Newcastle United ended a year of plenty of positives with a familiar sense of disappointment at Anfield. Despite taking an early lead the Magpies struggled to make much of an impact on the game and could have few complaints about the final scoreline.
Alan Pardew provided one major shock in his starting line-up with Harris Vuckic lining up as an extra midfielder as the manager abandoned his usual 4-4-2 formation. It remains to be seen what Hatem Ben Arfa has to do to make the starting XI as the flamboyant Frenchman was once again only given a late cameo from the bench to make an impact. There are doubts over Ben Arfa’s fitness and work ethic but he does at least provide something a bit different.
After showing plenty of promise against West Brom young Vuckic struggled to make as much of an impression as his team mates were often wasteful in possession. With the home side adopting an aggressive pressing stagey Newcastle were given little time to pick their passes. It did not help that the Magpies’ widemen were unable to create many goalscoring chances for their dangerman Demba Ba. Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan gave their opposing full backs few problems as the pair continued their recent struggles.
Despite the manner of his team’s defeat Alan Pardew chose to focus more on the strides the Magpies have made this year. Although there has been the usual rollercoaster of emotions on Tyneside there is a feeling that Pardew is stabilising the club into a solid Premier League outfit. He told the BBC>/i>: “We’ve done brilliant, we’ve got some very good players and we’ve had a really, really good calendar year. We need to take that now into next year, and if we do anything like this last year, we may surprise ourselves and the opposition in the league.” Perhaps the manager’s biggest concern will be how bridge the gap between their current seventh position and the top six. On the evidence of Friday night’s game there is still a big gap between the two teams despite just a few points separating them in the league.
Things will get no easier in the New Year with Manchester United the first visitors to St James’ Park in 2012. Former Red Devil Gabriel Obertan has suffered a foot injury and will miss out. Pardew will be hoping that African duo Cheik Tiote and Ba can both play in the game before they head for international duty for several weeks. The manager is also hoping that Yohan Cabaye will avoid any censure for a dangerous challenge on Liverpool’s Jay Spearing.
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