Before Sunday’s game at home to Aston Villa Newcastle had not scored in their last four, had conceded 10 in their last 3 and had not won at St James’ Park since Boxing Day of 2013 against 9 man Stoke. Fortunately for Alan Pardew, good early season form had cemented a mid-table position and his job didn’t seem to be under too much pressure, that said Newcastle fans were beginning to grow restless and another home defeat could have spelt the end for Pardew.
Newcastle have been without top goal scorer Loic Remy for the past three games following his suspension against Norwich. His goals have been sorely missed, Newcastle lacked any real class up front, with Gouffran the only other striker to have scored this season and he was missing for the most part through injury. Unsurprisingly it was Remy who popped up with a last gasp winner for Newcastle, turning what would have otherwise been a disappointing point into a vital win.
Remy has averaged the most shots per game (3.5) in the Newcastle squad, his form couldn’t be more contrasted with fellow striker Papiss Cisse. The Senegalese international, who looked like a revelation when he first arrived on Tyneside now looks devoid of any confidence, as illustrated by the simple chance he missed against Villa. Cisse is averaging just 1.6 shots per game, half as many as Remy on average, that’s the difference, Remy has the confidence to take the shots on whereas Cisse doesn’t. On Sunday Cisse had 2 shots, 1 of which was on target, whereas Remy had 7 and 3 on target, further demonstrating Cisse’s lack of confidence.
Whether or not Cisse will be playing for Newcastle next season hangs in the balance and will largely depend on whether he starts scoring in the second half of the season or not. He was linked with a move away in January and that could become reality in the summer. Although that may depend on whether or not Newcastle can retain the services of on-loan Remy from QPR, his performances this season have been top class and merit playing in the Champions League, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arsenal make a move for him.
Pardew also had the chance to welcome back club captain Coloccini, the 32 year old Argentinian had been missing since the start of the year, in that time Newcastle shipped 15 goals in 7 games, 2.14 per game on average. Coloccini adds considerable experience to the defence, his organisational and leadership abilities have certainly been missed in the last few weeks.
Against Villa, Coloccini made 4 tackles and 4 interceptions, giving him the highest combined total in the Newcastle team. His defensive contribution didn’t stop there, the Argentine also made 5 clearances and won 2 headers, on more than one occasion clearing what looked like a threatening situation for Aston Villa. His performance was aided by that of Mike Williamson, who recaptured some of the form which had seen him become so indispensable to Pardew. As always Williamson was imperious in the air, winning a staggering 11 headers, stopping the aerial threat Benteke posed in the process and he made 8 effective clearances, the most in the Newcastle team.
The partnership at the heart of the Newcastle defence has been so important all season and without it they look lost at the back, that’s down to Coloccini, he’s the most experienced of the back four and he’s such a big asset for Newcastle when he plays in the kind of way he did on Sunday.
The third returning player was Cheick Tiote, the Ivorian added some much needed steel to the centre of Newcastle’s midfield. That’s something which has been lacking in recent weeks and is especially important when the two Newcastle central midfielders have been facing three.
Defensively, Tiote was sound, making 5 tackles (the most in the Newcastle team) and 2 interceptions, breaking up the play in the centre of the park is one of his most important jobs for the team. His discipline is still an issue, he committed 5 fouls on Sunday and picked up his customary yellow card in the process of doing so.
An area of Tiote’s play which is often not appreciated is his passing ability, he made the most passes in the Newcastle team (58) and had the second highest passing accuracy (84%). He also played 3 key passes, a pass which leads to a chance, a total matched only by Vurnon Anita. Anita is another who is often pigeon holed as a defensive midfielder, when he has the vision and passing ability of much more than just that, as with Tiote it is goals which are missing from making him more of an attacking threat.
It was a vital win for Newcastle and Alan Pardew, one which offers a sense of optimism about the future and that the rest of the season is more than just a damp squib. It was a real team performance, but one that was undeniably helped by the returning trio of Remy, Coloccini and Tiote. They considerably strengthened the core of the team and if they all remain fit for the rest of the season Newcastle fans should be able to look forward to a few more wins.
All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com