Story of a Match – Newcastle

Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Match Analysis | 4 comments


Some matches are very easy to analyse. This was one of them.


After being taught a lesson at the Etihad last week, Lambert made a few changes and send out a team that featured 9 of last years promoted 11. Only Naughton and Morison (both playing Championship football) were new additions to the side, and both had outstanding games, but the familiarity shown between the players who were playing the system that brought us to the top division was key in what was a generally excellent performance. The diamond midfield has been sparingly used so far this season, but when he have used it, we’ve looked pretty good. Today was the same. The reintroduction of Fox and Hoolahan from the bench was key to making it work with Norwich dominating possession in the middle of the park, taking advantage of an injury hit Newcastle team without its first choice centre backs or Cheik Tiote to protect them.

The passing heatmap above shows where the ball was played from, and you can see it clusters around central midfield and then out wide, high up the pitch. This was a key, clear tactic. With Newcastle not offering too much threat down their wings, Naughton and Tierney were influential, getting forward on the overlap and putting in numerous crosses or throughballs. Norwich didn’t try to play the ball through the defence too much, instead relying on crosses to Holt and Morison to unsettle their generally crap centreback pairing of Perch and Simpson (two right backs by trade).

Key to this was Fox. As a paid up member of the David Fox Fan Club, he was hugely important today, attempting and completing more passes than anyone else on the pitch. As you can see from the chalkboard above, he was excellent at taking balls from the centrebacks and relieving pressure, and getting the ball forward and out wide. He brought others into play and got the ball into dangerous areas frequently. Paired with the excellent Crofts, he was able to stamp authority on the midfield that underpinned the performance. Surman and Hoolahan were also excellent in supporting this doing well to win the ball and unsettle the Toon midfield.

It was obvious from the outset that Lambert had set the team up to take advantage of their makeshift defence, but having Holt and Morison on the pitch had other effects too. As well as being on the end of crosses and bullying defenders, they were able to receive goal kicks and long passes from Ruddy with much greater regularity. Above you can see a comparison of Ruddy’s passing from today with that from the Blackburn game, when we had just Morison up front. As you can see from the completed blue lines, he was able to hit his target with so many more balls today, because the added option was there and was better than his centreback at getting the ball. This meant the midfield was able to get on the ball quickly, start to build attacks and move forward. Goalkeeper distribution can be crucial in keeping possession but that’s usually when they play it short, as we did all the time last season. It’s a mark of how much better Holt and Morison were than their centre backs that they were able to have this kind of impact.

Morison in particular had an excellent game and has shown throughout the season his ability to get on the end of long, hopeful passes. Norwich have become a touch more direct this season and Morison has been forced to plough a lonely field up front, getting on the end of long balls and trying to turn them into something. Today was the same, as he received the ball time and time again…

Above you can see all the balls that were played into Morison, and you can see how many of them were long, and how many were successful. Naughton in particular had great success in getting the ball forward to him and he was able to put the Newcastle defence under pressure, as well as bring teammates into play. This is classic number 9 play and he’s done it very well throughout the season.

With the tactic being based around two strong, tall strikers to go up against out of position defenders, many would think (or expect) wingers such as Bennett or Pilkington to play in a flat 4-4-2 to provide crosses. Yet even without these wide men Norwich were able to put in cross after cross through overlapping full backs, free kicks and corners. And so our goals came. The first, from a corner and a Crofts’ header. The second from a short corner. The third from a cross from the right. The fourth from a freekick to the left. Make no mistake, the tactics from Lambert were absolutely spot on, which has made this review so easy to write. Everyone could see how he was going to approach the game and it worked. It’s a credit to the players on the pitch for carrying out his orders and for playing so well. Make no mistake, this was no Stoke-esque performance. We attempted and completed more passes than Newcastle, we dominated the midfield and we weren’t the ones reduced to 10 men through a reckless, cynical challenge. It was the right team for the right game, and resulted in one of the most entertaining matches of the season. Less so for Newcastle fans, I guess.

As an aside on their goals, both came from sloppy, crap play. For the first, Zak lost his man and Ruddy was statuesque when the ball was played over. I’m not calling it a Ruddy mistake, but I’m saying a better keeper would have seen the ball coming through. For the second, Zak just dithered too much on the ball and got punished. As ever, we’re talking about self inflicted wounds. It’s nice that they haven’t resulted in us losing points though.


  1. Good blog and pretty much as I saw it
    I thought Naughton was Man of the Match kept Jonas Quiet and was positive going forward
    Morison is a terroriser of defences and even though Holt was great Morision does so much more
    Fox played well (there I’ve said it) but Newcastle didn’t press him much
    The defence were loxtly excellent but we continue to make and be punished by VERY silly mistakes
    Crofts had his best game face on and Surman complimented him
    Diamond isn’t going to work every week
    Lamberts tactics were so spot on!!

  2. Great analysis, great win, great team selection, great tactical approach. As soon as I got wind of the starting eleven it was clear that we were going diamond and I felt confident that Lambert had got the preparation spot on. Fox and Hoolahan back in, rests for the recently-not-quite-on-form Johnson and Pilkington and big Holty and Morison praying on their makeshift defence. Perfect.

    I think it’s worth pointing out, that while Newcastle certainly had a few personel problems at the back this week, the fact that up to this point they had been lucky enough to put out the same defensive 4+1 is a luxury that most others can’t afford. Indeed, we ourselves currently have 3 centre backs out, and played one in his first game back, and a fullback filling in. Newcastle have problems, but so will every team in the league.

    We know better than most that inconsistency can lead to problems and mistakes. And it was unfortunate that yet again, lapses in concentration and poor decision making has cost us goals. I personally think that Barnett was slightly unlucky to loose his place to Whitbread. The Man City anomaly aside, I did think that Russel and Leon were beginning to improve as a centre back pairing. He has made mistakes though, and I suppose it’s not unreasonable to give the convalesced Whitbread a chance. While he had a generally solid game, he too proved that he’s not immune to error.

    In light of recent discussion about Ferdinand and Vidic switching from left to right, I wonder if the fact that the left-footed Whitbread came in and bumped Martin to the right side might have impacted slightly on the co-ordination of the back line. While Ba’s run was admittedly clever and well timed, and Cabaye’s ball inch perfect, it was a poorly executed attempt at an offside trap and a confusion as to which CB should have tracked him.

    Martin has his arms out, trying to hold the line, but Whitbread and Tierney are sloppy. Martin, incidentally is also occupied with Ameobi. When the ball comes over, Whitbread tries to pass Ba on to Martin rather than track him himself, and by stalling loses yards on Ba. He then also looks over at the linesman and appeals for an offside instead of getting back to cover, which I always find annoying, but it’s too late by now anyway. This kind of intuition between defenders is something that comes with playing regularly together. Similarly, for the second goal, while it’s true that the players around Whitbread may have done more to find space for a pass, the fact is that he had plenty of time on the ball, and should have done better. When Surman knocks the ball back to Whitbread, he points over to the right wing, expecting Whitbread to open up, and switch the ball to one of the three wide open yellow shirts:

    But because he’s left footed, Whitbread instead controls it and takes a touch back towards Surman, runs into a corner, dallies, and loses possession. Whitbread yesterday was more comfortable passing on his left, tending to look outside to the fullback, whereas both Martin and Barnett are generally much more adept at switching the ball back over to the other side, where there is often more space.

    This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, of course, but I thought it was interesting.

    As you say though, ultimately it wasn’t that important as we scored four good goals, and always looked in control. We’ve now scored 11 goals from set pieces this season, accounting for half of our total, which is the best in the league just above the two Manchester clubs. This is a credit to the work they must be putting in in training. Especially nice to see is the same short corner routine working for a goal yesterday as with Morison’s at the Etihad last week. Having sat through those seasons under Worthington that would see every corner taken short and inevitably fluffed under a chorus of groans from the crowd, it makes me smile to see it used successfully as an ocasional option.

    • Excellent stuff and I completely agree. I didn’t dwell on the goals too much in the report as they didn’t cost us points, but it’s spot on. Whitbread, who I thought was otherwise solid, was culpable for both (despite someone on twitter insisting to me today that Surman was responsible for the 2nd). Really good comment.

  3. I’ve seen/heard the Surman’s fault argument and, whilst I accept he should have worked harder to create a return ball, as one always should when passing to a team mate, in my opinion Whitbread still had 2 or 3 better options than the famed CB drag back which nearly always leads to a chance for the opposition as your team mates are not expecting and and as a result are out of position. And yes, Whitbread should have tracked the run of Ba and Ruddy should have been out quicker. Two great finnishes from Ba though, he was clinical.

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