Friday, January 28, 2011

Rest, regroup and recovery

A humiliating FA Cup exit to Stevenage and consequent weekend off rewarded with a sunshine break? Rough justice, or so it seemed. But Alan Pardew's latest comments suggest that not only has it been "wet and windy" but that it's been far from Portugueasy for every member of the travelling party: "Some players need rest and some need to work. When you look at Kevin Nolan out here, he is in need of a rest. On the other hand the likes of James Perch and Sol Campbell need to work and we’ve made sure they’ve done exactly that." Hark, is that the sound of socks being pulled up under duress I hear?

Of course, several of our players have been out of action and in recovery for some time - chief amongst them Rocky. Sadly our optimism of earlier in the week has been replaced with disappointment that his thigh injury hasn't healed itself as quickly as we'd hoped and that he may now not return until after Arsenal visit St James' on 5th February. Given the way he dominated the Gunners' defence at the Emirates, and also his athletic display at home to our next opponents Fulham, he'll continue to be sorely missed.

In Rocky's absence, and particularly against Spurs, we've squandered opportunities to seal victory and ended up paying a heavy price. Presumably those question marks over his fitness will mean we'll continue to resist any Birmingham interest in Big Lad - after all, he's our only other genuine target man and, with ASBO firing on all cylinders, a target man is key to our current playing style.

Compounding the disappointment at Rocky's extended stay in the treatment room is the news that the Lesser Spotted Dan Gosling too is struggling with injury, in his case a swollen knee which Pardew's estimated will keep him sidelined for three to four weeks. Not exactly ideal when we're already short of midfield cover. At least Hatem Ben Arfa's recovery is on track - even if he did have to undergo a secret second operation in November. By the time the Frenchman's back out on the pitch, his assailant Nigel de Jong will have returned to the Dutch national fold after his punishment exclusion. ("Fair tackle", the City site protests - in the sense it won the ball, yes, but not in its recklessness and the potential and indeed actual risk that it posed to the player he was challenging.)

While the most intriguing (and probably most fanciful) recent transfer rumour has us linked with a move for shamed former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, one target it looks as though won't be heading for Tyneside is Sebastian Larsson, the Swede looking likely to swap one Second City side for another with Curtis Davies going the other way. His delivery was once again impressive last night, instrumental as the Blues staged an unlikely League Cup comeback against West Ham, and with Wayne Routledge out on loan and Gosling injured again we could certainly use another midfielder with a bit of craft and guile. What, if anything, does Pardew have up his sleeve?

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