If I was a betting man I would steer well clear of ever having a Newcastle United game on my coupon. A home defeat to Blackpool was followed up with superb away wins at Everton and Chelsea which in turn were followed up by another very poor home defeat.
I think most of us who watched the Blackpool game realised that 4-5-1 at home to bottom half sides does not work. 4-5-1 is perfect for those difficult away games in which you need to soak up some pressure but it is too negative when the solution is to take the game to a side. Unfortunately it would seem that Chris Hughton regards it as the formation for any fixture.
I have heard claims that we are actually playing 4-4-2 with Nolan as the second striker but that is not the case at all. Nolan is no more than an advanced midfielder - a strange role for him given his obvious lack of mobility. If Hughton uses the Carling Cup as a tool to motivate fringe players suggesting first team selection then this wonâ€™t last long - I never thought I would type these words but surely Shola should have been involved after his Chelsea exploits? Jonas, who was very positive when he finally got on, also had a good case for selection.
We started the game quite well and dominated possession in the first half. Sorenson looked very shaky in nets for Stoke and his kicking was all over the place but we rarely managed to test him. The more direct approach that we like to employ didnt look like working against Stoke who are probably the biggest side I have ever seen on the field at SJP in my life, but when we played the ball through the midfield we were by far the better team. We managed a breakthrough just before half time when Huth needlessly barged Andy Carroll to the ground and Nolan easily slotted the penalty home.
Stoke reverted to type in the second half and their aerial bombardment caused us all sorts of problems. Colo had few problems with Jones in the first half but as soon as they began pumping it high, Jones won everything and looked a totally different player - we struggled to cope. Jones hit the woodwork twice before finally hitting the net with a header (obviously) and then the hapless James Perch won the game for them with an absolutely ridiculous, rash diving header. Stoke claimed all 3 points scoring 2 goals despite only having 1 shot on target!
So apart from the wrong formation, where did it all go wrong? A few players did not look as comfortable as they normally do. Take Mike Williamson for example - he has been solid this season and has looked very comfortable in possession. On Sunday there seemed to be an element of panic in his game and several times he rushed a bizarre long ball forward to no one in particular. I wonder if this has anything to do with Campbell finally making good physical progress? (Though he was ruled out through injury for this one). Colo was excellent in the first half but Jones destroyed him in the second - though to be fair to Colo that is a physical mismatch for him and he could have done with some more help from those around him. Krul continues to flap at the high ball and needs to work on his communication with the back 4 ASAP. Barton and Nolan were a lot less effective than we know they can be - Nolan barely featured whilst Barton looked knackered after about half an hour. Routledge continues to flatter to deceive - what is the point in regularly skinning your marker to then only hit the first man with the cross or slice the ball out of play? His cross completion ratio must be as bad as any player in the division. Andy Carroll, our star of the season so far, finally met his physical match and with no support alongside him he was totally neutralised. Shawcross and Huth dominated him. Ben-Arfa looked good the few times he actually managed to get involved in the game, but I expect to see more from him as he settles. Tiote was probably our best player, but because he is not yet one of the 'established' he was taken off. Another very poor call from the manager - Barton and Nolan were awful but it seems that they are the favoured at this moment in time.
James Perch. Where do I begin? He is still only 6 league games into his NUFC career so he can't be totally written off, but as yet I have not seen a single thing that is encouraging. He retreats faster than any player I have seen when a winger takes him on and he always seems reluctant to make a challenge. When he does commit himself to a tackle it is easy to see why - they are usually more like a physical assault, poorly timed and generally nowhere near the ball hence his 5 yellow cards in the first 5 games of the season - a Premiership record. He also looks entirely uncomfortable with a football at his feet as he demonstrated to great effect when, under no pressure whatsoever vs Stoke, he dribbled the ball down the touchline and straight out of play for a throw in. Pathetic. Is he any good in the air? Well watch Stoke's winner and decide for yourself! I STILL hear supporters asking for the wider fanbase to 'give him a chance as he is only a kid' - he is 25, not a raw teenager!
Right back continues to be a major problem area for us as it has been for years. Ryan Taylor is reasonable but is badly exposed vs quicker players. Danny Simpson may be the best of the bunch but that is not saying a lot - he is not Premiership standard and also gives away too many goals by backing off every time.
Stoke are a horrific team to watch but they utilise their strengths very well and will cause better teams than us some problems this season. I also have to mention Tony Pulis and the rubbish he talked about our diving players. Obviously he missed giant Kenwyne Jones pathetic dive clutching his face. You could also argue that Fuller injured himself by throwing himself to the floor after being brushed by Enrique.
The crowd was also very poor on Sunday. 41,915 was the lowest home crowd we have had in the Premiership since the redevelopment of SJP and we bettered that crowd 16 times in the Championship last season. I understand the issues with the economy at the moment as well as Sky showing games for free at the weekend - but it was a disappointing turn out given the two previous results.
What odds on a win at the COM stadium on Sunday?!
Krul 5 Poor communication and quite a bit of flapping.
Perch 0 Give me a reason to actually award him a mark or two and I will consider it. I cant think of any.
Enrique 7 Solid and drove forward well when we were chasing the game at the end.
Colo 6 Excellent first half but struggled in the second.
Williamson 5 Uncharacteristically shaky.
Routledge 5 Beat a man, hit the first man. Beat a man, hit the crowd.
Ben-Arfa 5 Glimpses of obvious talent but played ob the periphery of the game.
Barton 5 Looked knackered!
Tiote 7 Excellent ball retention
Nolan 5 One of the un-subbables
Carroll 5 A tough afternoon for the big lad. Support would have helped.
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