As outright pessimists by default, all of us Newcastle United fans will be feeling a slight contraction in the area remarkably near the sphincter this weekend and next as we take ourselves perilously close to a, frankly well deserved, return to the Football League Championship for 2013-14.
Anybody who has seen Newcastle at their worst this season will have no hesitation in denying that they have been shamefully poor against their opposition and even when they have won they have, at times, played with the cohesiveness and fragility of pre-World War One Europe.
It wasn’t too long ago that similar performances and feelings were being shared around the NE1 area. Four years ago, in farcical circumstances within the club, Newcastle United were relegated and humiliated in a very shameful fashion. This season has been very solid behind the scenes in comparison, but performances on the pitch have not been – from the naked eye – too far away from those of four years ago despite the playing staff being of an arguably higher standard.
With 38 points, Newcastle have already surpassed their 08-09 tally of 34 this season with 2 games to go. Looking deeper into the points collection, they already have three more wins to their name than the total that they mustered four years ago, but perhaps most importantly and – so far – the stand out statistic as to why they find themselves in the trouble that they are in is their number of losses.
In 2008-09, Newcastle finished losers on 18 occasions, the last of those coming on the final day of the season against Aston Villa.
So what is their tally of losses so far this season with two games to play?
One could caveat that record with the Europa League card, but in all honesty with a squad as deep – predominantly thinking about talent – as Newcastle have this season in comparison with the 2008-09 squad they really should be doing better, even if a few players do return slightly tired from a trip to the continent.
We can also see from the statistics given below that the defensive record for the Geordies this season is far worse already. Seven more goals have been conceded in this current campaign than the relegation season of four years ago at a rate per game increased by 0.28 – bearing in mind that 2008-09 was extremely inconsistent regarding management and therefore tactics, that’s a severely destitute reflection on this season.
(2008-09 statistics on left of graphics- 2012-13 on the right)
If we take a closer look at the defending side of the argument, there is further nourishment for the pessimistic mind. The statistics suggest that Newcastle were defensively more stable four years ago! The 08-09 defence pulled off many more interceptions than this current force, something that will no doubt snuff out many an attack from their opposition just as their mouths begin to water with anticipation.
Looking further down the list, NUFC have already outdone themselves again and they won’t be proud of this one either…
Over the last 8 months they have averaged one defensive error every 90 minutes.
That’s one defensive error EVERY game.
When you consider that four years ago they weren’t far off achieving one once every two games, I’m beginning to wonder how Alan Pardew’s men aren’t not only looking down the barrel but cleaning off the remains of their brains from the changing room wall.
Encouragingly, the comparisons to draw aren’t all negative for this current crop of players. Alan Pardew does have them playing a more attractive, passing game going forward and the players are of a higher calibre, many will still argue.
One simple look at passing stats confirms this.
Open play passes are being performed much more often and are being completed at a much greater rate, even if there is a difference in the weighting of areas in which they occur. I would infer from the 2008 statistics that the ball spent a good amount of time in the attacking half of the pitch for Newcastle, but they were extremely wasteful with it. No doubt, Joe Kinnear and Iain Dowie’ old school long ball train of thought had some impact on this and, as aforementioned, the more passing styled game of the current side has overseen a growth in successful passing statistics.
You may have noticed that in 2008-09 the pass completion levels in the defensive zone weren’t as impressive as they have been this season. Could that be an influence on the amount of goals scored in each season?Is the reason that this current Newcastle side is looking in a marginally better position the fact that they are able to regurgitate the ball up the field more successfully?
Goals for records of 40 (08-09) and 43 (12-13) could be a taster as to why Newcastle will still save themselves.
It’s a safe assumption and the statistics confirm it.
Whilst this current side is perhaps defensively weaker, they are helping themselves across the line by way of their increased effort in breaching the target goal. Take a look at the stats again. They have bettered themselves in every area of attempts at goal – most impressively in their number of shots on target, which in turn trouble the goalkeeper.
Yes, there are some instances where the difference is minute, but across the course of a season those differences translate into goals. Even with the slightest of improvement in minutes per goal and with a bigger number of shots on target, the outcomes make a huge impact on whether a club will sink or swim into another season of Premier League football.
Newcastle should be ok, though I’m sure that nobody on Tyneside will let themselves get into that mindset before it is mathematically confirmed. They face QPR this weekend, which should be an interesting encounter because the hoops could turn up and try to win an ounce of pride back by finishing with two wins, or they could continue their poor showing from throughout the season.
When Arsenal travel to St. James’ Park next weekend, Newcastle fans will be terrified of the worst happening if they were not to take any points from the already relegated QPR.
Like so many end of season run-ins, the only thing that is certain is that it will be unbearable!
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com - Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]
Luke Peter Watson is a writer who likes to reflect upon both Football and Cricket. His most passionate musings are Italian football, Hampshire County Cricket Club and Shola Ameobi.
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