Game 2, 22nd August 2010
Newcastle United vs. Aston Villa
What had previously been promised has now been delivered. 6-0! With performances like this, Newcastle will surely end the year Champions of Europe!!
A truly emphatic victory yesterday for the men in black and white, especially as they were missing probable first-choice defenders – Sol Campbell the latest victim of the flab monster while Steven “I'm not a Doctor Who character” Taylor once again has shown all the resistance to injury of uncooked pasta. Unsurprisingly it was defensively the Toon looked most suspect as Villa initially were able to exploit the backs for pace; the inevitable calamity came with both central defenders and goalkeeper Steve Harper played tortoise to Ashley Young's hare and the subsequent concession of a lazy penalty. Fortunately, the spot-kick was taken by John Carew and the ball is still gaining velocity somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.
As the game wore on Newcastle's size and strength came to the fore against a lightweight Claret lineup unable to cope and the signs for the season are promising as they attack the division armed with chest-and-facial-hair sporting men's men and not skinny kids with horrible hair (sorry, that should read "and not skinny kids"). And Alan Smith who's some grotesque but likeable combination of the two.
Enterprise from the wide position s has long been a staple of success on Tyneside and yesterday was the same. Enrique, Gutierrez & Routledge all looked overmatched their last times out in the top flight, so it was quite surprising that it was from there that much of the thrust to their offense came. That they had a presence centrally at which to aim can't have hurt – Andy Carroll and his horrible hair delivering on four years of potential to present an immovable object (at least for Richard Dunne & Ciaran Clark) front and centre.
Given Chris Hughton's stated desire to move away from the 4-4-2 formation as immutable on Tyneside as track suits & chip butties to explore this year's “buzz” formation, the 4-2-3-1, I find myself asking if this is wisest given yesterday's win. Without getting carried away (obviously I'm not a 'Pies supporter) the lineup did as needed on the day and the relative safety and comfort afforded by the tried-and-true 4-4-2 could provide some refuge against sides not prone to disappearing at the slightest physical pressure like Aston Villa. The latest buzz-formation is fine but buttering bread is a simple task and as such, formations should be simple as well. Allowing Carroll to hold the ball up and involve his midfield mates, especially Kevin Nolan, is key and health, confidence & sanity willing he should provide the offensive fulcrum they can use to ensure safety.
The centre of midfield is the greatest question mark with back-row-of-the-bus boys Alan Smith and Joey Barton (complete with highly dubious moustache) vulnerable to the counter – the rumoured signing of Ivorian Cheik Tiote may provide the athleticism and mobility required mid-field. Also, given that he is – and let's be fair – a massive tool, anyone who thinks Joey Barton can stay out of trouble and injury belongs on the same short bus as Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear.
A lesser stated reason for optimism is in their overall experience. This meant they weren't overawed playing at home in the top flight against a team playing in Europe. This team, if they believe it, has the bodies to avoid thumpings from even the very best and if that self-belief holds (and the win yesterday should have bought them a month full of confidence at worst) the club should ask enough questions of the mid table to survive and promise hope for future years.
All these positives can't hide the shadowy question marks over some aspects of the Magpies this season – they're only a Carroll injury, the inevitable Barton brain-fart and a likely Sol Campbell spontaneous combustion from Mars-rover type disaster – but signs point to them having enough about them to resist the slide back into the championship. An encouraging way to start the home campaign.