Hughton’s (lack of) substitutions criticised

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Blogs
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On the eve of Newcastle’s home game with notoriously poor travellers Fulham, it has been interesting to see that Chris Hughton has received some criticism about his substitutions, or more accurately, the lack of them. In the wake of this week’s  2-1 defeat to Blackburn some fans have criticised Hughton’s lack of substitutions or the lateness of them in matches where we have struggled to break down the opposition.

The statistics show that in the four league games since Fabricio Coloccini’s last-gasp equaliser against Wigan at St James’ on the 16th of October, Hughton has made 4 changes out of a possible 12. In the two away wins in the capital, only one sub was used; Nile Ranger coming on for a tiring Ameobi with 8 minutes left at The Emirates. The lack of substitutions in these games is completely understandable however, as few fans, surely, would call for Hughton to make unnecessary changes in tight, tense affairs such as the two trips to London. It is not in these games that Hughton’s use of subs has been called in to question however. In the four home games that would have been targeted by the Toon Army as winnable when the fixture-list was released (Blackpool, Stoke, Wigan & Blackburn), United have taken only 1 point against a Wigan side that – with a 2-0 lead – really should have made it 0 points from a possible 12 for Newcastle. The team’s failure to break down the resolute defences of the latter three, as well as the heroics of Matt ‘Clark Kent’ Gilks in Blackpool’s goal have resulted in some insipid performances from a Magpie’s side used to regularly putting three and four past their opponents in their 2009/10 Championship winning season.

Newcastle played well against Blackpool but were denied by a formidable Matt Gilks performance

The lack of midfield creativity in the United squad has been exposed in these matches, where the opposition has parked their metaphorical team bus on the St James’ Park turf. That the vast majority of goals in recent weeks have come from corners and set pieces is no surprise. Newcastle have failed to break teams down by keeping the ball on the floor and have instead resorted to lofting balls into the box, feeding the clinical heading ability of Andy Carroll and poaching instincts of skipper Kevin Nolan to good affect. That Joey Barton has 3 assists and played a major part in 3 more of Newcastle’s last 9 league goals shows that he will be sorely missed in the next three games after the FA took retrospective action due to his punch on Blackburn’s Morten Gamst-Pedersen on Wednesday night. The absence of Barton should see a return to the starting lineup for wideman Wayne Routledge, eager to prove to his doubters – which may include the travelling Fulham fans – that he is a Premier League player.

Whilst most fans were not unhappy to see Routledge enter the fray against Blackburn on Wednesday, it was the timing of his introduction that drew criticism from some quarters. The diminutive winger entered the field of play six minutes after United fell behind to a Jason Roberts strike, and only two minutes before the end of the regulation 90 minutes. It was, for many, the right substitution at the wrong time. The other substitution in the match was an enforced one, with Nile Ranger replacing the injured Ameobi at the interval. Whilst Hughton has undoubtedly done an incredible job since becoming Newcastle United’s permanent manager just over a year ago some murmurs are starting to arise about his tactical prowess in utilising his bench players. This month’s edition of Four-Four-Two magazine carries an interesting article on ‘The art of substitutions’; arguing the importance of tactical substitutions in changing games. So far this season, my memory brings to mind only one occasion on which a Hughton substitution has really changed a game in our favour; Ameobi’s introduction on the hour mark against Wigan, with the score at 0-2. Ameobi went on to halve the deficit before we grabbed a 2-2 draw at the death.

In my mind at least, it has been a long time since we effectively used the substitutes bench to turn games in our favour. Long gone are the days of Sir Bobby’s triple changes mid-way through the second half of games when we were chasing an equaliser or winning goal. It has also been a while since we have possessed anything close to a super-sub. Again, I find myself thinking back to the Robson days and Lomana Lua-Lua being the closest we had to a player who would regularly produce as a substitute. 67 of Lua-Lua’s  88 appearances for the Mags came from the bench.

As far as memorable Newcastle substitutions go, two immediately come to my mind. Firstly, the late debut introduction of Colombian livewire Tino Asprilla at The Riverside in February 1996. With Newcastle 1-0 down to Middlesbrough and 23 minutes left on the clock, Asprilla entered the fray for his first Magpies appearance. Six minutes later he turned Boro defender Steve Vickers inside out before crossing for Steve Watson to equalise. The game ended 2-1 to to Newcastle and Asprilla had well and truly announced his arrival in English football.

Asprilla came off the bench on his debut to turn a defeat into a win, via some silky skills

My second most memorable Toon substitution is of course that of Michael Chopra, who replaced Lee Clark on the hour at the Stadium of Light in 2006, with the mackems leading 1-0. Fifteen seconds after coming on, Chopra netted the equaliser in front of a delirious away end after latching on to a Titus Bramble long ball. The rest, as they say, is history. United went on to win 4-1 in what turned out to be Alan Shearer’s last appearance as a professional footballer.

What are your most memorable Newcastle substitutions, past and present?

Who is your all-time favourite Newcastle supersub and is there a supersub among our current squad, waiting to be unleashed by Hughton?

  1. Howay the Lads says:

    Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert came in from the bench after an hour agains Liverpool at Anfield when Magpies down 2-0. Final result 2-2 and Bellamy was the assist and Robert the scorer at that night. What the cameback from Magpies under Sir Bobby Robson.

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