Thursday, December 05, 2013

Swan dive

Swansea 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Well, the run had to come to an end at some point. It's just that most of us were expecting that to be at Old Trafford on Saturday, rather than at the Liberty Stadium in midweek, where our hosts Swansea had won just one Premier League game in eleven attempts.

That stat, and the form we were in, meant we went into the game in confident mood, given added encouragement by the absence through injury of Swans front men Michu and Wilfried Bony. That said, we had forward issues of our own, with neither Papiss Cisse nor HBA fit enough to resume their positions on the bench. The starting line-up, though, was unsurprisingly unchanged.

I recently reported on the claim that we've changed our style of play, and I'd maintain that we have, generally speaking - but it wasn't really evident last night. Swansea started off as prettiness personified, all neat and crisp short passing. By contrast, we were starved of possession and aimed to be swift and direct when we did win the ball. In truth, the Silver Fox was right in taking that approach - we were never going to out-football our opponents, and reverting to the more robust style of yore caused their defence plenty of problems.

Not that we were on top in the first half. While Swansea's 4-5-1 formation meant that Sideshow Bob and Mike Williamson were relatively underemployed, it was also the reason why their trio of attacking midfielders Alejandro Pozuelo, Jonjo Shelvey and Pablo Hernandez kept finding pockets of space deep in our half. Mr T struggled manfully to contain them, largely left to it by Dreamboat, who contributed disappointingly little either creatively or defensively.

For all the easy-on-the-eye tiki-taka, though, Swansea failed to create any clear-cut opportunities for the first 45 minutes, whereas we could easily have taken the lead through Loic Remy. His header from Mathieu Debuchy's cross was goal-bound but somehow pawed away by Michel Vorm. Remy looked sharp and went close again soon afterwards, turning smartly on the edge of the area but pulling his shot wide.

Our chances of victory should have taken a further boost when the Swans' lone striker Alvaro Vasquez went off with a groin problem, as it left our hosts without a recognised striker. Michael Laudrup opted to introduce Nathan Dyer rather than former Toon man Wayne Routledge, but there was a depressing predictability about the fact that Dyer then gave the home side the lead in first-half stoppage time. Pozuelo's cross was teasing, but Tim Krul should have done much better than to flap it down for the unmarked Dyer to volley in.

Shelvey, a key influence in the first period with his expansive distribution, went close early in the second half, but we were now the better side and the game arguably turned on an incident in the Swansea area. Neat footwork from Remy created the opportunity for an effort that was blocked by Ben Davies' arm. Yes, it was ball to arm rather than vice versa - but surely that's irrelevant when the shot was destined for the back of the net.

Referee Howard Webb was once again unmoved when Goofy claimed to have been shoved in the back in the box (not such a blatant penalty this time) - and it cost us dearly when Swansea immediately broke upfield. Krul foiled Shelvey as he was bearing down on goal but Debuchy, who had bust a gut to get back and try to challenge the midfielder, was horribly unfortunate to see the ball rebound off him and into the net.

That was the cue for our players to wave the metaphorical white flag, the Silver Fox joining in by replacing the moderately effective Big Lad with Obertan Kenobi. Our only hope of getting back into the match had been to continue the direct assault that had nearly worked on several previous occasions - and yet here we were idiotically hauling off the most integral member of that system and throwing on a featherweight winger. Needless to say, the substitute proceeded to play atrociously.

Webb then compounded his previous error over the handball by failing to dismiss Shelvey for a headbutt of sorts on Debuchy (contact was minimal, but there was definite movement of the head) - and, of course, it was then Shelvey who curled in the third from distance, Krul once again at fault.

While Swansea probably deserved the win, 3-0 certainly flattered them, and despite their 66% possession compared to our 34%, we can feel justifiably aggrieved at having not taken anything from a game that was ripe to be won.

No time to dwell on the defeat, though - next stop, Old Trafford. Having lost at home to Everton, you'd suspect Man Utd will be even more pumped up for our visit than usual. Suddenly November seems a bit of a distant memory...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Blogger 63soul said...

Pardew's tactical reversion yesterday seems even more foolish in light of the stat I just read on the EPL website---Newcastle have the fewest long passes of any EPL side!

Also, did anyone else have that sinking feeling when Obertan came on? I can understand his being selected as a sub given HBA and Cisse's fitness, and the fact that he is really our only winger right now, but to throw him on that early when Anita is available is unfathomable. ESPECIALLY when Cabaye is phoning it in, so to speak. With Cabaye lacking creativity yesterday and providing little assistance to Tiote on defense in the MF, Anita would have provided some stability to the middle of the pitch---the absence of which suited the swans, and shelvey in particular, perfectly. Of course it was a handball and of course shelvey should have been sent off, but Webb was not responsible for yesterday's loss. We looked terrible---especially against a possession oriented 4-5-1 side. Remy can't do everything. Frustrating.

7:05 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Have to disagree with your first comment - as I said in the report, I think the tactical switch was a sensible move against Swansea, a passing side with no great height in the team. However, I agree that Anita should have been introduced for Cabaye to help out in midfield, by the time it had become apparent that Cabaye wasn't going to be of any use in any capacity - and yes, I too had a sinking feeling when Obertan came on, a feeling exacerbated every time he got near the ball.

7:15 pm  

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