Sunday, 18 December 2011

Happy with a Point. Newcastle Utd v Swansea City. Match Report.

(Or why Tactics really do matter).

It's a phrase you will have heard often enough if you're a football fan of whichever club - but on occasion it rings true.

As it did on Saturday at St James' Park, when Swansea City clung on to the opening status quo, and suggested, no more, but just now and again, it could have been more.

Let's not be greedy. To go to a side who's Home record stood at 4-2-1, 10f vs 8a, before the game, and to come away with a share of the spoils was both satisfying and realistic.

We are playing in the Barclays PL, not Welsh League Div 1 for goodness sake. Previous recipients of "NUL POINT" at the SDA were Everton, Wigan, Blackburn and Fulham whilst those who got a point were Tottenham and Arsenal. Only Chelsea have won here this year. Good company, to say the least.

So when the game kicked off, my expectations were at least realistic, at best hopeful. My Internet stream, courtesy of confirmed the toughness of the fixture. Despite the almost constant time lag - which meant that the picture inevitably froze on some of the key moments, I got the general gist - we were being pummelled, pressed and being put under pressure.

The corner count gives the hint - 9-1 over the length of the game, and for once, overwhelmed on possession 57% to 43% .

Still, ever the optimist I am, what you can say is this.

Newcastle had shaped with a conventional 4 at the back, and with a midfield diamond 4, plus 2 blusterers up front, and had gained the upper hand.
Cabaye was particularly fond of the wide swept ball to Obertan, which we've seen from Ferrie Bodde and Ash Williams to Dyer be effective for us. It was for them, too.

Tiote, at the base of the diamond, not only protected the CB's, but in besting Joe Allen, took Swansea's creativity out of the game. Obertan, wide right, and Gutierrez, wide left, pinned Richards and Taylor back, freeing up Cabaye, at the tip, to create. And he did.

He took every free-kick, corner, free ball and all, and also laid Ba and Best into the channels. Think back to how stretched we were early in the game, how vulnerable were our full backs, and, without outlets of our own, Williams and Caulker , Vorm too, had to work to hold the line. ALL of their attempts on goal, and there were several, were the result of overloading.

That fluid 4-4-1-1 meant that the two wide men, Obertan and Gutierrez, were able to keep our full backs right back, negating any forward momentum we may have wanted and allowing Tiote, the ball winner, and Cabaye, the creator to flourish.

Because Gower, Britton and Allen were being dragged into help covering the wingers, Best or Ba were able to augment Cabaye/Tiote by dropping in, and we were for once being outnumbered in MF, because Santone and Simpson, their FB's too, were pushing on, and causing Routledge and Sinclair no end of worry in battling for their piece of the ball.

Witness the number of times Obertan, particularly, was free and threatening wide, and even more influentially, Cabaye passed, crossed, tricked and plotted us into a Pavlov's Dog type defensive panic. Stimulus and response.

Despite Cabaye's constant probing, despite Ba both hitting the post and threatening, and Best's half chances, despite Tiote's bite, despite Gutierrez and Obertan trying to get wide plus some, and even despite the full backs, Santone and Simpson pushing on...the Swans held firm.

Call it luck, good fortune, over-excitement, obdurate defense and more - call it what you will, the score remained 0-0.

And for all of that threat and attendant danger, it was only Fabricio Coloccini's header from Cabaye's looping f/kick, and Ba's post bound shot from Best's chest/shoulder pass that really jarred me. The rest of it was a kind of vague pressure/dread; you know the sort, it's like when you know Michael Myers is in the Halloween house, you just don't know which window/cupboard/mirror he'll leer at you from next.

It was the sort of half where I felt that a goal against us would have knocked us for six - ie if we'd gone behind, particularly with our record, we'd have not come back. I have a feeling that this is the tack that Brendan Rodgers will have taken on sitting his players down - a sort of collective "How disappointing do you REALLY want to be?" type approach. For all my speculation, the second half proved that he HAD got to grips with his team.

Having taken an all but proverbial pasting in the first half, it's no surprise that BR saw fit to change things,and not only in personnel, but in systems, too.

The half time whistle came and as I exhaled and went to make a cup of tea in reflection of what I'd seen, I was a little morose.

I put it down to cussedness, and positive mental attitude that we came off bested but not beaten.

You know that thing that lots of silly football fans like me do when you think the play's going against your team and too much for the opposition? You change things, because irrationally, it'll bring you "good luck". I did. Ha.

Switching to a far better Receptioned Internet stream (perfect pictures for rest of game- thanks Bethan) things could surely only get better? And, blow me, if they only went and did. Although, let's be perfectly clear, it was not due to even a Higgs Boson worth of a % of my "luck" longings. It was down totally to the Manager, his staff and team.

My analysis of what happened is this.

The personnel change was straightforward and it worked. Agustien replaced Gower, who had had one of his quieter games, and was by-passed in the battle.

Sitting deeper, Kemy immediately engaged Cabaye, closing avenues, regaining and retaining possession from tackles and freeing both Britton and Allen particularly, to play a good 10yds further forward.

This in turn closed Newcastle's creative space further and let the Swans begin to make their own positive inroads, and it could be argued that the best chances of the half both fell to Swansea.

One, from yet another Routledge run down the right with a wicked cross at the end, only just eluded Joe Allen following in from getting a touch.
The other saw Sinclair turn in the Inside left channel in the box, but screw his shot just wide of Krul's left hand post. Noticeably, both wingers had now turned the tables, and the puzzles were being set in reverse to the first half.

The other important contributors were the Swans attitude and tempo.

Far more committed, busy, constructive and destructive, threatening to the ball, and above all slicker and quicker generally, the game had turned from a Home Banker to that awful (to the Toon) gut feeling of "Uh, oh, - There's a point here for them". And there was.

The game ended with Ba blasting a half chance high and wide, and despite the introduction of the Ameobi siblings, the more successful substitution of Agustien for Gower at HT, and Dyer's replacement of Sinclair on 77m to further steel Swansea's harrying of NUFC players, and fresh pacey legs to the side's engine, confirmed the transformation from a disappointing first half to a point well earned at a ground where many of our rivals will have not got, or may not get, anything.

Vorm was excellence throughout. Richards and Taylor, from difficult starts, fought back well. Caulker and Williams were and are what they are- top class CB's. Danny Graham puts a shift in , in defense,too. The other players have had a mention, and they ALL deserve praise.

Again, a performance that brought pride, ultimately, and reward, tangibly, to all us Swansea fans . Pre-Xmas Away day No 1 is done.

To Everton at Goodison for No 2 on Wednesday.

Onward, Swansea city.

# I'll be doing a brief preview of our fixture at Everton on Wednesday of this week. It'll be up here, and on SCFC2, from about 6pm on Monday evening.These are heady days indeed, to be enjoyed for what they are - pure, unadulterated pleasure.

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