Date: Saturday 10th Dec, 2011.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
The Magpies of Newcastle United will be looking to pick themselves up after a tough trio of fixtures and recent injury woes as they visit the Canaries of Norwich City.
Even though this is an away game, some may have thought this would be an easy three points, until recently that is. The loss of Fabricio Coloccini with a thigh strain, as well as Steven Taylor for the whole season with a knacked achilles tendon puts a new complexion on matters as our lack of strength in depth has eventually been exposed. Like ourselves, Norwich have been something of a “surprise package” in the Premiership so far. Though Norwich City’s entire first team squad is worth far less than the amount Mike Ashley received for Andy Carroll alone, they are currently sitting quite comfortably at 11th in the table. That is quite an achievement for such a modest squad who were expected to be rooted at the bottom of the table, and not to be sniffed at, especially in the light of our recent circumstances injurywise. More on that below however…
Stats, previous matches etc…
Norwich City’s years in the Premiership have been fairly infrequent, however our Premiership record against them at their place is two wins to them, one to us with no draws. All ended with a 2-1 scoreline with the first going our way in the days of Keegan (93/4), with Beardsley and Cole doing the honours for us, as they did rather regularly back in those days. The next one was the year after (94/5) when the Canaries got their revenge on Keegan’s “Entertainers”, reversing the score with Ruel Fox scoring for us. Finally, Graeme Souness took them down there a few months after taking over from Bobby Robson for another 2-1 defeat. In our total of six games home AND away in the Premiership, our total record is Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost 2.
Looking at our repective Premiership records this year, Norwich’s Premiership record at Carrow Road this season has been Won 3, Drawn 2 and Lost 2 (11 points). ON the other side, Newcastle United’s away record has been Won 3, Drawn 3 and Lost 1 (12 points). So, not alot of difference there. Both sides are coming off the back of fairly heavy defeats against big sides, with Norwich receiving a sound 5-1 thrashing at The City of Manchester Stadium, with the Magpies of course suffering a ten man 0-3 capitulation to Chelsea last time out at St James’ Park.
Norwich have actually scored one more Premiership goal than we have (20 vs 19). Where they have been fairly free scoring for a team in their part of the table, we have actually been rather goal shy for a club that has previously been scaling the heights of the top four until our terrible trio of fixtures against Manchesters City and United, and the abovementioned Chelsea
travesty game. So of course, the difference between the sides lies at the other end of the pitch with our miserly defence, not least the heroics of Flying Dutchman, Tim Krul. Despite conceeding three goals against Manchester City and another three against Chelsea, we have still only conceeded 15 goals to Norwich’s 26. Before that terrible trio of games, we had conceeded fewer goals (8 in 11 games) than any other team in the Premiership.
The last two statistics above could hold the key to this game. Steven Taylor’s numerous goal line cleararces (the most in the Premiership) along with Coloccini’s interceptions and general marshalling of the defence have played a very important role in this goals conceeded record, which has undoubtedly been the secret of our success so far. However, for the first time this season we could face the opposition in the Premiership without either of them. Taylor will be out for the rest of the season as he undergoes Achilles surgery, and Coloccini is still a big doubt for this game at the time of writing with a thigh strain. Whilst the heroic Krul has been another big factor, he will almost certainly face a far more difficult task without both of our first choice centre backs in front of him.
Team news, squads, probable formations etc
Well, as mentioned above, our central defensive pairing of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor both picked up injuries in our last game against Chelsea. Taylor is out for the season with his Achilles tendon and though Coloccini’s thigh strain is much less serious, he is still a big doubt for the Canaries clash. So Taylor’s out of the picture once again but on the likelihood of Captain Colo making the game, Alan Pardew said:
“I think there’s an outside chance he could play.”
Meanwhile, Coloccini himself said of his race for fitness at a function in Gateshead:
“It is tight but I am hoping to play in the next game.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, it was revealed this week that the dreaded “Gilmore’s Groin” claimed it’s latest Newcastle United casualty in the shape of Danny Guthrie, who will be out for around six weeks. So far that’s Leon Best, Yohan Cabaye (both recovered), most seriously, Sylvain Marveaux (out for several months), and now Danny Guthrie (out for six weeks) all going down with the same problem in fairly quick succession. So what’s gannin’ on like? My own personal hypothesis is that NUFC fitness guru and self confessed Mackem, Richard Akenhead (who I covered in this story), has finally received his orders from the Stadium of Blight to train the players to destruction. :-)
Getting back to Guthrie, he himself was a replacement for the seemingly irreplacable Cheik Tiote. Whilst it was suggested at the time that the midfield enforcer would only miss two games with a medial ligament problem (Blackburn in the League Cup and Stoke in the Premiership), his injury has now dragged on for six games and it seems very likely that he will miss this seventh one too. This has prompted conspiracy theories that the player has been coddled in anticipation of a big money sale to a moneybags club such as Chelsea, rumours which the Silver Supremo has pooh-poohed. Then again, he pooh-poohed rumours about the exit of Andy Carroll and others too. But anyway, he started his denial of the scare stories with an apology to fans saying:
“I want to apologise to them. That’s my fault, in a way.
“It’s a niggling injury. He hasn’t had a setback. It’s not his groin, and there’s nothing else going on.”
With the Magpies’ defence now in tatters after Chelsea, it was hoped that centre back, Mike Williamson, would finally be making a return from four month absence with an ankle / foot injury (which came shortly after a bizarre training injury which broke his arm). Frustratingly however, the big lad still has another few days to wait yet.
Finally though, there is some good news in that Jonas Gutierrez will be returning from his one match suspension for the game.
After than our longer than usual survey of the carnage at Newcastle United we turn to Norwich who are doing somewhat better on the injury front. However the Canaries manager, Paul Lambert, will be without Manchester United defensive loanee Ritchie De Laet (back injury). Fellow defender, Elliott Ward (knee), and finally striker James Vaughan (also knee) will also be out. While it might be Gilmore’s groins on Tyneside, it seems to be knacked knees which are the plague of Norwich as defender Daniel Ayala will be returning for this game from another knee injury. American defender, Zak Whitehead, will also be making a return from a hamstring problem. Finally defender Steven Smith has been reported as being doubtful for the game with his ankle.
Newcastle United (from): Tim Krul (G), Rob Elliot (G), Danny Simpson (D), Ryan Taylor (D/M), Davide Santon (D/M), Shane Ferguson (D/M), James Perch (D), Yohan Cabaye (M), Jonas Gutierrez (M), Gabriel Obertan (M), Dan Gosling (M), Danny Guthrie (M), Hatem Ben Arfa (M/F), Mehdi Abeid (M), Haris Vučkić (M), Alan Smith (M), Demba Ba (F), Leon Best (F), Shola Ameobi (F), Peter Lovenkrands (F/M), Sammy Ameobi (F).
Doubtful: Fabricio Coloccini (Thigh strain),
Injured: Steven Taylor (Achilles tendon), Sylvain Marveaux (groin). Mike Williamson (ankle / foot), Cheik Tioté (knacked knee).
Norwich City (from): John Ruddy (G), Declan Rudd (G), Kyle Naughton (D), Russell Martin (D), Leon Barnett (D), Marc Tierney (D), Zak Whitbread (D), Daniel Ayala (D), Adam Drury (D), David Fox (M), Wes Hoolahan (M), Andrew Surman (M), Andrew Crofts (M), Oli Johnson (M/F), Anthony Pilkington (M/F), Elliott Bennett (M/F), Aaron Wilbraham (M/F), Steve Morison (F), Simeon Jackson (F), Grant Holt (F), Chris Martin (F).
Doubtful: Steven Smith (ankle).
Injured: Ritchie De Laet (back), Elliott Ward (knee), James Vaughan (knee).
Tactics, possible formations etc
In a few previous games for Newcastle, opposition teams have attempted to target out of position left back Ryan Taylor as a potential weak spot. Of course though, with Steven Taylor definitely out and Fabricio Coloccini highly doubtful, potential stand-ins such as James Perch or Tamas Kadar may also be targeted. Though Norwich City lined up in a more defensive 4-5-1 formation in their last game against moneybags Man City (still getting trounced 5-1), they do seem to be a team who are willing to have a go. With our recently exposed weaknesses in terms of depth at the back, it is highly doubtful that they will afford us the same respect, and will probably line up as a 4-4-2 with two fairly big lads, Steve Morison and Grant Holt being the most likely canditates upfront.
From what I’ve seen of the Canaries, they seem to have a fairly typical Premiership minnow’s style, ie direct and fairly powerful with a fair amount of long passes and crosses from the flanks and hopeful shots on goal. Such teams also tend to like set pieces and this has been one of the few chinks in the Magpies’ defensive armour so far. One statistic I failed to mention above is that just over half of Newcastle’s goals heve been conceeded through set pieces (the highest in the Premiership) so some care may be required there.
On the Newcastle United side, whilst Alan Pardew seems to have finally found a starting place for Hatem Ben Arfa as a number 10 behind the striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation, it is still not beyond the realms of possibilty that he might turn back to Best, or even Ameobi, to partner the almost certain to be picked Ba in the 4-4-2 which saw success earlier in the season.
In the now similarly decimated central midfield, Dan Gosling and young Mehdi Abeid are both more than capable of displaying a defensive side in their central midfield game, and will be slugging it out to fill Tiote’s / Guthrie’s hole alongside the also almost certain to be picked Yohan Cabaye.
Finally on the more defensive side, while Pardew has already confirmed that James Perch will be standing in for Steven Taylor, many Geordie breaths will be bated to see if Captain Colo makes it “over the line” fitness wise. If he doesn’t, recently out of favour Tamas Kadar will be vying for a centre back place, otherwise another choice may involve playing one the full backs out of position. Fancy Italian wing back, Davide Santon, will also be hoping to be in contention for a starti the defence.
Whilst injuries may have left us more vulnerable at the back and in the defensive side of midfield, the Canaries ship quite a few goals anyway and it does seem likely that both sides will conceed at some stage. without being able to rely as much on our previously solid defence to pull us some points out the hat, we may have to up our scoring rate in this one possibly further exacerbating our current problems at the back, but that’s the way it goes.
I will go for a prediction in this one, a Desmond 2-2.
What the managers have been saying
On the Magpies side our Silver Supremo has been giving the usual fulsome praise to his opposite number, saying:
“Norwich have been a surprise with the results and the fact that they have been winning games, which is very difficult to do in the Premier League as a promoted team.”
“They have done exceptionally well and the manager (Paul Lambert) has done an unbelievable job there.
“I came up against them at Southampton not so long ago, and know what they are about.
“I know what it is like to go and play there. We actually won there, so we will be looking for the same result this time round.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, norwich City manager Paul Lambert carried on the mutual appreciation society. On the Magpies and Pardew he said:
“This will be tough. I think Newcastle have performed really well as a team and it’s something we have to combat. But we’re at home and the onus is on us to try and win the game.
“They’ve done fantastically well, there is no doubt about that. They’ve not lost many games and it will be really hard.
“I think Alan has done terrifically well up there. The expectancy level at that club is really high and it’s gone well for him.”
Well that just about wraps it up for this preview except to say:
Howay the Lads!