Newcastle United: 5 Takeaways from the Magpies' Come-from-Behind Win over Stoke
Three points have never come easy this season for Newcastle United, and Sunday evening in St. James' Park against Stoke City, it seemed to be more of the same.
After an hour filled with plenty of Newcastle chances amounting to nothing, a foolish Cheick Tiote challenge in the 67th minute led to a Stoke penalty, well-taken by Jonathan Walters. It seemed as if once again the Toon army would have their hearts broken.
But the class of Yohan Cabaye, excellent vision from Sylvain Marveaux and some schoolboy antics from Steven Taylor have lifted the Magpies to 13th place in the Premier League, nine massive points adrift of the relegation zone.
Cabaye drilled in a perfect free kick just outside the box in the 72nd minute, and substitute Marveaux exquisitely picked out a surprisingly onside Papiss Cisse for the match winner just before stoppage time.
Newcastle are set to welcome Anzhi Makhachkala Tyneside on Thursday before heading to DW Stadium to face a Wigan Athletic side surging from an FA Cup quarterfinal victory over Everton.
After a feel-good victory like this one, it isn't unfathomable to picture the Magpies sweeping the week.
Newcastle's Central Defense Is Superb
Has anybody been thinking about Mike Williamson lately?
Alan Pardew hasn't needed to.
Since Fabricio Coloccini's back injury, Steven Taylor and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (MYM for short) have united to become a powerful defensive force.
There is quite a bit of defensive responsibility put on Taylor and MYM every match. Full-backs Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy are offensive-minded and spend most of their time sending crosses into the box on the other side of the pitch.
While they are both good defensively, they aren't always in the best positions to deal with opposition counter-attacks.
Also, the goalkeeper behind Taylor and MYM, Rob Elliot, is a new face in the Premier League, picking up his first BPL action due to a Tim Krul knock and Steve Harper's ancient-itis.
But against Stoke City, Newcastle's central defenders dominated.
Aside from Cheick Tiote's absurd challenge just inside the box in the 67th minute, there were very few situations where Stoke was able to threaten at all.
Corners were dealt with well. Counter-attacks were routinely squashed.
It is easy to forget, Newcastle supporters, just what a liability the Magpies central defense was in their poor run at the end of 2012.
Communication was poor. Clearances were weak. It was painful to watch.
Those days, thankfully for Alan Pardew, are no more.
Alan Pardew Nailed His Substitutions
Alan Pardew has taken criticism from fans, pundits and writers over the course of the season for making poor substitutions at poor times.
On Sunday, he got everything right.
In the 74th minute, just after Yohan Cabaye's goal, Pardew brought in Sylvain Marveaux and Massadio Haïdara for Cheick Tiote and Davide Santon.
Both exceeded expectations, with Marveaux playing a particularly important role.
After several good runs on the left side by Haïdara which resulted in corner kicks (which will be addressed later), Marveaux received a Moussa Sissoko pass just outside the penalty area.
He threaded the ball perfectly between the Stoke central defenders to find Papiss Cisse for an easy goal that would hand three points to the Magpies.
In the 86th minute, just before Cisse's goal, Pardew sent on 18-year-old Geordie native Adam Campbell for his first Premier League action.
It may be a coincidence that a goal was scored almost immediately after fan-favorite Campbell's entrance, but this writer prefers to believe that Newcastle's victory should be credited to the good luck charm that is the "Ginger Ninja."
Corner Kicks Have to Improve
Yohan Cabaye's goal from a free kick in the 72nd minute was nothing short of spectacular. Cabaye, a well-deserving captain in Fabricio Coloccini's absence, was the man who swung momentum in Newcastle's direction, leading them to a huge comeback win.
Now if only he could get his corner kicks right.
Newcastle were awarded 14 corner kicks throughout the afternoon, and not a single one was even remotely threatening.
No matter how poor your math skills are, zero out of 14 is pretty easy to understand.
In Newcastle's previous Premier League fixture, an away loss to Swansea, they received seven corners, just half of Sunday's total.
It may be a coincidence, but against a defensively intelligent side like Stoke, forcing Newcastle into corners could also be seen as a good strategy.
Corner kicks should be a positive, not a negative, but as Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic easily handled kick after kick, they felt more like torture.
Maybe Cabaye should start begging referees to take all his kicks from just outside the box.
It doesn't seem like he can do anything wrong from there.
Steven Taylor Is a Mind Trick Master
Stoke City are a tough, frustrating bunch who are hard for almost any opposition to encounter without getting a little heated, and Newcastle United were no exception.
In the 65th minute, tempers flared as Papiss Cisse lost his cool with Marc Wilson, resulting in both players receiving a yellow card.
With Jonathan Walters scoring on a penalty kick just two minutes later, it seemed Stoke had won both the physical and the mental game.
That is, until Steven Taylor could say something about it.
After a tough collision involving Moussa Sissoko and Asmir Begovic resulted in a Newcastle free kick, Begovic continued to hold on to the ball as he laid on the ground dealing with the pain from the contact.
Cisse tried to claim the ball from Begovic, and when Steven Taylor came to his assistance, he gave Begovic a playful head rub that may or may not have been stronger than necessary.
Begovic reacted poorly, reaching out to shove Taylor, and the longtime Newcastle centre back saw an opportunity.
As both teams prepared for Yohan Cabaye to take the free kick, Taylor skipped over to Begovic and began jumping up and down in his face, waving his arms in what became a quasi-dance. He continued for several seconds until he was forced to take his position, but even then he continued to leap around and yell at Begovic.
Cabaye's free kick, of course, found the back of the net.
The kick was of such quality that it most likely would have been impossible to stop, but Begovic, clearly bothered by Taylor, wasn't even close with his effort.
On his way to grab the ball out of the net, Taylor couldn't help himself. He crouched over Begovic, clenched his fists, and let out a triumphant yell.
Thanks to Taylor, Newcastle won more than just one game against Stoke.
Newcastle Bought Everything but a Finisher
For 12 minutes at St. James' Park, all five of Newcastle's French signings in the January transfer window were on the pitch. To this point, all five have proven to be intelligent signings.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is a defensive monster, making Fabricio Coloccini's absence almost unnoticeable.
Moussa Sissoko is without a doubt the club's second-half MVP, having exploded onto the scene in the Premier League with his ability to bully his way through defenders and create chances for his teammates.
Yoan Gouffran has made Hatem Ben Afra's absence hurt much less, supplying a high work rate and good speed on the wings to enhance the Magpies' offensive potency.
Mathieu Debuchy is a massive upgrade, both offensively and defensively, at the right back position.
Massadio Haïdara, in limited opportunities that have mostly come in Europe, has proven to be an excellent prospect who is nipping at Davide Santon's heels for the first team left back spot.
One thing all these players do (with the possible exception of MYM) is create scoring chances for their teammates.
The only question is whether or not someone will be on the other end to execute the chances.
Sissoko has scored three goals already in his time Tyneside, but as an attacking midfielder, he shouldn't be the man Newcastle rely on to put the ball in the back of the net.
Gouffran has one goal, but he doesn't seem to be a man with natural finishing talent.
The striker Newcastle will need to rely on the rest of the season is, of course, Papiss Cisse, and since the French contingent has arrived, he has undoubtedly improved.
Three of his seven Premier League goals this season have come in the six games since Sissoko and Co. have joined the club.
This is a refreshing sign for a player who seemed out of sort the entire first half of the season.
If Cisse can continue taking advantage of the chances given to him by his newfound French friends, Newcastle stand a chance of climbing much higher than their current 13th position before the season is through.