The Britannia Stadium has never been an easy place to visit. We lost 4-0 last season and this season, Manchester United and Chelsea managed draws, whilst Liverpool suffered a defeat there. With the news that Chieck Tiote was out injured, most fans would have settled for a draw beforehand.
However, a great defensive performance from Newcastle with Demba Ba lethal at the other end, helped Newcastle to their 6th win of the season, remaining unbeaten and overtaking Chelsea into 3rd place.
Pardew would have kept the same XI for the 6th consecutive game, however Tiote’s injury allowed Danny Guthrie to slot in as a direct replacement and he played well alongside Cabaye. Despite some noises whether Davide Santon would replace either Danny Simpson or Ryan Taylor, it seemed there was no need to change our defensive line, who continue to have the best defensive record in the Premier League.
Different flanks, different roles
From my previous match preview, Stoke’s out of position left back Marc Wilson, with poor defending statistics was targeted as a possible weak link in the Stoke defence and this proved to be the case.
A long ball from Tim Krul found Leon Best, who cleverly flicked it onto space vacated by Marc Wilson. Wilson had tucked into too much, leaving Obertan too much space for him to exploit with his pace. Although his crossing has been one of his weak points this season, Obertan managed to find Ba, whose header found the back of the net.
As you can see below, the majority of Newcastle’s attacking play was focused on the right hand side (20% v 7% left), using Obertan’s pace as a useful outlet against Wilson.
Defensively, Obertan isn’t the best, however Pardew cleverly uses Obertan’s attributes elsewhere. Obertan rarely gets involved with defending his own third and is ready to pounce on the counter attack. Pardew later added that Obertan would give them 20 or 30 yards on the counter, relieving the pressure on the defence. 64% of Obertan’s passes were in the opposing half’s wing, as opposed to Gutierrez (28%).
Similar to Spurs, Gutierrez was given the role to help out Ryan Taylor to stop Jermaine Pennant providing service to Stoke’s frontline. My match preview indicated that the majority of Stoke’s crosses resulted from Pennant and Newcastle successfully defended against this. Only 4 out of 11 crosses found a team mate, with 5 being blocked – 3 from Gutierrez.
As shown below, Ryan Taylor, Gutierrez and even Yohan Cabaye helped to stifle out Stoke’s main attack from the Pennant’s flank.
Jonas Gutierrez played very well – he was involved in the most 50/50 ground duels (winning almost half), attempted the most tackles and was successful in 5 out of 7 (71%) and along with Danny Guthrie, intercepted the most passes (2).
Although he was unable to get forward as much as recent games, his defensive cover for Ryan Taylor is invaluable; an unselfish trait which bears great benefit to the club and doesn’t go unnoticed. He deservedly won man of the match and is arguably playing his best season in a black and white shirt.
Defending as a unit
Although our back four and keeper will receive a lot of plaudits for the best defence in the Premier League, the work from the midfielders helps to protect that backline.
In particular, this game proved how well the Newcastle midfielders work for the team. Yohan Cabaye’s passing was poor this game and the lowest success rate from an outfield player (only 43% successful, lowest of the season), however, he won more possession from Stoke than any other Newcastle player. Along with Ryan Taylor, he won the most possession in Newcastle’s defensive third, but Guthrie and Gutierrez also contributed. As noted before, Obertan rarely ventures into the defensive third, but still does his defensive duties further up the pitch.
Ba and Best
Demba Ba is in a rich vein of form at the moment, notching his 2nd hat trick this season and his 8th goal in his last 5 Premier League games. Although his other statistics for this game don’t look great (50% successful passes, 12% ground duels won, 0% aerial duels won), the most important statistic for a striker – 3 shots, 3 goals.
Despite not getting on the scoresheet since Aston Villa, Leon Best’s work rate shouldn’t be ignored. A willing runner for the team who is not afraid to get stuck in and this game was no different.
He was attributed with one assist, but was pivotal in all three goals. A clever flick on into space from Krul’s long kick, allowed Obertan to use his pace to beat Marc Wilson and pick out Ba for the opening goal.
For the second, a poor headed clearance from Matthew Upson landed at Best’s feet and he had to simple duty of supplying unmarked Ba in the middle of the 6 yard box.
Best was then adjudged to have been pushed in the back by Robert Huth, as Mike Dean awarded a penalty to Newcastle, which Ba confidently dispatched.
Another unselfish display from Leon Best, epitomising the team spirit and work ethic of the team.
Trappatoni has refused to pick Leon Best for the Republic of Ireland, citing that he only wanted players that worked for the team. On the night, he played better and offered more than fellow international striker Jonathan Walters and also has played and scored more than Simon Cox, who is third choice striker at West Brom.
A great tactical performance from Newcastle sees them overtake Chelsea and into 3rd position, maintaining our unbeaten record and the best defence in the league.
Stoke saw the majority of possession (56% v 44%), but rarely troubled Krul’s goal – their only shot on target was Jonathan Walter’s penalty.
There were doubts about whether Newcastle could get any result when Tiote was confirmed not to be starting, however Guthrie along with all three midfielders, did a sterling job helping to keep Stoke at bay and overall, it was an excellent defensive performance.
Up front, Demba Ba silenced Stoke’s boo boys with some clinical finishing, whilst Leon Best ably supported him. Ben Arfa and Marveaux continue to wait for their starting opportunity.
It’s an unfamiliar rosy situation at Newcastle, but it’s been deserved. It’s been a long time, since we’ve seen the work rate of a Newcastle team as good as the current team and a lot of credit has to go to Alan Pardew and his back room staff. It’s nice to hear ‘Alan Pardew’s Black and White Army’ and ‘Pardew Wonderland’ acknowledging his efforts this season.
Next up is home to Everton on Saturday – offensively not the best, but they shouldn’t be underestimated.