Newcastle United’s record 15 game unbeaten run came to an abrupt end as they suffered a heavy 3-0 loss to strugglers Derby County. Following on the back of one of their best performances of the season against Cardiff City, on Tuesday night they produced probably their worst performance of the season. The same XI started both games but the two levels of performance were poles apart. With so many new players in the team and three relatively new faces in defence a lack of understanding was always going to be a worry and that appeared the case at Pride Park. Derby certainly deserved the victory although perhaps a 3-0 scoreline was a little harsh on Newcastle. Defeat also saw them lose top spot in the Championship to West Brom for the first time since their last defeat in October. Fortunately Newcastle still kept their lead of four points on Nottingham Forest who suffered an away defeat. The hope for Newcastle is that this result is just a blip and that they can return to form against Swansea at the weekend. Derby would appear to be one of Newcastle’s bogey teams of recent years. They have taken four points from Newcastle this season and when Derby suffered the ignominy of being the worst team in Premier League history the only opposition they managed to beat was Newcastle.
Some of manager Chris Hughton’s tactics came under scrutiny as part of the inquest into his side’s defeat. For most of the season Hughton has employed a 4-5-1 formation away from home in an attempt to stifle teams and hit them on the break. At Derby the personnel chosen were much more offensive with a 4-4-2 used full of attack minded players. Two out and out wingers were used in midfield whilst in the centre Kevin Nolan and Danny Guthrie both like to get forward. But it would have been harsh to drop anyone from the team who beat Cardiff so convincingly. Now Hughton must pep up what he describes as a ‘hurt’ dressing room. After the game Hughton said: “It’s a very hurt changing room at the moment. One, because of the manner of the defeat for a side which is not used to conceding – very hurt. It’s a big blow for us because we’ve done something we haven’t done all season – concede three goals. What we have to do now is capitalise on the feelings of defeat and make sure we can get back to winning ways as soon as possible. I definitely felt the game hinged on the penalty decision and we felt it was a very soft penalty. The referee was in the best position to give the decision running some 15 yards behind the play. The referee didn’t give it but the linesman did. I’m probably more aggrieved because I think we’ve had one penalty all season and we don’t seem to get the rub of the green.”
One of the big reasons behind Newcastle’s success this season has been the team spirit in the camp. With an influx of five new players there is a chance that the dynamic of the changing room could change with a negative effect. However immediately after the Derby game the players held a discussion amongst themselves about how they could bounce back from their heaviest defeat of the season. Kevin Nolan is likely to have been at the forefront of the discussions as one of the club’s senior players. He is looking to get on another run like the one that has just ended. He said: “We knew there was going to be a low before the end of the season and the Derby game was it. Hopefully we are not going to have too many more. We’ve got to make sure we respond to it, that’s what’s been said as a group. We need a reaction, we want a reaction and that is what we intend to give against Swansea on Saturday. The good thing about this league is you don’t have to wait long to get it out of your system.”
An away game to fifth place Swansea City would not be the choice of many managers to try to get back to winning ways, or at least to avoid defeat. The Swans are on a good run of form and have not tasted defeat in the league for a month. Similarly to Newcastle Swansea’s success has been built on a solid defence and now the two sides have the joint best records in the division. They have both conceded only 20 goals in 29 games. The only problem for Swansea has been their lack of goals as they have been far from prolific this season.