NUFC 2-2 Wigan – Spiderman Masks Poor Performance

Posted: October 20, 2010 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

At 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, Tyneside was ringing to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Village People, only the lyrics being sung by the Geordie faithful were slightly different to those made famous by the 70’s disco group. As the home fans filtered out of St James’ Park following an entertaining, if not inspiring 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic, they taunted their 900-strong away counterparts with the chant “Two nil and you f**ked it up! Two nil and you f**ked it up!” This was not the first time such a chant had been heard at Tyneside’s footballing cathedral either. Rewind almost 2 years to the 6th of December 2008. The occasion? A 2-2 draw with Stoke City played out at St James Park. For Charles N’Zogbia, read Abdoulaye Faye, the returning villain on that day. A team, two-nil up half way through the first period, contrives to throw away 2 points by conceding an injury time equaliser by a centre-back.

N'Zogbia is not the first ex-Mag to score at St James' Park in recent history

Yet that is where the similarities end; In 2008, it was the Stoke fans that were airing their own rendition of the Pet Shop Boys cover after they somehow clawed back a 2 goal deficit and the subsequent point, after Michael Owen had given United an early 2 goal lead. That season, Stoke’s battling spirit, despite a lack of quality on the pitch kept them in the Premier League. Every man, woman and child in the country knows what happened to Newcastle. Two temporary managers and 6 months later, the Mags were relegated to the Championship at Villa Park with a performance that makes the X-factor look like decent viewing. Newcastle’s raft of overpaid, under-committed prima-donas sank quicker than the Titanic at Villa Park. They simply didn’t turn up and NUFC became the laughing stock of the entire nation, if they had not already been so during a monumentally woeful season, both on and off the pitch.

Nearly 2 years on from the 2-2 draw with Stoke however, and only 4 of the starting eleven on that day still remain at the club. The club, in turmoil in the summer of 2009, turned to Chris Hughton, first temporarily and then permanently to guide the team back into the Premier League at the first time of asking, and guide them he did. The Irish Londoner gutted the playing squad of its uncommitted members and, along with senior players, instilled a new-found fighting spirit within the club. That spirit was key to the club’s promotion with countless away trips returning 3 point hauls despite the Mags often being outclassed by their opposition on the road. This team-spirit has also been evident since United returned to the big time at Old Trafford on the 16th of August yet perhaps it has not been on public display as clearly as it was towards the end of the 2nd half on Saturday. Newcastle found themselves 2 goals down after only 23 minutes through a combination of poor defending and sulky French brilliance. That Newcastle’s much maligned new right back and Premier League record holder (the only player to be booked in each of his first 5 PL games), James Perch, was tasked with controlling the adrenaline-fuelled Frenchman hardly inspired confidence in either his teammates or the home fans.

James Perch has hardly inspired confidence since his summer arrival

It was however a combination of poor defending from three of United’s back four that somehow contrived to allow N’Zogbia to score his career’s first ever headed goal in the 22nd minute. The usually sturdy Jose Enrique allowed Wigan’s Franco Di Santo too much room down the right flank to whip in a deflected cross that looped toward the back post where N’Zogbia stood, surrounded by two (taller) Newcastle defenders. However, both Perch and the more aerially able Mike Williamson’s feet inexplicably failed to leave the ground, seemingly willing N’Zogbia on to plant his unchallenged header back across goal and past a stranded Tim Krul. A minute later, it was two-nil. Urged on by the unsettled crowd, United committed several players forward and when Barton was caught in posession by James McCarthy, Di Santo reproduced a similar cross to the left side of the box, where N’Zogbia controlled neatly on his chest before lashing a left-foot piledriver high into the roof of the Gallowgate-end net. Perch, like a fish out of water, was nowhere in sight. Wigan deservedly led at half time and but for the wastefulness of N’Zogbia in a two-on-one situation, could have been three up at the interval. Newcastle, one goal line clearance and decent save aside, offered nothing going forward in the opening period, with the Latics sticking effectively to their nullify and counter-attack system. Stern words must have been said in the home dressing room during the break because United emerged with more determination, despite continuing to fail to make many clear chances from their increased possession. Wigan sat back, allowing Newcastle the ball, yet the return of 4-4-2 and two strikers to the Newcastle side failed to produce any dividends with Lovenkrands looking lost as he dropped deeper in search of the ball, unable to utilise his pace behind Wigan’s deep backline. The Magpies usual ploy of attacking down the left flank with the drive of Spanish-speaking duo Enrique and Gutierrez was halted by the tactical deployment of a third Wigan defender on their right side. As a result, neither had much success, constantly running into trouble and surrendering possession of the ball with alarming ease.

The usually reliable Jose Enrique & Jonas Gutierrez were stifled by WIgan's defensive tactics

Things were no better on the other wing either, with the returning Danny Guthrie effectively playing as a third central midfielder, such is his willingness to come inside when deployed in his unfavoured, unnatural position on the right of midfield. That Newcastle’s best (and only) chances were coming from set pieces and corners is credit to both Wigan’s defensive formation and Newcastle’s inability to break it down. Hughton responded on the hour mark by withdrawing the ineffective Lovenkrands for more aerial prowess in the form of Ameobi. The substitution worked as twelve minutes later Gutierrez finally produced his first cross-of-note of the game, steering a majestic left footer onto the head of a diving Ameobi who duly-delivered, nodding the ball into the ground and past Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal, setting up a tense final 20 minutes and finally giving the Toon Army something to shout about. Yet Newcastle, buoyed by the goal and roared on by the resurgent home fans, continued to struggle to carve out any clear-cut chances until the 94th minute, when, with home fans heading for the exits, Gutierrez swung in a corner from the Milburn Stand touchline which Andy Carroll helped on to the back post for stand-in captain Fabricio Coloccini to head home via Al Habsi from 4 yards out to send the fans home delirious. Although celebrating a draw so vociferously against a Wigan side that conceded 10 goals in their first 2 games of the season would have been inconceivable prior to kick-off, the manner of the comeback and celebrations of the players following the equaliser demonstrated that although quality may be lacking from the current United side, team spirit most certainly is not. Come the end of the season, it is that spirit that may well keep Newcastle in the Premier League. Don’t believe me? Just ask some Stoke fans.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s