So, the big day proved to be something of a sad anti climax as a professional and very well organised Newcastle side did a job on City which reduced them to a team with plenty of perspiration but too little inspiration.
City’s display on Sunday provided moments of quality, but that’s all they were… moments. We needed a lot more than that if we were to succeed in managing more than just ruffling Newcastle’s feathers occasionally and, given what our Chairman was saying last week about how supporters should be expecting a top six finish and the, reputed, size of our wage bill, it could be said that we had a right to expect more from the team yesterday. Certainly, the fluency, movement and style which destroyed Scunthorpe and Bristol City were not present.
However, to merely focus on City’s shortcomings, would be to ignore the fact that, especially as they are set up at the moment, Newcastle are a very, very hard team to break down. Once they had taken the lead, City were nearly always faced with the conundrum of finding a way past the nine outfield players set out in front of them. Just the bare numbers involved would have presented enough of a challenge, but when you saw the quality of their midfield five and the whole of their back four, then you realised the size of the challenge we were faced with.
The Newcastle fourteen yesterday contained twelve members of the squad that were relegated last May when they gave such a gutless performance at Villa Park on the final day of the campaign as their demotion was confirmed. That day Newcastle looked like a club without spirit or harmony out on the pitch, but, right from the off yesterday, they looked an outfit who were right up for the challenge – if only I could say the same for the City!
For the third home league match on the trot, City were slow out of the blocks – Scunthorpe really should have been at least one up after twenty minutes on the first day of the campaign and the wurzels were certainly the better side in the first ten minutes when they came here. Yesterday though, City’s luck ran out in that department as their slow and nervous looking beginning helped hand the initiative right to the visitors who were good enough to take advantage of our generosity as they fashioned a fairly routine goal.
Coloccini’s matchwinner was the third goal we had conceded from a close range header in successive games and this is a situation that needs sorting out quickly. While David Marshall could certainly have done better with the initial corner, questions have to be asked as to why Newcastle had two men, both good headers of the ball, left relatively free on the far post when the second cross came in.
After the goal, the truth is that Newcastle never really looked like scoring again. This was despite an effective, hard working and skilful contribution from their lone front man Nile Ranger which left one wondering why our Academy system, which is good at finding defenders and midfield players, have done so poorly in finding strikers of real quality. Apart from the imported Cameron Jerome, City haven’t found a quality young striker in ages and, although Josh Magennis offers hope that this situation can be rectified, when you compare what he has to offer currently with what we saw from Ranger yesterday you realise that it is still very much a case of work in progress with Magennis.
One last thing about Newcastle before I finish with them – it really does make me laugh when I hear people talking about their “threadbare” squad! Yes, they are currently short of strikers, but, when a team can bring on three subs that have 165 international caps between them and, as far as I am aware, have spent their whole careers in the top divisions of the various countries they have played in until now, “threadbare” hardly seems to be the right word to describe them!
Newcastle had a squad which should never have been relegated last year and, although they have lost a lot of big names since then, their current one compares very favourably with any in the Championship – they really should be looking at a top two finish given the talent they have available to them. Strangely however, it may be that they will hit problems when they have all of their striking options available because this may make them more prepared to push men forward when they are leading whereas they are currently ideally set up for sitting deep and defending such leads when they get them.
Anyway, enough about Newcastle, was there anything positive to be taken from the City performance? Well, the spirit was good and we never gave up, but, apart from that, there wasn’t much in the team performance to take consolation from. On an individual basis, our midfield four were faced with a huge task given the quality and numbers that the visitors had in that part of the field, but I thought Joe Ledley stood up to the test pretty well and provided nearly all of the craft and guile (something which we needed a lot more of all over the pitch) that came from the central midfield area. Chris Burke had a good spell in the first half and we always looked more dangerous attacking down the right than the left, but, increasingly he tended to run down blind alleys and our attacks began to lose momentum when he got the ball.
Although he wasn’t given too much to do defensively, I liked the way that Paul Quinn always looked to use the ball constructively (he was one of a very few City players who were composed in possession in the early stages). However, the best of our players for me was Jay Bothroyd – although he, once again, spent too much time on the deck, virtually every time City were able to cause Newcastle problems, Bothroyd was at the heart of it.
Newcastle provided our players with a test of strength as well as technique and, for me, Bothroyd was the only one who consistently passed both of those tests – yes, in an ideal world he would score more goals than he does, but, while he keeps on playing with the commitment that he has shown so far this season, I don’t think I would want to swap him with any of the players who do a similar job at other clubs in this league.