Thursday, October 20, 2011

Practice makes perfect

The BBC's Alastair Macgowan has taken time off from all those impressions to write an appraisal of our defensive improvement this season, with considerable assistance from first-team coach Steve Stone.

The stats certainly bear out the impression of things being much better (and not just in terms of our parsimony), but in truth the primary reason behind it turns out to be good, honest practice. Apparently Alan Pardew splits the squad in two twice a week and himself works closely with the defenders to instill his "principles" into them and ensure they're aware that positioning is key. Hardly rocket science, though it might as well have been for some of Pardew's predecessors. You have to add in the fact that our defence has been settled, fit and in form (Sideshow Bob in particular), but that would hardly explain how players with obvious limitations like Danny Simpson and Raylor have functioned well within a solid unit - so credit where it's due.

The article does however perpetuate the myth that we had a horrendously porous defence in the mid-90s. Stone is himself guilty on that front, alluding to Phillippe Albert as a weak link: "Newcastle have been a bit gung-ho in the past with the centre-halves marauding forward and the like, but you can't really play like that in Premier League". That disguises the fact that we still had one of the meanest defences in the division at the time - just one that wasn't quite as mean as Man Utd's...

Stone generally talks highly of Pardew as an astute tactician, also giving an insight into the manager's softly-softly methods: "He speaks very well and speaks in a way that gets players on side with him. It's not a rollocking, it's asking them to do it rather than telling them to do it so everybody feels part of a group. He treats players like adults where I've seen other managers treat players like kids and they don't respond to that at all." Over the years we've had plenty of players who behave like they're kids (and we do still have the Lone Ranger on our books), but fair play to Pardew - his approach does seem to be working.

Hopefully we're going to get an opportunity to get used to these "Where did it all go right?" style pieces...

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