Writer: Ian Smith
Date:Saturday December 15 2012
Playing Manchester City these days is never an easy task.
Despite talk of dressing room unrest they possess an abundance of talent in their squad capable of beating most teams on most occasions in the Premier League. This was never more evident than when Yaya Toure slotted an inch perfect pass through our defence for their first goal.
It was a moment of quality and gave Man City what was, at the time, an undeserved lead. Newcastle had made a bright start with intensity and looked the more likely team to grab the first goal, but football is ruthless.
Sadly for us, our players heads seemed to drop after the goal and the time up to half time, I then got a real sense that this was a broken squad. Fragile confidence had become more than that. Players were arguing amongst each other and heads visibly dropped. Where was that famous team spirit which we had built such a successful season on last year? The team spirit which we had played with ever since being relegated in fact?
A theme of the first half was that our play was riddled with poor passing. It really is an issue that has plagued us all season and continues to cause us problems because giving the ball away so cheaply and so often leaves players out of position and often struggling to get back into position as the opposition attacks. With the exception of Anita and Ba all the players were guilty of losing the ball cheaply in that first half.
And then of course we come to our defending. Last season we built on a solid defence. Early in the season we barely conceded a goal and as was pointed out to me earlier in the week we had a run of 5 or 6 matches with Coloccini and the scapegoat that is Williamson as a partnership where we hardly conceded a goal.
SO, what is different?
There are two things at play here.
Despite a solid performance from Williamson, we all know he shouldn't be a Premier League defender. And I have said it ever since we signed him but Danny Simpson is not good enough either for this league.
However, whereas in the past Simpson's inability was forgiven somewhat by his considerable effort, this season the lad looks like his heart isn't in it anymore. Whether he wants to be nearer Tulisa in London I don't know but I won't be sorry if he leaves in January. Put simply, 50% of our regular defence isn't good enough for a club with our supposed Top 8 ambitions.
Having said that, as I mentioned a little earlier, last season with a central partnership of Coloccini and Williamson we had a decent run. And the reason for that is simple. Work rate.
The protection being offered by the midfield and forwards is not as it should be. The chopping and changing of personnel of course hasn't aided the situation but really that is no excuse. Being caught out with big gaps between midfield and defence is crippling us. Pardew needs to work on making us a more solid unit as a matter of urgency.
Losing to Manchester City and Manchester United at home isn't the problem so long as we are doing everything we can possibly do to get a result. It's the matches to mid-table and relegation threatened teams at home which will define our season and so far this term it's not been good enough.
Having said all of that though there were some positives from the match on Saturday.
We have stopped hoofing the ball so much. Even though our passing lets us down at times it's nice to see us passing our way through teams and using our width more. Going forward we look dangerous once again.
Anita is really starting to show what a talent he is. I thought he was our man of the match with a very solid display, he's one of very few players in black and white who look comfortable and reassuring on the ball.
My concerns about the death of team spirit in that first half were soon expelled once the second half got underway. Pardew had got a reaction from the team which is a good sign. The players still want to play for him. And it's more vital than ever that we stick together as a club.
There are lots of opinions out there between Newcastle supporters but a lot of it is laced with panic and hatred for the owner.
As a group of people we have to make that decision whether we stick by what we have or not. When things were going well last season and Graham Carr, Pardew and Ashley were getting lots of credit from all quarters for their excellent transfer policy and we were riding high in the league I didn't hear too many complaints.
It is wrong to then start being vocally anti-everyone again when we have a sticky patch.
Of course mistakes have been made. Most notably the virtually criminal decision not to reinforce the defence in the summer which we're paying dearly for now. Then there is the letting go of experienced players like Best, Lovenkrands and Guthrie and then relying on young lads who aren't ready when we have more matches to play thanks to Europe.
January will be the time to see whether Ashley and Co can rectify the problems they've created by buying the players (particularly defenders) that we should have in the summer. Added to that will be the return of the essential Yohan Cabaye and a fully fit Ben Arfa. If we're still struggling with those two back on form and some new defenders then questions over Pardew's suitability will be justifiably asked.
Until then I think we need to give him our backing. It's the first bad patch he's had since joining the club and I am convinced the second half of the season will see us perform better.
QPR up next and that really is a game we need to be winning. The pressure is most definitely on us.
For anyone going to St James' let's get behind the team and not get disheartened if we're not 3-0 up after 10 minutes!
Date:Saturday December 15 2012
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