Newcastle-West Ham: Lessons & Solutions from the 1-0 Defeat
A scrappy and frustrating encounter at St. James’ Park almost inevitably saw Kevin Nolan’s name on the scoresheet as Newcastle crashed to a 1-0 reverse against Sam Allardyce’s high-flying Hammers.
Just 72 hours after battling to a point against Club Brugge in Belgium, The Magpies were on Premier League duty.
With Tiote and Coloccini suspended and Perch on the injured list, an unfamiliar Newcastle XI started the game with Gutierrez in central midfield of a 4-4-2 and Shane Ferguson on the left-wing.
This Premier League edition of Friends Reunited as both managers as well as Ba, Carroll and Nolan were pitted against former clubs was not one to remember, at least for Newcastle fans.
Here’s what we learned from the game:
Big Sam & "Golan" Have Still Got It
Like Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce was sacked by Newcastle when in a healthy 11th place in The Premier League four years ago.
Yet he returned to have his day and take all three points.
Likewise, Kevin Nolan was denied the bumper contract he felt his goals and contribution to the Newcastle cause deserved and he was sold in 2011 to West Ham.
Both had a point to prove to Mike Ashley and Co. and did so in the best way possible with Allardyce’s anti-football tactics and a clinical Nolan winner proving the difference on the day.
Europe Taking Its Toll
Alan Pardew was at pains to lay this defeat at the hands of himself and his players, not the demands of the Europa League. Via BBC:
"It's nothing to do with our European game - we made lots of changes and the team was fresh - but we didn't do ourselves justice in the first 30 minutes. We didn't come alive until they scored and that is not good enough.
Yet, while not wanting to forge an excuse mentality at the club is admirable, Europe is certainly a factor.
The travelling, extra game, disruption to training and planning routines plus additional injuries which accrue from involvement in another competition are all straining the Newcastle squad.
Newcastle have won two, drawn one and lost three post-Europa EPL games and must learn the SBR knack of following midweek European adventures with wins.
NUFC Set Pieces Must Improve
In the dying seconds, Newcastle made football history. They became the first team ever to send their keeper up front for a corner then play it short.
Ben Arfa did manage to almost find Tim Krul at the second attempt yet it summed up Newcastle’s set-piece woes.
Barring Ryan Taylor’s effort against Atromitos, Newcastle have yet to convert a set-piece this season and have scored only once from their last 229 corners.
Blessed with headers of the ball like Shola, Ba, Williamson and Steven Taylor and set-piece specialists a la Ben Arfa and Cabaye, this alarming record much change.
Newcastle Need to Change
Credit where it’s due to West Ham, yet this was as much a game Newcastle lost rather than The Hammers won.
The 4-4-2 formation with Ba and Cisse up front is predictable and patently not working. The fans know it and Alan Pardew must realise it.
Amid rumours the two Senegalese forwards don’t get on, they have only been on the same score sheet in a game twice in nine months and only on Cisse’s debut in February vs Aston Villa were they both on the pitch when it happened.
Newcastle must find a new formation or strike partnership.
It’s good to have options in football and both Shola Ameobi and brother Sammy offer a different threat to anything in the Newcastle dressing room.
Physically and aerially, Shola is immense, gives Newcastle real presence and could be crucial in winter games. The West Ham back four only knew they were in a game once Shola came on.
As he proved against Man U last season in the 3-0 win and in the WBA 2-1 a fortnight ago, he is the perfect foil to Demba Ba in a 4-4-2, who thrives on his flick-ons.
Similarly, Sammy’s unpredictability, eye for a pass and ability to beat a man or three and score are among the most potent weapons in Newcastle’s arsenal.
Time to Reprise the 4-3-3?
Newcastle’s signing of Papiss Cisse and switch to an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Ba left, Ben Arfa right and the new Senegalese man in the middle was a revelation this year.
With Cabaye, Gutierrez and Tiote in midfield, Pardew’s new strike force cut teams to shreds and fired Newcastle to 5th place and The Europa League.
Yet this season, the 4-3-3 and Cabaye's attacking talent has only rarely been glimpsed, mostly in Europe, and Newcastle’s wing play largely ineffectual.
With Anita and Sammy Ameobi as back-up, the more flexible and attacking formation could pay big dividends again for The Magpies.
Or Ben Arfa in the Beardsley Role?
Hatem Ben Arfa looked the one player who could unlock the staunch Hammers defence, yet too often he was attempting to from distance with several men to beat.
In tight games such as this, Newcastle must find a way of harnessing his attacking genius in and around the penalty box.
In recent weeks, both Ben Arfa and Ba have referred to Tyneside legend and club coach Peter Beardsley, whose playmaking second striker role could be the perfect position for Ben Arfa to terrorise defences.
Don't be surprised if Alan Pardew moves Ben Arfa up front like the Geordie Legend who proved devastating for opposition defences in two spells with the club and resurrects the Cole-Beardsley partnership with Ba or Cisse.