FanZoner Sam Winter says Newcastle must tighten up defensively if the good work of their attackers is to help push the Magpies up the table.
It is difficult to understand Newcastle United's inconsistency so far this season. A disappointing opening day and a wooden drawing of blanks against West Ham was followed by swift back-to-back victories which left optimism at dangerously high levels whilst the international break toiled on. Newcastle even sat in second place at half-time against Hull before throwing it all away and the first-half performance against Everton was truly horrific, a showing that left me too angry to type. The promise shown in the second period at Goodison Park exploded into application on Saturday however; Newcastle taking Cardiff City apart in swashbuckling fashion in the first half. Now heading into another international break, who knows which Newcastle United will emerge on the other side?
My fellow fans and I will not get ahead of ourselves in this two-week break, having been dared to dream the last time after back to back wins against Fulham and Aston Villa. For Newcastle's inconsistency has stretched from game by game, having been brought down to earth by Hull City, to 45 minute intervals of the stuff in the last two fixtures. A woeful first half at Everton and a wobbly second half at Cardiff sandwiched two halves of excellent football orchestrated by Yohan Cabaye, who followed up a genius goal at Goodison with a simply stunning performance at the weekend. His presence is all important and the goal splurge of Loic Remy has been most welcome. There is no doubt that Newcastle have attacking prowess now, but it is an anxious and under-performing defence that is the root of the team's inconsistency. Newcastle have shipped far too many goals so far this term; so much so that even when winning games where they have outplayed the opposition completely, they are only winning by the odd goal and the skin of the teeth when the final whistle blows.
Aside from Fabricio Coloccini there is nobody in the club's defensive options who is 100% convincing and completely assured of a starting berth. Alan Pardew thought that he had found his solid back four until recent games. The jury is still out on Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa who, after a fine start to the season, lost his place due to a dire performance at Everton. Mathieu Debuchy underlines the inconsistency in the team; the pick of a bad bunch at Goodison and excellent at Cardiff and Villa, the right-back is too often an accident waiting to happen in and around the penalty area and his aberration against Hull cost Newcastle dearly. Davide Santon (never convincing defensively) has also been poor of late and could be in danger with the emerging Paul Dummett breathing down his neck. At Everton he looked off the pace traipsing after Kevin Mirallas for the opening goal, having dangled a leg in the challenge rather than going through the ball before the Belgium international even got there. On Saturday at Cardiff he aimlessly sprinted out of position Debuchy-esque, allowing Odemwingie all the time and space in the world to score.
And then there's big Mike Williamson. For me Willo has been needed in his last two outings but he is never a long-term solution. I have always found that the former Wycombe stopper has been excellent when called upon having been out of the side, but has been completely found out when given a long stretch of games - particularly last season.
Williamson was the main culprit for Cardiff's goal on Saturday, poor misjudgement and lack of mobility in the build-up and on the goal-line proved costly. Personally I don't think it will be long before Steven Taylor is back alongside Captain Colo at the heart of the defence. Taylor is another who has recently split opinion but for me his partnership with the skipper is the most solid and effective.
Newcastle's goals of late have been nothing short of excellent however the goals conceded have been the opposite end of the spectrum - abysmal and completely avoidable. The embarrassing nature of these conceded goals stems from a visible nervousness and lack of confidence. I'm not a fan of 2-0 half-time leads at the best of times because if the opposition score next the anxiety starts to creep in and when your defence is as low on confidence as Newcastle's is right now, you almost expect an equaliser. This was my feeling on Saturday; despite the sheer attacking brilliance and bombardment which made a two-goal lead seem the least that Newcastle deserved, momentum shifted and nerves jangled once Odemwingie scored.
I believe that a solution to this crisis in confidence is to fully emphasise and push Newcastle's attacking threat. By doing the business in front of goal Newcastle's star performers can ease the pressure on the defence and gradually drag their confidence levels up, improving performance and plugging the leaks. This is by no means a Kevin Keegan management style, simply something that saw the club romp to fifth less than two years ago. With Cabaye pulling all possible strings in front of him and Cisse, Ba, and Ben Arfa blasting teams away, Newcastle's defence often only needed to stand and watch the games being won.
Yet there were still horrible defensive moments, Williamson embarrassingly gifting Shane Long a goal at The Hawthorns springs to mind. In that instance though Newcastle had already had that particular game won through sheer attacking brilliance in the first half, not too dissimilar to the weekend. It is no coincidence that Newcastle went on to shut-out the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Swansea in further impressive wins. Relentless attacking class provided the platform for confident defensive displays and perhaps this needs to be the case in 2013/14 in order to improve at the back and change a puzzling run of form into positive consistency.
Relying on the attack of course isn't the complete fix for defensive frailty; work needs to be done on the training ground continuously. But it can certainly shape improvement by increasing confidence. Personnel wise the defensive is arguably stronger than two years ago, but that group gained confidence through results and carried it through the entire season as the front-line plundered the goals. The club did not follow up on that success last season and found themselves relying on individuals (Ba, then Cisse) rather than an attacking unit as Cabaye and Ben Arfa spent time on the side-lines. Attacking creativity was low and the goals rained in at the other end. Now with the additions of Gouffran (who more than ably filled in for the deservedly dropped Ben Arfa) and Remy in particular, Newcastle once again have that attacking force that can drive the team forward.
There's no doubt Ben Arfa will return improved performances after recent games (he was the main man just weeks ago) and with Cisse operating in the system that announced him first time around, goals will be back on his agenda soon enough. And hopefully, sooner rather than later, as the attack takes Newcastle forward, the defence will begin to keep the back door shut.