Monday, May 11, 2009

The Relegation Battle Heats Up for Newcastle and Middlesbrough

The relegation battle heats up with Newcastle and Middlesbrough doing battle on Monday night. The fact that Hull City lost their match against Stoke City means that neither team should settle for a draw. West Brom's win against Wigan added more pressure on both teams and now the bottom three teams are level on 31 points apiece. So this derby is a must-win game for either side and the least we can hope is for both sides to treat the match with the intensity and the effort that it warrants.

I tend to agree with Steve McMahon (now an ESPNStar soccer analyst) that he has been extremely disappointed that teams at the bottom are not showing fight and commitment to beat the drop. If we had a choice, Sunderland, Hull, Newcastle and Boro should be relegated right now! WBA should stay up simply because their playing philosophy merit another shot at the Premiership even if their defence require a complete overhaul.

Whenever I have watched Newcastle, they have been nothing but disappointing. Their form at home has been abysmal, ranking 19th in the league. They have won only 4 games at home, so much for fortress St. James Park....overall Newcastle have been winless in 10 games, dating back to February. So what does Alan Shearer do to bring some joy back to Newcastle fans?

He could start by playing his fearsome threesome. The time has come to play Owen, Viduka and Martins in a three pronged attack 4-3-3 formation. On paper, this is mouthwatering, all three are match winners in their own right and hopefully together, they can create and take chances which should come their way.
The fearsome threesome - can they save Newcastle?

Shearer need to pack the midfield with fighters and grafters. The "Dogs of War" mentality must set in - it's the fight for survival! Players who will give you 110% commitment and fight for the cause.

Nicky Butt has been one of the few committed Newcastle player. A very good midfield defensive cover for the back four. Still, he is no box-to-box player. Kevin Nolan and Jonas Gutierrez are the sort of selfless players that Newcastle need to provide the support and extra bodies at both ends of the pitch. Shearer cannot do much worse than playing Nolan and Jonas either side of Butt.

Defensively, they have been a shambles....Coloccini is not coping with the pace and power of the Premier League. Pair Steven Taylor (who can score goals as well) with the impressive Sebastien Bassong at centre defence. I do think that Damien Duff at leftback is a great idea, though. Shearer and his coaching staff need to work hard to ensure that Newcastle backline understands what defending means i.e. marking and interceptions.

On the other hand, Middlesbrough biggest problem is scoring goals. They have scored the least goals in the Premier League this season. Yet, they sold one of their biggest threats in Mido.

Also, they are woeful away from home, gaining only 8 points on the road, ranking 19th in the league. Boro's strongest area is in midfield where Tuncay, Downing and O'Neill have consistently given their all for the cause. Between them, they have contributed 28% of the total Boro goals (25) to date. More significantly, this midfield trio are responsible for 47% of the total assists (15).
Boro's midfield trio - Are they able to carry Boro over the line?

Clearly, Boro's best creative work is through the tirumvirate of Tuncay-Downing-O'Neill. Gareth Southgate must tell his players to get the ball quickly to this trio. Only when this trio control the flow of matches, will Boro have a chance of winning matches and subsequently staying in the Premiership.
The one thing that Southgate need not worry too much is defence. It is a solid flat back four with imposing physical presence and tight defending. Brad Jones have slowly matured into a very skilled goalkeeper.
If both teams play to their strengths as mentioned, they can win their next remaining matches ensuring survival for both teams. Hull City has to play Bolton away and Man Utd at home in their last two games, so no points gained is quite possible. Sunderland have Portsmouth away and Chelsea at home as their last two fixtures, again zero points could be on the cards.
This makes Newcastle's and Boro's last two matches really important six-pointers. The make or break matches, so to speak.
Another interesting fact....since 2002, there hasn't been an instance when the same three relegated clubs came straight back up to the Premier League the following season. The closest to that happening had been in the 2006-2007 season, where Sunderland and Birmingham came straight back up after relegation in 2005-2006. That just goes to show how tough it is to firstly, recover from the shock of relegation and secondly, to gain promotion back into the big time.

Notwithstanding the stats and the complicated match permutations, I have no doubt that West Brom, Boro and Newcastle can make it back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
In case you are wondering....yeah, I do believe all three will be relegated come May 24th....


Anonymous said...

Nice review....I like your article alot

FanZine said...

Thanks so much! Spend some time reading the other articles and better yet, spread the word about my blog to your friends....what did you think about the game last nite? boro looks doomed....

Anonymous said...

For a that has a youth program that is second to none, this season is really a BIG BIG disappointment. Come to think of it, I cant remember a time that they were not disappointing. From the time Kevin Keegan imploded in the final run where they were up by what 8 points to crumble like a castle made up of playing cards ... need I say more. They should be up there with the BIG BOYS !!! A youth programme that has given us Chris Waddle, Paul Gasgione, Alan Shearer just to name a few ... why oh why do they ever let their best talent leave. In Newcastle, there is only ONE CLUB ... they have the supporters, the money, the talent and yet, season after season they are just also rans. Hell, they even have 2 movies made after them "GOAL" and "GOAL 2".
Enough of Newcastle, let's go to Boro. I have never though much of them. They only contribution that they ever made to English Football is to provide England with an English Manager that led the National Team to no where. Well at least we have somthing to talk about with that "brolly" in the rain during or mamak ranting sessions. They should go down. They lack imagination for many years. They lack identity for many years. Go down, go down and don't come back up until you decide what you really want and who you want to be.

The Prophet

FanZine said...

Newcastle has yet to produce a talent for a long long time. I only remember Alan Shearer although Shay Given probably can be considered. It's that Premier League thing where owners want to buy success and Newcastle has paid the price for owners who dont know what they ought to do.
As for Boro, thats where the youth system is working though this season it is clear that the seniors arent good enough to keep Boro afloat. I still think they are better than Stoke City or Bolton so a year in the Championship will be good for them and they will come back stronger and far more equipped.

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