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Where was that gutsy substitution?

5 years ago

Well first of all, I couldn’t be happier that the new season has started.

The last two months have been nothing short of a topsy-turvy frenzy that we all have come to associate with Newcastle in recent years. While the complete reshuffle of the support staff and Mike Ashley finally opening his purses to incomings in excess of £30mil were the highs, the abysmal pre-season outing and the incapability to strengthen in some key areas in the squad were the troubling lows.

But as the players came out of the tunnel on 9th of August to a roof-shattering applause, I just like any other Toon fan, had put that all to the back of my mind and looked only ahead to the beautiful game.

And there have been some encouraging signs of some beauty actually returning to our game. Well you may say our expectations have really been rock bottom, so we shouldn’t read too much into anything this early.

You may say that since season after season, we have seen such utter tripe and lackadaisical shows on display that we may easily get our throats hoarse seeing some quality. But I have seen some real sparks, some here and some there, enough to convince me that even if we aren’t there yet, we are on the right track.

Tell me you didn’t love the idea of Anita dropping deep between Coloccini and Mbemba, with the full-backs encouraged to run at the opposing defence? I mean, who would have even imagined Anita, of all people, in such a role, that too with such aplomb?

Tell me you didn’t love the play when Cisse lobbed it over the full back for Obertan to run and find that sweet spot on the ball, first-time, only for Wijnaldum to run half the pitch into position and time that jump to perfection, and head the ball as crisp as that? Counter-attack just found a new meaning that day.

That’s just two of those sparks I was talking about, and if Daryl Janmaat hadn’t completely lost his head on Saturday, I am sure we would have had a few more moments to talk today.

Although, as a tortured fan for the last decade, I am at my optimistic best at the start of this season, still I see some glaring deficiencies in the game play and the tactics which needs to be discussed at this forum. Too early for critique, eh? Maybe, but it’s never too early or too late in the premiership, and the fixtures are not getting any easier, are they?

To kick it off, our defence looks really nervous and shaky. Coloccini and Mbemba just need so much more game time together, that by the time they gel together, it might be frustratingly late for us.

Coloccini didn’t play the entire pre-season, and it shows in his game. While the ‘Anita fulcrum between the two center-halves and full-backs converted to wing-backs’ tactic seems like a breath of fresh air, it just doesn’t work with the quality we have in our full-back positions and midfield.

Janmaat and Haidara lose the ball too easily and too frequently, while Sissoko and Obertan couldn’t care less about tracking back at times. And that gives the opposition chances to put some dangerous crosses in (3 out of 4 goals conceded through crosses from open play). Not working Steve, plan B please…

Talking about the plan Bs and plan Cs.

We did excellently to get back from trailing to leading by one goal in the first game and what happened then? Where was the plan B to hold on to the lead? Or the plan C to push harder and get one more when the opposition was baffled? Or the plan D to get one more when they leveled?

Wasn’t this the very problem we moaned for the last 5 years? Let’s talk about the Swansea game. We are down 1-0 and within the first 40 minutes, the Player of Season 2014 just does the most unthinkable. Where was that gutsy substitution at 35 minutes?

Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have stood by Steve McClaren had he done that! Montero was ripping Janmaat apart every two minutes since the yellow card, even a layman like me could see that from miles away!

Okay fine, one would have expected a senior player to hold on till the whistle, and it didn’t happen. No problem. Where was the plan B with 10 players? How can we not try, when you know the Geordie faithful would not mind a 4-0 thrashing if only we gave it all in that second half? Why settle for a tame 2-0 scorecard, have we not had enough of settling for mediocrity?

Talking of settling for mediocrity, Obertan suddenly has emerged out of the blocks as a regular in the team. Not taking anything away from his miraculous cross, that was some industry to reach to that ball and look up for Wijnaldum at the same time. But that was his one moment out of almost 150 minutes of football, and that was on the right flank. And where does he start? On the left!

Now, since Obertan cannot cross with his left foot, he has two options: either to cut back inside and take a right footed shot at goal, or cut back inside for Haidara to overlap and make that cross. In both situations, 9 out of 10, the ball goes to the opposition, who can see the huge right field empty for their wingers to make their counter-attacking runs (recall Tadic crossing to Shane Long).

So effectively, Obertan and Haidara are sitting ducks for the taking, and you think the Van Gaals and Wengers of this world wouldn’t have noted it down in their pads already? Solution: either Obertan plays on the right, where he will do definitely better than Sissoko (who I sympathize with, but don’t see that engine anymore), or teach him how to track back (not happening). Or better, get a LEFT-FOOTED winger for God’s sake!

But then you will say, give him some time man. He is figuring it out, maybe Obertan will surprise you in that position down a couple of games.

Fine! What about substitutions? Why not give Perez a chance for the last 15 minutes there? He played almost all games pre-season. Even Aarons may be worth a shout there. And he comes one in the place of Cisse (v Swansea)?!! And what was the formation we played again? 4-1-2-2?

Rest of the squad has looked ok, but not really there.

Cisse looked as lonely and left out as the earlier regime.

Sissoko has been rendered virtually ineffective on the wing.

Colback is still not looking as fit as he was in the first couple of games last season.

The only stand-out for me has been Wijnaldum and I believe soon we will see Steve build the squad around that guy.

I would love to be wrong about everything I wrote above, as long as we play a better game. It’s all about the confidence, all about the momentum in the premier league. And it has to be built early, and consolidated as we prod along.

The first game had so many plusses that we did not care about the negatives. But then, the next game was away, and the stinker from Janmaat jolted us out of the blues and into the reality.

I am all for giving the new coach a real leeway; in fact the entire Toon Army will give him that extra time and that extra space for mistakes. I do believe we are on the right track.

We just hope to hit the right milestones on the journey this time.

Rishiraj Lahiri (Now from New Delhi after having just moved 1,336 miles from Bangalore)

If not for the wonderful Black-and-white and Alan Shearer, I would have never got stuck with Newcastle. But then I fell in love at first sight, and the affair continues…. long distance….And one day, I will be there at SJP and I will cheer you on lads…

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