Newcastle United somehow managed to return from south Wales with a point despite being outplayed for almost the whole 90 minutes. A late Andy Carroll header brought the score to 1-1 against Swansea City but it was another disappointing performance from Chris Hughton’s men.
Whilst their home form has been exceptional, their form away from the comforts of St James’ Park is now becoming a real cause for concern. Newcastle have not won in seven games away from home and with the exception of their recent 5-1 win over Cardiff, have not performed anywhere near the best of late. The sign of a good team is getting a result when not playing at your best and this seems to be a recurring theme with the Magpies for much of this season. Against Swansea on Saturday they produced a performance possibly even worse than their 3-0 loss to Derby County. For much of the game Swansea passed their way comfortably around their opponents and looked one of the more attractive footballing sides in the Championship. In stark contrast, Newcastle struggled to put more than two passes together and often resorted to lumping the ball forward to Carroll as their only outlet. If the hosts had been more clinical with their chances and had a striker of real quality it may have been a different story.
Despite their struggles since the turn of the year, Newcastle have not been really been punished by their rivals in the league. In fact at the weekend the Magpies were able to extend their lead over third placed Nottingham Forest to five points and also returned to the top of the table. Forest again suffered a defeat while West Brom were in FA Cup action, with the added bonus for Newcastle of having to play a midweek replay to decide the result after they drew at Reading. The Magpies now have some home comforts to look forward to with two winnable matches on the trot against Coventry City and Preston North End. It would appear that a lot of Newcastle’s recent problems have stemmed from a midfield that has been malfunctioning of late. In particular the performances of Kevin Nolan, who for much of the season has been a major asset, is a cause for concern. Nolan offered very little against Swansea and gave the ball away repeatedly. Danny Guthrie did not look comfortable out on the left-wing and when he plays out wide has a tendency to keep cutting inside and offering very little width. One possible solution for Hughton could be to move Guthrie into his preferred central role and give the jaded Nolan a bit of a breather. Another option that could soon be available in central midfield is Joey Barton who is nearing a return from a foot injury. The controversial midfielder should be available for action by the end of the month.
Hughton felt that his side were worthy of a draw despite most neutrals feeling that Swansea were far and away the better side. For much of the season Hughton has tried not to criticise his players in the media and he reverted to type following the Swansea game. He said: “We weren’t at our best, but because of the way we approached that last period, I thought we deserved something. I thought you had to give credit to our players in the end because we pushed and became a little bit braver in the way we played. The last week has shown us something we’ve known all along – it’s a very tough division, and anybody who felt we were going to walk away with this division was certainly going to be wrong. It’s a hard, relentless season, with periods where it’s game after game. You have to be able to ride the highs and lows, and you just hope that when you have your lows and dips in form, you can still get something from the games.”
Newcastle make a quick return to league action with a home game against Coventry City on Wednesday night. They could be boosted by the return of Argentinean winger Jonas Gutierrez, who missed the Swansea game as a precaution, but Shola Ameobi will miss out with a hamstring injury. Opponents Coventry have recently moved into the top half of the league table and have been on a steady run of form. Former Coventry striker Leon Best made a good impression when he came off the bench against Swansea and may get a starting berth against his old club.
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