Vive la revolution!
With Newcastle up to fifth on the back of a fourth successive win there are reasons to be cheerful for Alan Pardew, the club and its supporters. Can they keep it up though?
By Alex Dunn. Last Updated: 01/12/13 2:14pm
Moussa Sissoko scores a stunner to lift Newcastle into fifth in the table
Whisper it quietly but something exciting may just be stirring at St James' Park as Newcastle extended their winning run to four successive games with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Brom.
On Saturday evening it was the turn of Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko to lead La Revolution on Tyneside, as their goals moved Alan Pardew's side up to fifth in the table. Remarkably, 18 of Newcastle's 19 Premier League goals this season have come from Frenchmen.
The in-form Mathieu Debuchy returned to Newcastle's starting line-up after suspension as Pardew chose to make just one change to the team which beat Norwich 2-1 in their previous outing, with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa the man to make way.
West Brom boss Steve Clarke restored Liam Ridgewell and Billy Jones to his side after injury and also drafted in James Morrison as Steven Reid, Goran Popov and Claudio Yacob made way.
Given Gouffran's excellent form for Newcastle of late it was perhaps no surprise Reid, a converted midfielder who can struggle to contain wingers who run directly at him, was replaced by specialist full-back Jones.
Clarke's decision to draft in Morrison for mainstay Yacob was more eyebrow raising considering his partnership with Youssouf Mulumbu is widely regarded to be one of the division's tightest.
"It's tactical, Claudio is on the bench. I thought it was a tough physical game for us on Monday and James has been working well in training. It's a chance to freshen up that middle area," confirmed Clarke pre-match.
In the Sky Sports Saturday Night Football studio Jamie Carragher expressed his doubt: "It's surprised me a little bit. You can imagine that change coming in a home game as Morrison adds something going forward but I'm not sure away."
Where it was won and lost
Around the 15-minute mark co-commentator Alan Smith summed up the contest pretty fairly when he mused: "They're well matched sides in terms of shape, maybe ability too. It may take a while to settle." At this stage it was all very inoffensive, a little too polite as both teams sparred politely with misplaced passes prevalent.
Newcastle's resurgence over the past month has owed much to the dominant form of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote and herein on in it was the duo in tandem that began to bully from the centre of the field. Growing restless at a lack of cohesion to proceedings, Cabaye dropped a little deeper and began to demand the ball from his centre-halves. There was nothing spectacular about his passing but in dictating the tempo he soon had Newcastle playing at a more aggressive pace.
By the half-hour mark Newcastle had upped the possession stakes in their favour to 64.3 per cent from 52.7 fifteen minutes earlier, while at half-time they were up 59.7 per cent to 40.3. Chances were still at a premium but there was a nice fluidity amid the rigidity of the home side's midfield and whilst the sight of Hatem Ben Arfa bringing a cushion to games these days will make some fans wince, Pardew does appear to have found a winning formula.
Morrison and Mulumbu looked positively powder puff in comparison; with the half-time stats highlighting the fact Yacob's omission may have been an error. Tiote (45) and Cabaye (41) made 86 passes between them, while Mulumbu (24) and Morrison (21) managed just 45. The average position map below demonstrates how Newcastle's pair (24 & 4) occupied a similar pocket of space and once the home side began to own this central position, those in wide areas began to slowly work their way into the game.
Passing maps (Cabaye left, Tiote right) plus Newcastle average positions (centre)
With both Gouffran and Sissoko tucked in Newcastle rely on full-backs Debuchy and Davide Santon to embrace their buccaneering tendencies and occupy the space on the outside of the narrow 'wingers' in front of them. Again, this was another facet of the match where Newcastle were entirely dominant.
"Gouffran plays wide but he's not an out and out winger. He's an important player for Alan Pardew. They're (Gouffran & Sissoko) more probably central players so they come inside a lot. Players like that have seen Pardew sacrifice a little flair but it's helped Newcastle defensively," Carragher said in the studio.
Whilst Newcastle put in 13 open play crosses in the first half alone, West Brom's sole delivery into the box came from a corner kick. Morgan Amalfitano and Chris Brunt were both woefully ineffective, with the latter enjoying just 15 touches in the first 45 minutes. Only Loic Remy had fewer. Sissoko's powerful surges infield were also coming to the fore.
Newcastle managed to get plenty of balls into West Brom's box, while the Baggies were ineffective
Given the closest either side came to making the breakthrough by the half hour mark was Jones nearly putting the ball through his own goal from a devilish Debuchy delivery, it was no surprise that Newcastle's opener came from a set-piece. Shola Ameobi's dart across Boaz Myhill's path from a lofted Cabaye corner caused sufficient consternation to the West Brom keeper to fluff his punch and Gouffran showed enough desire to get in front of Mulumbu to register for the third game running.
Yoan Gouffran celebrates opening the scoring at St James' Park
The rest of the opening period saw Newcastle play with the confidence of a side that's on course for a fourth successive win and can pass the ball freely in the knowledge that a sideways ball won't elicit a nervous groan from the stands. Shane Long was bright in his running again but starved of anything like decent service, it was Newcastle who looked the more likely to extend their advantage. Jonas Olsson can thank a generous piece of officiating on half-time when his tug on Remy went unnoticed with the Newcastle man bearing down on goal.
If West Brom's first-half showing was insipid (no shots on target, zero crosses from open play) their opening salvo after the interval bordered on the inspired.
With presumably a flea in their ear it was the anonymous Amalfitano and Brunt who combined to conjure a leveller on 52 minutes. The otherwise impressive Sissoko looked to have Brunt boxed off but got caught ball watching at the critical moment, as he switched off to let the Northern Irishman ghost into the area. When Debuchy chose to move from the right to attack Amalfitano's delivery centrally, the ball bypassed both him and Long to leave Brunt to dust off one of the trustiest left pegs in the league and thrash an effort past Tim Krul, who has conceded just six goals since the start of October.
Minutes later and the turnaround was almost complete as Long just failed to get onto Olsson's header from a set-piece. With Newcastle a little shell-shocked it looked as though draw specialists West Brom, who have lost just once away all season, may have been bracing themselves to conduct the quintessential smash-and-grab job on Tyneside.
Sissoko had other ideas. When the ball was fed up to Newcastle's front pair, Ameobi and Remy proved a partnership in full working order. First Ameobi nodded into the path of Remy before the Frenchman did likewise to Sissoko. With Ridgewell choosing to back off when he should have pressured the ball, Sissoko was given that vital second to steady himself before unleashing the proverbial missile past Myhill from 25 yards. Carragher's words had proved prophetic for it was Sissoko's inclination to tuck infield centrally that presented an opportunity that surely would have bypassed a traditional winger with chalk on his boots.
"It's about managing the game now for Alan Pardew and his players. It's about shutting the game off when you're on top," said Alan Smith and for the remainder of the contest, which had over half an hour to play, Newcastle did that impressively.
West Brom failed to muster another shot on target as Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson continued sterling form of late to keep a deserved clean sheet. Williamson, who has started Newcastle's last six games, is to cultured defending what X-Factor is to cultured television but that should not detract from the fact he has played a fundamental role in Newcastle's turnaround. With nine clearances, four tackles and two blocks the 30-year-old is currently making a mockery of those that say he is playing above his level in the Premier League.
Ameobi and Remy linked up, while Newcastle created plenty of chances
With Ameobi and Remy developing into a tidy partnership up top, Cabaye and Tiote back to something like their best in tandem and a previously porous back four now looking as solid as it has been in a some time, there are most definitely reasons to be cheerful at St James'.
"(The players deserve) a lot of credit, because we've had to work very, very hard today. I think West Brom showed why they've been beaten only once on the road. They were very resilient - a good team, good quality, experience. They got back in it with a great goal from Brunt. But we wouldn't be denied."
"I thought first half we were too passive in the game. We didn't pass the ball as well as we do and we didn't create enough. We had one or two half chances as Newcastle did. The goal came out of nowhere because the game was drifting towards a goalless first half and then we conceded the goal. The second half was good. We played with more intensity, got ourselves back in the game and then a wonder strike denied us any points."
"It's a partnership that takes you back 10 or 15 years to the big man and the little man. They are always close together so they can play little one-twos and make little touches. There's obviously a relationship there. But there's a lot more to it than that. Shola is not just playing straight up front, he's getting between the lines in the number 10 role. Today is the first time Remy hasn't scored within the partnership, but they still won the game. They are obviously aware of each other and that's always a good sign and they are never too far apart."
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