On Saturday afternoon, I left my usual ritual of watching Soccer Saturday and tested the waters of Final Score on BBC. After a few minutes they went to Carrow Road to hear of Norwich City’s fourth goal and after hearing an account of Grant Holt’s header, they returned to the studio to discuss how worrying it was that Newcastle United had fallen to seventh in the league and picked up just one point from four games.
Having seen Match of the Day my opinion of BBC’s football coverage is poor but in a matter of moments my estimation of the channel plummeted to unknown depths. It seemed ridiculous to be concerned about the Magpies because they have made a mockery of pre-season expectations so far.
More importantly, while the facts are true and the team hasn’t collected many points in recent weeks, they have faced the top three sides in the country during this cruel pre-Christmas period and played a fourth game without a recognised centre-back. It would be fair comment to mention the need for a defensive signing because their squad is awfully small, but to predict a slide down the league because of these results is appalling punditry.
Let’s not forget, when they travelled to the Etihad Stadium they faced the only other unbeaten league side. Up until the first goal they had looked strong as well, limiting the new, expressive Manchester City to very few efforts and even creating a few of their own through the mighty Demba Ba and Ben Arfa fit a post in the second period. It was two penalties and a rare defensive mistake that cost them the game but they didn’t appear overrun by the league leaders and bagged themselves a late goal.
Then they faced second-placed United, who had won five and drawn one of the six games that followed their drubbing in the Manchester derby. Despite the fact they were demolished by City, Old Trafford should still be considered a fortress and it is intimidating for most visiting sides. Although the game will be best remembered for Newcastle grabbing their equaliser from a penalty that never was in front of the Stretford End at Old Trafford, they put in a fantastic battling performance, particularly when they had their backs to the wall during the final 15 minutes after Gutierrez’s sending off and Tim Krul put in an inspired display to keep out everything that was thrown at him. They were lucky to receive the penalty and have a linesman that correctly ruled out a last minute Hernandez goal, but they created chances of their own which brought good saves from David de Gea and ultimately deserved to take something from the match.
At the end of the terrible trilogy they had to face a Chelsea side with something to prove. Andre Villas-Boas has been under pressure and a defeat at St James’ Park would have been a catastrophe. Up until Didier Drogba’s goal, Newcastle had been all over them, creating magnificent chances and forcing errors from a nervy Blues backline, most significantly a moment of madness from Sideshow Bob lookalike David Luiz who should have been given a red card that would have swung the match in favour of the Toon Army. They had looked composed and confident throughout the half until going behind and for long periods in the second half they looked most likely to trouble the scoresheet. Losing Coloccini hit them hard as did finishing the game with ten men because of Steven Taylor’s injury. A fully-fit Taylor may have been able to prevent Torres’ burst forward to stop the second goal and would have filled the gaps in the defence for their third.
Against any other teams these performances would have gained a much larger tally than one point. But with a depleted line-up they were unable to conjure up another big display against Norwich. Having James Perch and Danny Simpson as a makeshift central defensive partnership it was unlikely to breed confidence in a side whose success has been helped by a consistent starting eleven. Battling with Grant Holt and Steve Morison was always going to be difficult to two players who do not have an abundance of height or strength in comparison to the striker’s and it was no surprise that three of the four goals came from headers. A depleted midfield also didn’t help matters, especially when Dan Gosling, one of the players drafted in, made a mistake which led to the Canaries’ third goal and then proceeded to get himself sent off. Demba Ba’s performance however was a highlight, bagging two goals as his team-mates put in their only poor performance during the last month, something that brought a bizarre amount of criticism.
The fact that pundits expected Newcastle to get more from their games against the top three shows how much they have achieved this season. After losing Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique in the summer, people had them as relegation candidates this campaign but instead some great signings by Alan Pardew has got them fighting it out at the top while they watch their biggest rivals try to avoid the drop instead. Newcastle United need another defender to give them cover but if they are still in seventh place in May, which is quite possible, the Toon Army will be ecstatic. It is without doubt that they will be upset to lose to Norwich but they will take unfortunate defeats if they can still finish so high up the league. It’s a 38 game season and they have already had both away dates in Manchester so their fixture list looks a lot kinder. I’m sure Newcastle will score more than one point in their next four games BBC and hopefully stop the so-called “experts” from worrying.
Do you agree with the BBC pundits or should they leave Newcastle United alone? Comment below or tell me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.