My favorite soccer podcast is "Men in Blazers." The combination of Roger Bennett and Michael Davis makes for wonderful comedic riffs on the Premiership. This season, they've spoken a lot about the success of the "smalls" (i.e., players like Hazard, Dzeko, and Suarez) against the "talls" (i.e. players like everyone on the pitch today). The argument is that players who are small and quick, following the prototype of Messi and Ronaldo, have a distinct advantage is today's game of breathtaking runs and fast paced attacking. Meanwhile, the tall, strong brand of player that defined much of the previous decade's success, players like Drogba and Crouch, and our own wayward son Andy Carroll, have lessened their effectiveness as the goal keeping has gotten better and the back lines have gotten quicker.
All of this is an extended prologue into what was today's mostly lethargic contest between enigmatic West Brom and a lumbering shell of Newcastle United. Both teams had an overall "tall" lineup, and watching our resident "small," HBA, exploit it was a wonderful sight to behold. Newcastle started the game well with strong possession and a cool, calculated attack. West Brom's counter was sharp, though, and Krul was relied upon heavily for much of the first half, especially Lukaku's great run in the 24th minute. Krul's aggressiveness and decision making kept West Brom at bay, and our efforts were eventually rewarded with a wonderful blast from Ba, assisted from a great Krul clearance followed by an Ameobi chip.
Newcastle had come out in a 4-3-3, but Ba was left mostly alone in the middle, while HBA and Ameobi tried to circulate the ball outside the box. Ameobi (much like Ba often is) appeared stagnated by the role, and most of game he seemed frustrated and sluggish. Ben Arfa made a BRILLIANT run in the 29th minute that resulted in an absolute howler from Shola, and the look on his face afterwards said more than enough. There were definitely calls for him to come off at the half.
In the second half, Newcastle's back line finally broke, as Lukaku finally made us pay with a solid shot in the 55th. Lukaku is definitely a star in the making, and I quiver every time I think about he and Hazard playing together next year at Stamford Bridge. Regardless, Newcastle appeared to get some wind knocked out of their sails by the goal, and proceeded to maintain possession in a slow, defensive mindset for most the half. Obertan and Cisse came on at the 62nd, but neither provided much spark immediately. Ba's foot was tweaked in the 73rd, and Sammy (who had received some lovely accolades from his older brother this week) came on. Newcastle looked dangerous and West Brom defensive for the last 10 minutes, but it appeared to be another frustrating point at home was on its way. In the 90th, Cisse connected on a great shot, and Newcastle absolutely stole the three points away to much applause. It was kinda awesome.
This was a HUGE win for Newcastle. 9 games into the season, Newcastle sit in 10th place, but they're only three points behind the 5th placed Everton. With Liverpool, West Ham, and Swansea looming, Newcastle have a great shot over the next few weeks to finish November back in the Top 6. Some more Cisse magic certainly wouldn't hurt.