Location: The Reebok Stadium
Early prospects: It’s boxing day, and it’s away…
Newcastle take to the road again this Boxing day looking to halt a retched run of results, against Bolton Wanderers, in what is traditionally the least point wielding fixture of an NUFC season.
The utter deflation felt after the loss to West Bromwich Albion was plain to see across players and fans alike, with the inevitable frustrations in the rank and file becoming more vocal throughout the evening and into the night. In fairness, those frustrations have some ground as NUFC sought to become their own worst enemy on the pitch again. However, dismay from those who turn up with a primary role to support the team regardless of performance can only further aggravate the problems that have befouled us on the most deflating of runs. As a collective, we have to hold our nerve and fervently encourage those representing us on the pitch no matter how disappointed we are with them: you reap what you sow…
Our opponents today come into this game looking for their first back-to-back wins of this season – having lost a devastating five in a row before winning at Blackburn in their last fixture.
NUFC are assessing the fitness of Davide Santon, and are likely to reintroduce Ryan Taylor to left back as a precaution. Other than that there are no new injuries of note, however the visible lack of match sharpness of Cheick Tiote was something of alarming concern against West Brom and could lead to him being replaced by Yohan Cabaye, returning from suspension. Although having mixed involvement in his PL debut, Haris Vuckic could likely keep his place after a few memorable surges from midfield. The only question is whether Alan Pardew will revert to his would be usual first choice centre partnership for the experience (in particular the positional discipline Vuckic failed to show) away from home.
Bolton have confirmed they have already opened talks regarding the sale of sought after defender Gary Cahill – despite the proximity to the transfer window opening it’s still expected that he will take on this fixture. Full back Marcos Alonso suffered a foot injury in the crucial win over Blackburn and will miss this fixture, likely to be replaced by Paul Robinson. Otherwise, a very similar line-up is expected.
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
Having lost a stunning 13 out of their 17 games (more than bottom club Blackburn), Bolton are looking every bit as weak as their lowly position suggests. However, NUFC have presented their own weakness for all to see in recent fixtures, and it’s likely it’s not went un-noticed in Greater Manchester.
• Set piece danger: Bolton have scored 1/3 of their goals (7) so far this season by way of set-pieces. NUFC with Steven Taylor would have been well equipped to deal with this threat, but with James Perch (through no fault of his own) lacking the raw physical attributes to comfortably control aerial situations we look vulnerable to any well placed ball into our own penalty area. The re-introduction of Mike Williamson would go a significant way to nullifying this threat, but with his fitness still under scrutiny we may have to keep waiting.
• Threat from wide: By way of the direct enthusiasm and pace Mark Davies and Martin Petrov. Bolton direct an average 38% of their play down their left side – prospectively facing Ryan Taylor. Although the cover of Gutierrez will be again available, the likely result would see out left flank limited as an attacking threat and allow Bolton to gain a regular attacking foothold themselves.
Perhaps the best strategy for this fixture is a return to the early season success story – a disciplined, organised performance looking to grind out a result rather than try waltz to one…
• Lower the line: Without doubt, NUFC’s funadmental undoing against West Brom was the high line which allowed their faster, more enthusiastic strikers get in behind our line with relative ease. Bolton may not have the same creative and striking talent as The Baggies, but enough pace and enthusiasm in their front two to take advantage again if we push up recklessly.
• Target Robinson: With Marcos Alonso out injured, veteran Paul Robinson will likely be his replacement at full-back. With pace to burn, Gabriel Obertan should look to make the most of his advantage to get behind the Bolton back line and provide service to the centre. As noted in the ‘Key Points’ analysis of the West Brom game, NUFC gained little to no service from either flank and instead looked to aimlessly chip the ball to Demba Ba (who to his credit battled to create his own chances from this). NUFC would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore this opportunity.
Final thought and gut feeling:
Had we played this game five weeks ago, a win would have been thoroughly expected. However, the entailing results (regardless of opposition) have gone some distance to knock confidence and discipline out of an NUFC side (and support) who showed every unwanted attribute a wobbling team could do against West Brom. Add to this the factor of it being Boxing Day – a day on which we haven’t won any away game (or played particularly well) within living memory and the signs aren’t great. However, we are playing a struggling side and we do still have the advantage of an in-form Demba Ba to call upon so there are signs that all could not be as doom and gloom as at first glance: score draw.
On a final note: A sincere and fully appreciated thank-you to everyone who has read our posts, commented (constructively!) and been involved with our twitter this year – you are the reason we do this and enjoy doing this! Merry Christmas one and all!