Saturday, November 17, 2012
Toon paying for lack of investment
Kristan Heneage, St James' Park
Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed anyone that rejected change was the architect of decay. It's those wise words that seem equally applicable to both Swansea and Newcastle - with the latter failing to adhere to his warning.
That's because in the summer many had expected a good level of investment from Newcastle. Defensive cover, along with options in midfield and perhaps even a striker was the replenishment list required if the club were to stand a chance of maintaining their top five status. Numerous names surfaced but in the end, Vurnon Anita, Romain Amalfitano and a handful of youngsters were the results of the summers dealings.
It's for those reasons that Newcastle find themselves closer to the relegation zone than the top five. Alan Pardew was forced to call upon youngsters such as Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and Gael Bigirimana, and while the trio are talented, they are not ready to shoulder the burden or intensity of a well drilled Swansea side bristling with experience, something manager Pardew conceded after the match.
Joy Division's 'Love will tear us apart' was the pre-match music selection - and it summates the fitting dichotomy of opinion forming in the heads of Newcastle's fan base. Some blame owner Mike Ashley for the lack of spending when the club needed it most - others lay the blame with manager Alan Pardew and his tedious long ball style that so often isolates the mercurial talents of Hatem Ben Arfa, an amalgamation of both is the likely explanation.
By contrast their opponents Swansea had similar expectations in the summer. The installing of Michael Laudrup led many to question how much deviation would occur from Brendan Rodgers possession-based style. The truth is the changes are small but noticeable. Too often criticised for lacking purpose with their possession under Rodgers, Swansea look to move the ball forward and quickly, preferring interchanges to expansive play.
The monotonous triangles in defence are now replaced with an attacking triumvirate that display an impressive understanding already - something that has surprised their manager given how little time they have had to acquaint themselves with each other.
At the head of that triangle is Michu. Operating as a false nine, he provides an improvement on the departed Gylfi Sigurdsson and inhabits the space in such a way that makes him difficult to mark and in truth pointless - as runs from his supporting cast constantly open space in an impressive way.
He received an equally positive billing from his manager after the game, Laudrup denoting an esoteric insight into the £2 million signing from Rayo Vallacano: "When we have the ball he can play the possession game, and then when we come forward he always comes from the second line, arriving, instead of staying there. He's not a centre forward like [Demba] Ba, but when he arrives he is so difficult nearly impossible to mark."
Laudrup was right about the difficulty in marking the Spaniard - with Swansea's opening goal proving their current side could be clinical on the breakaway. Arguably against the run of play in the context of the second half, the goal arrived after a bright start from Newcastle, they were fast and vibrant, but their chances weren't taken and they were accordingly punished. Michu's impressive display called to an end with 10 minutes remaining. The most likely candidate for man of the match giving a thumbs up to the pocket of travelling fans, before exchanging a high five with his manager.
After the goal Laudrup quietly returned to his dugout - he had remained calm throughout the game and his Swansea side were now comfortable. With Newcastle chasing the game in the same way they had a week prior against West Ham, the Welsh side could use the pace of Nathan Dyer and Pablo Hernandez to catch their opponents unawares.
Which they did with their second - a shot from Danny Graham leaving Jonathan De Guzman with the simplest of tap ins to double his side's lead, destroying any semblance of hope the game could be salvaged among the increasingly impatient home fans. The second giving further credence to the idea that Swansea had evolved from the side that joined the Premier League in 2011.
Blunt, and lacking in any real output, Alan Pardew cut a disconsolate figure on the touchline - hands on hips, his supporters voicing their displeasure in his direction. A polarising scene when compared with the Swansea fans, now choosing to initiate a disco in the oxygen thin part of St James' Park. Few could begrudge them a sing and dance after such an impressive performance - especially as it seemed the best way to keep warm.
For those who hadn't filed out by the time the fourth official's board indicated four minutes of added time, a professing of their love for Newcastle right as Hatem Ben Arfa blazed an effort high and wide. They were rewarded for their faith via a Demba Ba consolation header, but that's all it was as the haunting Clint Eastwood by the Gorillaz provided a fittingly gloomy accompaniment to the home fans trudge out into the cold Newcastle streets.