Sometimes it is good just to win – as Alan Shearer sort of said over the weekend after Newcastle v Aston Villa.
Yes I want entertainment, skilful attacking football and my club to have ambition to be as good as anyone no matter how far off that may seem at any given time but I also want to win. On Saturday against Aston Villa, one out of those four things was enough. We won. And that’s about it.
John Carver said after the game that
“I was brave going with two wingers and two strikers – there are not many head coaches or managers in the Premier League go that way, but I did it because I felt it was important to get the three points.”
Well both sides supposedly lined up at 4-4-2 in this game though neither looked like it initially, Villa always more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 and Newcastle with Riviere looking deeper than Cisse in a 4-4-1-1.
Either way, if we were playing 4-4-2 it was hardly Shearer and Sir Les up front, hardly a battering ram to break down a nervy defence, more a half fit penalty box striker getting nowhere near the penalty box because of pathetic service from his team-mates and a partner who didn’t seem to know what he was supposed to be doing.
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Initially it all did look slightly more expansive than the Stoke game though, there was width which looked to be providing an open game. It didn’t take long for the so-called ‘wingers’ on both teams to come inside too often, Obertan especially was always inside when Janmaat had the ball, which gave us very little width and led to very little room to manoeuvre in the middle of the park. Although it was obvious during the first half an hour or so that the couple of times we actually passed the ball around in quick triangles was proving far too much for a hopeless Villa side, in the end far too many times we just hit long and aimless balls up to forwards lacking confidence or fitness and neither suited to an aerial challenge. What we really needed was wingers. So JC, next time you play two ‘wingers’, try and get them to stay on the wing.
What did happen early on was that Janmaat cleared an impressive cross that squirted along Tim Krul’s six yard box out for a corner, with very little to spare. Benteke forced a save for the cameras from Krul with an overhead kick and Krul easily gathered up a Scott Sinclair backpass when the forgotten man should have done better. Too much time in the Coiffures and not enough time on the training ground for the one time Olympian.
For us, it was Sammy’s turn to take the corners and he did a surprisingly decent job, as first Riviere ducked under one while eight yards out and then put one just past the post from the same distance, the first chance seeming the easier one to score. Just when it seemed that both sides had settled for a nil-nil an hour earlier than normal, two important things happened. We scored and either side of that both of Villa’s full-backs got booked.
Those of us who remember what tactics used to be like before everyone had to have the same badge to coach a football team, expected an invigorated Obertan and Ameobi to go piling down the wings in the second half against opponents who were both slower than our heroes and one tackle away from early bath.
That’s not the way it works in the21st Century FA manual though, instead NUFC adopted the same ‘sit back and break’ policy which would have worked against Stoke if anyone in our team could finish. This time it only half failed, we didn’t add to our tally, but neither did we fall victim to the opposition’s most obvious threat, maybe because they didn’t have one. Chances fell to a hard-working but out of touch Sissoko and Obertan, who is faster than roadrunner but finishes like Wile E Coyote. Fortunately, Villa weren’t even good enough to take advantage of our inability to finish the game off. They created a few chances but were thwarted by lack of ability to shoot properly, or stay onside when gifted an opportunity to score.
As the game drifted to its inevitable conclusion, John Carver handed Villa the initiative by replacing Obertan, ineffective but integral to our counter-attacking game, with Gouffran. Fair enough Obertan was hopeless near the goal but he has the pace to run at the opposition, something which Gouffran lacks. Our counter-attacking game quickly became a counter-attacking game without the pace to counter-attack and the game fizzled out.
Villa’s only tactic towards the end seemed to be passing back to goalkeeper Guzan to punt forward onto Benteke’s head. Our only reply was to get down to the corner flag as quickly as possible despite not having anyone who could keep it down there. The 6 minutes added on time was an insult to anyone who had paid to watch, hopefully a few Villa fans missed their trains because of it.
Despite the claims of Mike Williamson and Papiss Cisse that ‘The determination, character and persistence were there for everyone to see’, the reality is that we put in an average performance which was good enough to beat an awful visiting team. Though some of our players did ok; Colo and Janmaat looked calm, Abeid continues to look like he can handle this level, Cisse back to being prolific if not dynamic, others merely highlighted their own short-comings.
Haidara being stretchered off and then reportedly fit again three days later, suggests he hasn’t got the physique for the Premier League and he still can’t defend to the required level. Sammy showed he can take a corner, which may be enough to keep him in the team because no one else can take them, though the reality is that he is lazier than Hatem Ben Arfa without much of the threat of the departed French fatty. Riviere looks a million miles from a Premier League striker both in ability and desire, his replacement Perez looks tired and out of sorts but still much, much better than his more expensive colleague.
For Villa, only Benteke looks to have what it takes to get them out of their struggle. He is low on confidence and support but still a handful and whatever happens to Villa this season, he’ll look better playing for Spurs or Liverpool next season where he won’t be expected to win headers from 80 yard punts and then get on the end of them as well.
All of the Villa flair players; Gil, Cleverley, N’Zogbia and Sinclair, well they’ve not got the heart for what Villa require. Tim Sherwood has said that his players “lack confidence” and “don’t deserve to be in that struggle.”The reality is that they lack determination as well as confidence and it doesn’t matter what they “deserve”, they are in that “struggle” and hapless words won’t get them out of it.
NUFC have been in that struggle before, we’ve been on the edge of being dragged into it many more times. Today though, the win was enough. One more win and another season of affordable Premier League football beckons. No more nervously looking down. Or up. 11th is where we are and where we’ll stay. Manchester United is tomorrow.
Perhaps we can fly into them from the start, thrill the fans with an attacking display full of flair, pace and to hell with the result, just go for them and see what happens, win, lose or draw proud of our team. None of that happened on Saturday. All we got on Saturday was 1 goal and 3 points. Which was enough.