In passing what was a sterner examination than Club Bruge may have been anticipated to set, Newcastle moved three points clear at the top of Europa League Group D, taking a major step towards qualifying for the last 32 of the competition in the process.
Gabriel Obertan’s early second-half strike, following fine set-up work by Sammy Ameobi, was sufficient to seal a 1-0 win for a side unrecognisable from that which drew with Sunderland last Sunday. Obertan, Ameobi and Shane Ferguson in particular justified their inclusions with impressive displays, as Alan Pardew made no fewer than nine changes to his starting XI.
The only players to retain their places were Davide Santon and Cheick Tiote, whose involvement was largely dictated as a result of the three game suspension from Premier League action he will now serve following the red card he received at the Stadium of Light. Not until Swansea visit St. James’ Park on November 17 will Tiote be able to return to domestic duties, during which time his manager intends to address the on-field disciplinary issues which threaten to overshadow the Ivorian’s undisputed talents and importance to Newcastle.
This potential costliness of Tiote’s forthcoming absence from Premier League duty to which Pardew refers will ultimately be determined by the performances of his deputy. The most likely candidates – although 19-year-old Gael Bigirimana should not be discounted after giving a good account of himself against Brugge – appear to be James Perch and Vurnon Anita.
Not unaccustomed to playing the role of defensive midfielder, Perch made his case to step into the breach by producing a solid performance after coming on as a substitute against Sunderland to, compensating for his teammate’s dismissal. On that occasion Perch was deployed ahead of Anita on the basis that, given his unassuming style of play, he would be better suited to protecting Newcastle’s back four amidst a frenetic local derby. Whilst that decision taken by Pardew was justified, Anita also has strong defensive qualities, along with an ability to use the ball economically and retain possession which outweighs that of Perch.
As such this could conceivably give Anita the upper hand over Perch to start alongside the instrumental Yohan Cabaye against West Bromwich Albion at St. James’ Park on Sunday, since the ex-Ajax midfielder’s greater passing powers will be more attuned to helping Newcastle assume the ascendancy that Pardew will seek and the Toon Army expect.
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