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‘Football is much harder if you don’t have the ball’

6 years ago

So Saturday wasn’t the first time that a team which didn’t care whether it won or lost, came to SJP and won.

It probably won’t be the last time either but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch, and headlines of spats between our Head Coach and a handful of supporters, shouldn’t move the attention away from the main outcome of this defeat.

What happened on Saturday had ‘relegation’ written all over it.

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A disjointed early part to the game was probably caused as much by our players’ failure to grasp the reported 4-1-3-2 formation, as it was by Swansea not being in the slightest bit bothered about the result. The only formation I could see was that the our forwards were playing 30 yards ahead of everyone else and no one was  playing anywhere near the left side of the pitch.

Not surprisingly it took 12 minutes for them to attempt to score, Perez putting a header wide, one of only two headers we won all game, the other when Riviere forced a decent save out of Fabianski later in the half. Swansea themselves showed this aerial dominance soon after, Williams and Montero missing the target when well-placed, Krul saving from Hernandez in a prelude to Swansea’s equaliser which came on the stroke of half-time. Another corner not properly defended, two warnings unheeded and a draining goal conceded at the worst possible time.

For 25 minutes it had seemed a little better, Swansea had not yet got into the game, a defensive mix-up combined with one of the few decent Newcastle moves of the half had led to a Perez tap in and we looked in little trouble. Our failure to press home our advantage and go for more first half goals was perhaps our biggest downfall of the half.

 “We played some good football and could have come in at half-time two-nil up,” said JC.

Had we taken our only two decent chances we might have John but had we created more and gone for it more at 1-0 we may well have created and scored more. Few other teams that I can think of have consistently employed such negative tactics both at the start of games and after scoring, as Newcastle have done over the last few years under Pardew and Carver.

Now an opening home goal seems a signal to reduce the intensity of the team and slow the play down, rather than pressing home that advantage when the opposition was at their most vulnerable. Yes, we could have gone in 2-0 up at half time John. Why don’t we try and do that next time eh?

The half-time break did us no favours. Swansea have ball players in their team and the second-half saw them remember that they could play, Shelvey and Sigurdsson in particularl are players we could do with, players who know what the ball is for and how to use it. A couple of simple pass and move goals showed what Swansea can do, our pathetic attempts to harass them an embarrassment compared to the level of effort required.

Typified by Vurnon Anita, on MOTD Alan Shearer suggested he could have fouled Jack Cork in the build-up to the Swans third goal but had Anita done so, he would have been off, having been booked in the first half. Unfortunately for Vurnon that decision was just about his only contribution to the game and it is difficult to know whether he got it right. Would we have been better off at 1-2 with 10 men, or 1-3 will 11? I’m just not sure.

Not that it was all Anita’s fault, until the 75th minute substitutions brought more order and energy, for most of this game Vurnon Anita was the only player we had on the left side of the pitch. Now I know that Vurnon has looked slightly less clueless at full-back than his lacklustre displays in midfield, but he’s no Roberto Carlos, I can see no reason why JC would think he could satisfactorily boss an entire side of the pitch on his own. And he couldn’t.

A late Siem De Jong volley highlighted the lack of quality on show before his 74th minute introduction and followed a couple of Perez misses, both of which the young Spaniard should have done better with. To criticise Perez for his inexperience and inconsistency in the last 20 minutes would be remiss, for 70 minutes he was one of our best players, one of the few who looked to have the quality and belief that would have won us the game.

Only at 2-3 did some of his colleagues join in, only for those last few minutes did we attack with any sort of intensity.  Last week MOTD highlighted Leicester piling into Swansea from the off, playing a high tempo, aggressive attacking game and taking the three points. Even Swansea boss Garry Monk agreed his team were “outfought” away at Leicester. For only a handful of minutes did that happen at SJP. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t enough.

So why didn’t we do the same? “I can’t really fault my players’ effort.” Said John Carver after the game. Well I can. For the simple reason that they didn’t put as much effort in as Leicester did the week before. That was how much effort was required John, not the amount we put in.

For those of our players who caught the eye, the aforementioned Perez and De Jong looked dangerous, Jonas put in the required amount of effort and forced us forwards but was at fault for two of the goals we conceded and Colback showed flashes of quality and worked hard, probably deserving Man of the Match because he did little wrong rather than a lot right.

On the flip-side, well, everyone else but Cabella is my biggest disappointment. He seems to have very little effect on a game, the possession he has, the tricks he shows, they very rarely have the effect that a £13million playmaker should. On Saturday, he contributed to our two best moments of the first half but that’s all they were, contributions, first-half. He can’t even fall over convincingly. Sometimes his pathetic tumbles are the only time I know he is playing.

For JC to say afterwards that “we were in control of the game.” I would like to point out to him that we weren’t. At no point were we in control of the game, to do that you must have control of the ball and we never have control of the ball. Put simply, Swansea had more possession of the ball. For a team who like to have possession of the ball, allowing them to have the ball is simply not the right tactic to employ, you deny them possession of the ball and frustrate them. Though our current team has many faults, perhaps an inability to keep the ball is the most depressing.

Since mid-January, Newcastle have only had more than 50% of possession in one game, Arsenal at home, probably our most encouraging 45 minutes of the last three months. Very few teams in the world set out to win games without possession of the ball, as Sven once said: “Football is much harder if you don’t have the ball.”

I have no wish to pick on everything John Carver says. I don’t “feel sorry for John Carver” like Alan Shearer does, I’ve got a much harder job than Carver, it pays a lot less and my boss is just as big a dickhead as his, if anything I feel sorry for me. I have no personal issue with him, the people I have spoken to who have had dealings with him say he is a decent and likeable man, not a ‘Manager’ but still a committed and loyal Magpie.

What he needs to appreciate is that when he can hear abuse directed at him from one or two supporters in the stands, first of all he needs to ask himself why he can hear one or two supporters in the stands. The answer to that is because the state of the club and performance of the team has removed any collective support, the players make more noise than the supporters now. Perhaps if the team played with a little more determination from the start of a game Carver might not be able to hear individual comments directed at him because of the collective support given to his team.

Secondly John, why are you reacting to what an individual supporter says to you? Shouldn’t you be concentrating on the match.

The last word should perhaps go to Emmanuel Riviere.

It may well be that he needs a year in the PL to settle and will be better next season. It may well be that when Papiss was banned for 7 games, that was the time to play Riviere and tell him he had 7 games to show us what he can do, rather than sit on the bench for most of that time and then expect him to get the goals we needed when we needed them.

In truth, he looks like a player that can’t score goals at this level, so far I have seen nothing from him that would suggest he is any better than a long line of PL failures from Paul Kitson, through Andreas Andersson, to Riviere. Should we give him the benefit of the doubt because English is not his first language, or should we be worried that his post-match press statements sum up the bubble the team live in better than ever I could.

“We played well, we worked hard” he said. No we didn’t.  “This time we were unlucky” he said. No we weren’t. “We did everything, we ran and we fought” he said. No we didn’t.

“I want to be the man who helps the team win and that means goals, that is what I have to do between now and the end of the season,” he said. Yes it is. Let’s hope he means it.


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