Mike Williamson has been unreliable in defence this season.
In many ways, it's unfair that Mike Williamson is the subject of an article such as this. Most Newcastle fans would point to the fact that he is not a first-team player, and he was only pressed into service because of the horrific Toon injury list.
However, that doesn't excuse the fact that Williamson has often been the cause of his team's woes this year. The lack of imagination present in the attack stemmed directly from Williamson's tendency to punt the ball upfield instead of playing the simple pass to the midfield.
This could be excused if his defending was impressive, or even just adequate. Instead, the 29-year-old has been exposed, forming a calamitous partnership with Danny Simpson that has drawn much ire from the home fans, and much laughter from the opposing ones.
A quick glance at the official Magpies website reveals that Newcastle concede 1.49 goals per game with Williamson in the side, and that one in every 4.28 shots on target results in a goal against his team. A lot of this is due to his lack of pace, which makes him a target for fast wingers.
He also suffers against misdirection. You know when you go through the action of throwing a stick for a dog, but don't let go of it and the dog peels off after it, thoroughly bewildered? Sometimes it appears that Williamson would be equally fooled if the same trick was attempted against him.
Of course, that's far too harsh, but the point remains valid. When an opposing midfielder can just push the ball past a Premier League defender and successfully run it down, there's something wrong with that defender.
Williamson's seven yellow cards across 18 games show that he is unable to cope with quicker players, and the rest of the league knows it.
Who has been Newcastle's least effective player this season?
This inevitably brings us back to the beginning: Is Williamson a player of Premier League calibre?
With the right partner, he can be. Last season, when Fabricio Coloccini was in form, Williamson responded with some consistent play of his own.
He looked more solid and Newcastle fared better. He was still caught in possession and easy to eat at pace, but he looked stronger in the challenge and more confident in his ability to win the ball.
This season, Coloccini has been absent—both on and off the pitch—and Williamson doesn't have the leadership ability to marshal the defence to a clean sheet. Defeats like the one against Brighton are a result of poor organisation and discipline, and Williamson can't be relied upon in those circumstances.
Some defenders have a useful ability to get up the field and score goals. Davide Santon showed this against Wigan when he cut inside and drilled the ball into the corner. This sort of skill is relatively rare, though, and often a defender's goals stem from set pieces, or headers in particular.
Williamson is known for being an effective player in aerial battles. In fact, B/R writer Karl Matchett wrote in January that the defender had won more aerial duels than any other player in the league.
This should translate to goals, surely?
If you're answering “yes” to that question, it should therefore be a surprise to learn that Williamson has never scored for Newcastle. In 69 appearances, he should have found the net by now.
While it stands to reason that winning aerial battles with defenders is more difficult than when dealing with forwards, Williamson's overall record doesn't stack up when attacking the opposition. There have been times this year when Newcastle's only tactic at set pieces has been to send Williamson up into the box and hope he gets on the end of a cross.
Given his goalscoring record, it's surprising that this idea got off the training ground.
Williamson's appearance as the subject of this article doesn't have anything to do with his effort—that has never been in question. He gives everything for the entirety of every game in which he appears, and it makes him easy to root for.
He is a squad player who has been forced into first-team action, and to his credit, he does everything Alan Pardew asks of him. He's understandably popular within the squad, and he is always willing to speak to the press, regardless of his own performance or the result.
As a person, Mike Williamson is exactly the sort of guy that a manager wants within his ranks. If more players had his great team-first attitude, the sport wouldn't be mired in accusations of greed and selfishness.
Unfortunately, that isn't the case, and attitude is nothing without performance.