I was going to do a match report on this game, but I felt my views would be better communicated via a ramble.
Our width, predominantly in the first half, was provided solely by the full backs when Cabella lined up on the right and Gouffran was on the left. We did have 65% of possession by the time the game ended, but often it was in front of Palace—which suited the Eagles who have certainly inherited Tony Pulis’ defensive solidity. This led to us playing the ball from flank to flank, and when we lost the ball Palace would counter with their pace. The midfield were overrun time and time again on the break, and Sissoko—especially in the first half—really left Colback to deal with a lot of it on his own. Often Palace could run straight through us, with the pace of Puncheon and Bolasie causing big issues for United.
For me there were two stand-out worst performers in the first half. These were Riviere and Sissoko. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, as when the team were put through a cone drill by Dave Billows these two seemed uninterested. (On the subject of Billows, the man ran a number of drills pre-game and he did a good job of getting the players to raise their effort levels) Riviere, like Cisse for long periods last season, was left isolated up front for large spells of both halves. We kept trying to hit Riviere with long, hard aerial balls. There was very little chance for him to bring it under his control when he was being marshalled by Palace’s physical centre backs. This was a theme throughout the game. However, this does not excuse him from his lack of anticipation. I remember a number of crosses being put into the box where Riviere did not attack the ball, attempt to get across his man or even jump. Sissoko was worse.
He gave the ball away needlessly a few times, and failed to track his runner on numerous instances. I felt sorry for Colback, who was left to sweep up after Sissoko’s errors. It looked like Sissoko didn’t even have a set position in the first half and this contributed to a shockingly porous midfield. (It made me wonder if we should start with Anita next to Colback, a partnership which worked well against Manchester City, and then bring on Sissoko and his driving runs when teams are starting to tire)
Both players improved their performances in the second half. Riviere is a player who needs space to run into, and to be fair to him he had very little of this required space in the first half. Sissoko started to stop giving away the ball as frequently and at times he drove into space in his Yaya Toure-like style. The game becoming more open due to players tiring will be part of the reason for the better second-half performances, but credit can also be attributed to Pardew—or maybe Carver—for what I expect was a half time bollocking.
A player who really disappointed me this game was Yoann Gouffran, who was largely anonymous throughout his spell on the pitch. While he didn’t play badly, he didn’t really seem to do anything good. When he got the ball, he seemed rather hesitant to drive into space and often slowed the game down by dribbling slowly or passing it backwards. Our other starting winger, Remy Cabella, was slightly more influential—particularly as the game opened up and we got more space. However, Cabella is lightweight and can become ineffective when tightly marked. Cabella also needs to learn quickly that this league is very different to Ligue 1. The moment, near the end of the game, where he was through on the right and pulled up looking for a free kick, after feeling a slight tug, was frustrating and a waste of possession—tiredness or not. I also feel like he needs to work on his composure when shooting. He half-volleyed wide in the second half and missed a sitter a week before against Villa. His delivery from set-pieces was excellent—barring one which he failed to get sufficient loft on.
On the subject of set-pieces, and despite Aarons’ goal from a corner, I would like to state how I feel this is Newcastle’s worst area. Every time we win a set piece—unless it is a free kick which is a clear shooting opportunity—I worry about us getting hit on the break. I don’t feel the sense of anticipation that I should feel about a set-piece. We went through a spell of not scoring a corner from October 1st 2011 to July 28th 2013. It wouldn’t surprise me if we went through a similar drought again, because the players do not seem to attack the ball, or anticipate where the ball is going to end up.
Every time we concede a set-piece I worry too. Sure, it is only natural for me to worry about a set-piece for the opposing team in a dangerous area, but as soon as Palace were awarded the free-kick which they scored from to earn a point I knew we had conceded. Call that negativity, but people near me were mapping out the free kick before it took place. We were all screaming at someone other than Anita, our smallest player, to pick up the comparatively gigantic Murray. It was obvious that it would be a lofted ball to Murray, arguably Palace’s best header of the ball, who would then head it across the box to the crowd who would try and get anything on it. I do not blame Anita for this, because he was assigned to the biggest man by the two centre backs Williamson and Coloccini . The kid tried his best to get his head on it, but it was never going to be a fair contest. (I felt Anita did very well filling in for Janmaat who went off injured) The whole scene before the free-kick was taken was pure panic. Pardew and his coaching staff need to brief players on what to do when free-kicks are conceded in these areas and who marks who. Still, all that was needed in that situation was for captain Colo to use a degree of common sense—and also for Riviere to keep track of the man he was supposed to be marking, Zaha, instead of switching off as soon as the ball was kicked.
Siem de Jong, making his first Premier League start, didn’t get on the ball very often in the first half. However, when he did he tried to link up with Riviere and he switched the ball well on numerous occasions. De Jong tried his best to support Riviere, a crucial role, I felt de Jong also did a great job of winning hopeful aerial balls. In the second half, with de Jong—like the whole team—feeling the benefit of the greater space, he played a number of excellent first time passes on the edge of the Palace box which caused huge issues.
I thought Colback was outstanding again, and he fully justified Roy Hodgson’s decision to call him up to the national team. He was very much a “ginger Pirlo” for us, dictating our tempo, recycling possession and playing incisive balls. Colo would often give him the ball in dangerous areas, and instead of losing the ball and being outmuscled—as I felt Tiote or Anita would have—he moved the ball on well. (Excluding one instance where he slipped). Colback, while thankfully not diving, was very good at drawing fouls. He also deserves a special mention for always battling when his midfield ‘partner’—I put that in inverted commas due to Sissoko’s lack of help—was nowhere to be seen. If Colback could work on his shooting—he got caught up in the moment, smashing over, when Cabella pulled back a free kick to him on the edge of the box in the first half—he would be getting even more rave reviews.
Another player who was outstanding was Massadio Haidara, who is certainly an upgrade over Paul Dummett. (I just wish Haidara could have done a better clearing header than he did for their first goal, that really was his only mistake and it was costly) Nearly all of the threat we posed to Palace’s goal came from the left flank. Haidara often had the beating of Puncheon and Mariappa, and he was very good at dropping his shoulder and whipping in dangerous balls. In fact, one could argue that Mariappa was lucky not to be sent off after lunging into Haidara after the left back had beaten him. Indeed, the foul was near-identical to the foul which saw Mariappa receive his first booking. I thought Mike Jones, on his return to St James Park after disallowing that Tiote screamer against Manchester City, had a poor game. Chamakh, booked for wiping out Haidara, then did a rainbow flick as he walked away—surely equivalent to kicking the ball away? Jones just pointed at Chamakh and wagged his finger. As well as Newcastle potentially having a case for Palace having two players sent off, they also were awarded a corner when they should have had a free kick. Jack Colback seemed totally bemused as Jones waved him to the corner flag.
Alan Pardew, often criticised by us for making the wrong substitutions, made the right ones today—and I can’t complain about the team he selected initially either. The introduction of Rolando Aarons changed the game, and the Academy Product’s pace and trickery (wow it feels great writing Academy Product) destroyed tired legs. Aarons seems to have a brilliant left foot and a brilliant right foot, and his cross-cum-shot for Williamson’s first goal was outstanding. I loved the way that Palace didn’t know whether he was going to drop his shoulder and whip a ball in with his right, or whether he was going to leave a guy on his arse and cut in and shoot with his right. His curling effort with his right foot which went just wide was a perfect example of leaving a guy on his bum. When he scored his header, and full marks to him for actually jumping and attacking the ball (hint hint Riviere), it made me so happy to see how much it meant to him. He was still loving the moment as Palace lined back up for kick off. I also felt Pardew was intelligent in telling Cabella and Gouffran to swap wings a few times in the first half. I felt this opened it up a bit more for Haidara.
Some areas of the support will criticise Pardew for bring on Ayoze Perez, who left us more open to break than the man he replaced did. However, Pardew was going for the win and thus a more open midfield is understandable. Still, Pardew does not escape criticism from me. Their second goal is unacceptable. The first one was from a terrible, slow, start from us. (Credit to Tim Krul for a brilliant stop before Gayle knocked in the rebound) So surely, surely, Pardew can tell the players at half time to start quickly, making sure that we do not concede in similar manner? Nope. We conceded another sloppy goal after Colback was given to0 small a space to clear in and it bobbled through to Puncheon who shot between Mike Williamson’s legs.
His post-match comments infuriated me. Here is the first comment which angered me: “We should have had three points. Perhaps we got wrapped up in the crowd trying to get a fourth and it’s frustrating to concede.” I understand here that Pardew is criticising the players for getting carried away with the noise. However, it worries me that Pardew made no reference to the poor defensive organisation that happened at the set-piece which saw Zaha score. Does he even know the real reason we lost? I am honestly not sure he does. Also, that comment insinuates—to me—that Pardew is hinting that if the crowd had been quiet the players wouldn’t have been caught up in the atmosphere. Call me an insecure fan, but I feel Pardew is subtly blaming me for the team’s loss.
Here is the second stupid comment from Pardew: “When a team comes here and wastes time from the moment the game kicks off on goal kicks…time and time again they took ages on everything, and then they are 3-2 down and he gives them seven minutes.” “I don’t know, it just didn’t sit right with me. I suppose he could just go, ‘Oh, the letter of the law’ and all that, but I don’t know. Just in the spirit of the game I thought that was wrong.” For a start, about 7 minutes should have been added just for injuries—not time wasting injuries but injuries which saw players being substituted. I know, if Newcastle had been drawing, that I would actually have been angry at the 7 minutes added on and wanted something close to 10. Pardew, the referee didn’t give “them seven minutes”. He gave both teams seven minutes and we failed to win the game due to not being able to defend a basic set piece.
My main takeaways from the game were:
- The team is, understandably, still gelling. We should be able to finish in the top 8
- We are a good side to watch, with some really nice link up play around the box
- We are at our best when counter-attacking, and Palace’s style was counter-intuitive to this
- We have some really nice youth threatening to start ahead of more senior players. Aarons is really pushing Gouffran for a starting place and Perez brings a nice dimension when he comes on
- Jack Colback is a steal
- Please, please, please sort out basic defending at set-pieces—this includes the set up before the ball is kicked
- Please, please, please sort out basic attacking at set-pieces–the three best converters of set-pieces last season were Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Also known as the top three…
- WAKE UP BEFORE A GAME KICKS OFF. START AS SOON AS THE WHISTLE BLOWS
HOWAY THE LADS