QPR arrived at St James’ Park on Sunday with Mark Hughes looking for his first win as newly appointed manager.
Without the services of Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote, who both travelled to the African Cup of Nations, Pardew opted to bring in Leon Best, rather then Hatem Ben Arfa – his preferred 442 formation of two big strikers leading the line. Danny Guthrie returned from injury to slot in alongside Yohan Cabaye, whilst the team remained the same from the win against Manchester United.
Hughes had the statistic of never having lost the first game of managing a new club and never lost to Newcastle in his managerial career, however, his side without three of their most influential players – JoeyBarton (suspended), Alejandro Faurlin (injured) and Adel Tarrabt (international duty) – never looked like gaining anything from this match.
A professional, steady and controlled performance with a piece of brilliant skill from Leon Best to score the only goal this match, resulted in Newcastle coming away with all three points and another clean sheet.
QPR off to a good start, but falter
QPR’s game plan was to get players behind the ball and attempt to exploit Newcastle on the counter attack and it worked well in the first 25 minutes, as Newcastle struggled to find their feet and control the game. During that time, QPR created several chances, attempting 7 shots in total, including a Shaun Wright Phillips effort that hit the woodwork.
Seemingly, another tactic deployed by Hughes was to try and rough the Newcastle midfield. Perhaps sensing a weakness having Cabaye and Guthrie in the middle and without Tiote in the team, he sensed QPR could do well if they got stuck in. The chalkboard above shows the 5 fouls that were given in just over half and hour of play.
Once Shaun Derry was booked after only 20 minutes of play and narrowly avoiding his second yellow minutes afterwards, he played cautiously and as a result, QPR had lost their fight and tenacity in the middle of the pitch. His midfield partner, Buzsaky is not that type of player and without Barton and Faurlin in the centre of midfield, QPR lacked a ball winner and consequently, saw little of the ball after Shaun Derry’s booking.
Newcastle forced to change to Plan B
Another reason why Newcastle played better after the first 20 minutes was the enforced substitution for the injured Yohan Cabaye. Hatem Ben Arfa replaced the Frenchman and Pardew changed from 442 to 4231, with Guthrie and Taylor playing as defensive midfielders, Best dropped to left wing, Gutierrez central, Ben Arfa right with Ameobi leading the line.
With the extra man in midfield and QPR sitting back, Newcastle dominated possession (61% v 39%). However, with QPR having bodies behind the ball, there was very little space in between the lines to thread balls through – which resulted in more shots from distance. 6 out of 11 Newcastle’s shots were from outside of the area. Newcastle also looked to cross from the wings, but QPR defended this well – only 1 out of 16 crosses were successful.
Overall, QPR limited Newcastle to few chances on goal, as they cleared their lines when they got the opportunity. As shown by the chalkboards below, QPR made 43 clearances in total (nearly 1 every 2 minutes) compared to only 11 by Newcastle, emphasising the amount of pressure they were under.
Davide Santon had another solid performance in the left back role – even though there was little to deal with defensively, he supported the attack very well.
He had more touches of the ball than any player on the pitch (96), attempted and completed more passes than anyone else as well (74/85). Statistics more akin to a central midfielder rather than a left back.
Adding to that, he won possession of the ball more times than any other player (13) – winning the ball back on 8 occasions in his own defensive third and on 5 occasions in the middle third – only bettered by Danny Guthrie.
It will be difficult to see Ryan Taylor regain his position at left back, should Santon keeps putting in performances like this and against Manchester United. With a natural left back, it allows Gutierrez to venture further forward – as shown by his late goal against Blackburn in the FA Cup and Pardew having the confidence of moving Gutierrez away from this left wing berth. Arguably, a tactic that Pardew would have been reluctant to employ if Ryan Taylor was still playing at left back.
As shown earlier in the season when Tiote was out injured, Danny Guthrie has shown that he is an able replacement. At still only 24 years old, he has matured since Newcastle’s return to the Premier League and with Cabaye substituted early on in the match, Guthrie looked confident as Newcastle’s main central midfielder.
Showing his confidence, he had 94 touches of the ball – only bettered by Davide Santon – and completed 82% of his passes. He won 4 out of 8 ground duels, won both aerial duels and won his only tackle. Not only that, he won possession of the ball in the middle on 6 instances, more than any Newcastle player and made 4 interceptions. As shown below, his interceptions weren’t confined to one area of the pitch.
After an initial shaky 25 minutes, Newcastle dominated this match, which proved to be quite comfortable in the end.
Although it wasn’t a vintage performance to watch, it was professional and Newcastle looked to be in control after a rocky start. It was good to see that the team coped without Ba, Tiote and Cabaye. Although I’ve picked out Santon and Guthrie, Leon Best also had a good game. As usual, he worked tirelessly for the team and topped that off with an excellent piece of skill to create some space and to wrong foot Paddy Kenny, to neatly finish with his weaker foot.
The result means Newcastle leap frog Liverpool into 6th place and equal on points with Arsenal with a slightly inferior goal difference. An amazing achievement considering the spending power of the teams amongst us.
Next up is a visit to Craven Cottage to face Fulham – a ground that Newcastle haven’t won since 2007/8, when a certain Joey Barton slotted away a penalty in the last minute of the game to win 1-0.