yohan Cabaye, it's likely Pardew will once again go with three at the back - a system which only saw them lose away at Stoke to a deflected winner. Whether that'll be enough to stop a Swansea side looking to turn a corner and secure PL safety remains to be seen.

Swansea once again had to endure stories of unrest in the camp this week, but the performance against Chelsea coupled with the club's statement that it was simply tempers flaring in a full-scale practice match mean most fans don't really seem that bothered. With the squad continuing to enjoy a relatively charmed life in terms of injuries (unlike this weekend's opponents), it's likely Monk will retain the same team which started against Chelsea - though perhaps De Guzman will return at the expense of Shelvey with Amat certain to start for the suspended Chico. With at least one win needed for safety Monk will be absolutely desperate to claim the three points and with Bony still in fine form the Magpies defence will have to guard closely lest they once again find themselves trailing at half time - something that's happened in their last four matches.

Prior Form (Most recent at top)

Premier LeagueStoke1-0Newcastle
Premier LeagueNewcastle0-4Manchester Utd
Premier LeagueSouthampton4-0Newcastle
Premier LeagueNewcastle0-3Everton
Premier LeagueNewcastle1-0Crystal Palace
Premier LeagueSwansea1-0Chelsea
Premier LeagueHull1-0Swansea
Premier LeagueSwansea3-0Norwich
Premier LeagueArsenal2-2Swansea
Premier LeagueEverton3-2Swansea

Team News

Provided by resident fitness guru @BenDinnery - make sure to follow him on Twitter for the latest injury news and views

The Jacks travel to St James’ Park on Saturday with the home side hoping to avoid their fifth straight defeat while Swansea will be buoyed by an improved performance against Chelsea despite their unfortunate loss. Newcastle could welcome the return of influential French duo Loic Remy (calf) and Mathieu Debuchy (groin) back into the match-day squad; both players returned to training on Thursday and will be available providing neither show any reaction to their recent muscular injuries. The pair have been sidelined since March and their inclusion will provide a timely boost for the under pressure Alan Pardew. Hatem Ben Arfa (dead leg) is a doubt although a place on the bench is most likely if fit while Steven Taylor will be available, Moussa Sissoko (thigh) has started running but the game will come a week too soon. 

Just the one major concern for Swansea, Spanish playmaker Michu continues to struggle with an ongoing ankle problem; the forward had been receiving pain-killing injections but his latest setback could end his season. A late fitness test, but considered very doubtful. Jordi Amat looks set to start on Tyneside replacing the suspended Chico Flores.

Completely guessed lineups

Statistics & Trivia

  • Newcastle have been losing at half time, and have gone on to lose the match, in their last four Premier League outings.
  • Swansea have won their last three matches against Newcastle, conceding only one goal in the process.
  • Newcastle have failed to score in six of their last eight PL home matches.
  • In 2014 Sunderland have scored more goals (3) at St James' Park than Newcastle have (2).
  • Swansea haven't won in eleven games away from home in the league.
  • Swansea have conceded at least one goal in each of their last fourteen away matches.
  • Newcastle haven't drawn a game at home in eight games, a run which stretches to eleven games if you include away fixtures.
  • Almost a third (13/45) of Swansea's goals this season have come in the last fifteen minutes.
  • That could bode well, as Newcastle concede a higher percentage of goals in the last 15 minutes than in any other 15-minute period (12/51 - 23%)

      Straight from the horse's mouth

      Garry Monk is feeling the relegation pressure, and knows a sterling performance away from home is long overdue:

      “We’ve been looking over our shoulders for a while now. It’s a serious situation, we know that, and we need to get some points on the board as soon as possibleIt’s crunch time now and I want us to get wins and finish with as many as possible. Newcastle is a chance to get three points and that’s what we’ll be aiming for. 
      “We’ve done well there in recent years. I played there the last time we won, and we need another performance on Saturday. It’s going to be a difficult game for us, and I expect a reaction from them. Their fans will be demanding a performance so we’re expecting a tough game.”
      “We’ve been far too inconsistent. At times we can be unplayable, but at the other end of it, when we do perform badly we’re very bad. That is what has put us in the situation we’re in but we’ve got enough quality, spirit and togetherness in the squad to make sure we’re safe. Talk is cheap, and we need to make sure we do it in these next four games.”

      Alan Pardew, weirdly, decided to have what seems to be a bit of a pop at his players, saying they're "not in the right frame of mind". Not bad for someone who's still banned from his office for headbutting someone! As for the match itself, he's fairly obviously looking to his us on the counterattack:

      “It’s important we play well, but we’re playing against a team which controls the ball - they have the highest percentage rate of possession of any team in the league – Liverpool, Arsenal, name who you like. 
      “They’re going to have the ball. That’s what they’re good at. Hopefully, they won’t hurt us, and when we have it, we’ll hurt them.”


      Newcastle, as well as seemingly constantly being in turmoil are also wracked by injuries, with up to nine players potentially missing out this weekend. With four fit centre-backs, Pardew switched to a 3-5-2/5-3-2 system last weekend and it almost got them a point - that being said though, they still didn't score and the difference Loic Remy makes to the team is remarkable.

      Not scoring in four and losing those games to boot really is a poor run, so I'd imagine Remy will start even if Pardew isn't sure he's 100% fit. With that in mind it'll fall to Jordi Amat & Ashley Williams to keep guard at the back for the Swans, and I'm pretty confident we'll see a solid defensive showing. Amat was excellent when he came on against Chelsea and every time I've seen him of late he seems to have improved, so against a misfiring side you'd expect Swansea fans to be confident of a win - especially considering we've won our last three games against the Magpies.

      That being said, it says something about how unpredictable (and poor) our form has been that I'm not very confident of a result. I know that on paper we'd probably expect a result but the reality is it's an away trip against a side who have some dangerous players. Underperform and we're likely to get punished, as Newcastle's poor run can't continue forever. I fancy Bony to give their defence problems and as long as go with a standard Swansea midfield system I'd also be confident we can retain control of the centre of the park. From Pardew's comments he seems to see that as a foregone conclusion, so we need to take advantage of that and make possession count early on.

      Do that, and we should secure the win. Newcastle are poor in terms of coming from behind, and we're actually pretty good when we get in front. Early goals will be key here, and if we can get two up before half time there'll be no coming back for Pardew's men.

      I've given up on score predictions, but the optimist in me has no problem believing we'll get a win here - just give the ball to Bony and let him make magic happen.

      Podcast: EPL RoundTable EP 35.5 - Crystal Pulis vs West Sam

      This weekend's predictions installment of the EPL Roundtable podcast

      A jam-packed Thursday podcast this week with representatives from Crystal Palace (@TheEaglesBeak), Manchester City (@RobPollard_), West Bromwich Albion (@BaggiestFacts) and Liverpool (@JimFish286), as well as myself and host Kevin De Vries (@KevRov) discussing this weekend's Premier League fixtures, as well as who we think will win the league and what's been happening at our clubs this week. Get subscribing and listening! Don't forget you can keep up to date with all the latest podcast musings by clicking on the podcasts page on the top bar of the site - enjoy!