Friday, 29 August 2014

Back of the Net?

Newcastle United are yet to score a true goal of their own in the opening weeks of the season but Sam Winter believes that it won't be long before the Toon Army are celebrating hitting the back of the net once again.

Newcastle United have done enough in the opening competitive fixtures of the 2014/15 season to suggest that regular goals will not be far away.

A goalless start for The Magpies, but Riviere will get chance to get up and running

As we all know, goals win games and the fact that the inadvertent John Egan has scored the only goal registered to Newcastle United does hint at minor concern. Yet what we all need to remember is that the club was in a very similar situation this time last term: goalless in the league and into the next round of the Capital One Cup. However the level of performance on the pitch between now and then couldn't be more different.

Far cry

Rather than getting run ragged at Eastlands and looking like conceding every time Manchester City touched the ball, this season's opener saw a spirited and skillful Newcastle side more than match the Champions in key areas of the pitch in a game that frankly looked like it could go either way. But when it came down to it quality won through, with City taking both their only chances in the game. If you want to compete against the big boys in this league, you must take your chances because, as Newcastle and even Liverpool have discovered, City WILL take theirs.

Much praise was reserved for Newcastle after that defeat, and much needed optimism took us to Villa Park. More clear-cut chances would surely be created, and Newcastle surely would score. Alas, such openings were well and truly created, but Newcastle did not take a single one. A hugely frustrating result for the travelling Toon Army, the net somehow not bulged. But again, large portions of the performance were impressive, and the goals are on the horizon.

Frustration: Newcastle were unable to take their chances at Villa Park

No room for negativity

Negativity has soon set in with sections of the fans, worried by the lack of goals to celebrate in the opening games. Many have jumped straight back on Alan Pardew's back, yet nobody can really say that there hasn't been a vast improvement in performance levels; the Manager citing the most impressive possession statistics in his tenure. Even from set pieces we look far more dangerous, Daryl Janmaat almost a beneficiary against Aston Villa.

Then there are those who point towards a lack of a "big name" striker arriving at St James' this summer to fill the Loic Remy shaped hole up front. I am convinced that Pardew would like one more striker but I agree with him when he says that, unless they are better than Riviere and Cisse, there is little point in spending big money. The Club's transfer policy has been more than frustrating at times but they have got it right this summer, and grabbing a Remy or a Lacazette would be a huge slab of icing on the cake. But if it's not to be then I believe that there is enough fire-power to lead Newcastle to a good season.

Newcastle have been frustrated in their permanent pursuit of Loic Remy

Emmanuel Riviere has doubters already but I can't understand why. He has barely had a sniff. A half chance at Villa and a couple of look-ins against City; where he showed great strength and power, if perhaps a little too eagerness to score - rushing his attempts on goal. In pre-season he showed he can score goals and looks like he will take to English football well sooner rather than later. Bundling Kompany and Toure off the ball was a decent start.

Riviere's lack of goalmouth action suggests a lack of service but the chances squandered by his team-mates at Villa will hopefully mean a big chance falls his way this weekend - and hopefully he will put it away and get up and running in a Newcastle shirt. 

Time to sharpen up

I believe that the lack of goals so far comes down simply to sharpness. There was a number of occasions against Villa where the wrong pass was made in the final third, the wrong option taken - a harder route to goal. All players across the league are still finding their feet in the new season, regardless of how well some are playing already. More games brings added sharpness, and Newcastle look to have the players to really hurt teams once it clicks into place. Remember there is still Siem De Jong to really bed into the side.

Alan Pardew has mentioned that Remy Cabella is perhaps trying too hard, similarly to Riviere. You can see that in his game, a lack of composure at times, a desperation to impress adoring fans. There is no doubting Cabella's potential, he has shown enough in flickers to suggest he will have some magical moments in a black and white shirt. Once he relaxes and gets the games under his belt, he will show what he is all about.

Trying too hard? Remy Cabella has been eager to impress

Crystal Palace visit Tyneside this weekend, a new Manager to impress. I can only see them doing what they did last season and "parking the bus". Hopefully Newcastle have enough creativity and that all important fire-power to take the 3 points. 

International recognition

Finally I would like to congratulate Jack Colback on his England call up. It almost feels like a brand new experience; a Newcastle United player in Roy Hodgson's fold. Colback has been a breath of fresh air - a local lad leading the charge in the engine room, flying the Geordie flag. There's not enough English players involved at the club, let alone local lads, so let's hope Jack can continue his excellent start to life back at home. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Year of The Pardew

2013/14 couldn't have finished sooner for Newcastle United. A dismal end to a promising campaign brought a cloud of uncertainty over Manager Alan Pardew. Here Sam Winter explains how the new season is a defining one for the Toon boss.

Newcastle Manager Alan Pardew knows that 2014/15 is his most important yet

2014/15 is a defining season for Alan Pardew as Newcastle United Manager. No longer beleaguered by short-comings in the transfer market, Pardew has the tools at his disposal to prove his managerial credentials and drive Newcastle United up the Premier League.

Our one-time LMA Manager of the Year couldn't have signed off last term on a more sour note; a quite embarrassing, how can I put it, hounding from the fans pouring out of St James' Park in the 69th (or was it the 60th?) minute of a 3-0 victory over Cardiff City. I won't delve too far into my personal take on the "protest", but I will say that, regardless of any ill-feeling toward the upper echelons of a football club, it is imperative to support the 11 wearing the Newcastle badge on the pitch for all of the 90+ minutes of play.

It had indeed been a funny old season for Pardew. A second consecutive summer of frustration on the transfer front - not helped by a bumbling idiot called Joe leaving us all fearing the worst. Yohan Cabaye's head was turned on the eve of a 4-0 thrashing at the Etihad and the most dreadful of 0-0 draws with West Ham at St James' followed. Ironically it was the now exiled Hatem Ben Arfa who got the season up and running, the little genius that he can be. By Christmas we were 6th, by May we were plain sick.

Yohan Cabaye disrupted Newcastle's start to 2013/14; his eventual sale effectively ending a once promising campaign

The debacle of Joe Kinnear was doomed from the start; Mike Ashley only realising his mistake after catalyst Cabaye was not replaced in January. Heads dropped all round, and once again Pardew was left to face the backlash alone. Losing your prized asset, the man who made Newcastle tick on the park, is a blow. Seeing nobody come through the door to replace them is despairing. I half don't blame Pardew for throwing a butt at the first person that crossed his path.

Life is never dull on Tyneside, the headlines are unfortunately often too close. Pardew's indiscretion on Humberside was an explosion of a build up of sheer frustration. Another transfer failing at a key time, the circus of life under Mike Ashley, another fan backlash to face - bearing the crimes of those above him. Unwanted fallings-out with Hatem Ben Arfa, a burnt-out squad with no competition for places. More derby misery.
Newcastle's failings in previous transfer markets has hindered Pardew

Since Newcastle United finished 5th in 2012, Pardew has arguably had it against him. Don't get me wrong he has made mistakes, but everyone does. Many fans accuse him of plain making excuses, but in my book they have been valid. His squad wasn't strengthened ahead of a European campaign and that season took its toll. Lessons weren't learned 12 months on. But now, heading in to 2014/15, the excuses are surely gone. Now it is time for the Manager to deliver. Time to remind us what you can do, Alan.

The squad is strengthened, a statement of intent from the club with signing after signing this summer. There are players fighting for every position, fewer guaranteed starters. All to play for. Siem De Jong and Remy Cabella in particular are mouth-watering prospects. Daryl Janmaat and Jack Colback also showing signs of being shrewd acquisitions. Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote will have points to prove. Davide Santon will have it all to do when he returns from injury, Papiss Cisse too.

The addition of Remy Cabella and several other summer signings has boosted Newcastle

A lot of critics cite Pardew's tactics as a major problem, but I would argue in saying that he hasn't had the personnel to be able to hurt teams tactically. Now he surely does, and a missing threat in the final third could be restored by Cabella and De Jong. United need to return to the swashbuckling set-up that saw Champions League almost return to St James' Park. One thing I would say is that Pardew should never have so readily moved away from that 4-3-3 set up. A naive desperation to keep Demba Ba happy the beginning of the end of such a devastating strategy.

Pardew knows he has it all do and knows the responsibility solely lies at his door now. I disagree with those that say a good start will determine his future, or the first 10 games will decide his fate. Pardew will get more time, stability still the focus at the club. Of course a good start is always important, but if Ashley wanted Pardew out he would have gone long ago. Newcastle fans want a team to be proud of again; a team challenging those European places. Perhaps it's not last-chance-saloon but it is certainly a crucial campaign for Alan Pardew. And we all certainly hope he can deliver.