Newcastle United progressed into the third round of the Capitol One League Cup thanks to late match goals from brothers Shola and Sammy Ameobi. That much is the easy part. Sifting through the hyperbole and divergent opinions is... well... a little less so. Alan Pardew made a raft of changes to the squad that drew 0-0 with West Ham on the weekend, although by the time it was all said and done, 8 of the 14 players used by Newcastle against Morecambe had seen action in the draw at St. James' Park. The match could have had a completely different narrative, however, had 45 minutes of good pressure by The Shrimps paid off.
Morecambe came out and did several things that were not surprising. They went right at Newcastle, pressuring the ball and generally depriving the young players who were likely to need a few minutes to get their feet underneath them leading to a very nervy and unsettled start from the Alan Pardew's side. The word start here is used loosely to mean "the first 45 minutes of the match". Taking their cue from Manchester City, perhaps, Morecambe gave Newcastle very little time on the ball and were rewarded with very little continuity of possession from the visiting side leading to attacking opportunity after attacking opportunity for the League Two side and also causing (for the second match in a row for Newcastle) the striker (Yoan Gouffran) to feel the need to drop way back into the formation to try to collect the ball and facilitate attacking play making. Add in to that the poor performance of Haris Vuckic, who largely seemed to get lost in his 45 minutes - potentially sealing his rumored loan move to Bradford City. Newcastle would manage a shot on target in the first half from a tame Dan Gosling header while Jim Bentley's men were streaming forward in waves.
In Ryan Williams, The Shrimps have a player who can take free kicks and corner kicks with dangerous effect; they attacked freely and were able to earn a number of free kicks and corner kicks that provided for several of their best chances of the match. In fact, but for some Danny Simpson #OffTheLine type heroics from Crystal Palace transfer (except not) Dan Gosling the match could have been completely different. Twice Morecambe decimated the Newcastle defense for a free header and twice Gosling was there - once sprawling on the goal line near Rob Elliot's right post to keep the ball out of the net and once hugging Elliot's left post, somehow managing to keep his arm out of the way and the whole ball from crossing the whole line. Remove even one of those or of a couple of very good saves made by the ex-Charlton Athletic keeper and the match could have been a completely different proposition.
They also selected a Newcastle United player (Mathieu Debuchy) and had a "right good go" at him with a rather ill-timed challenge being the most notable but Kevin Ellison putting his boot into Debuchy's hip during an aerial challenge being a less obvious example. This is not to imply that the match was overarched by dirty tactics by any means, but you can perhaps see the point in trying to get a player's head out of the game in this manner and seeing what rewards might be received by way of the referee's pocket. After a somewhat shaky start, Debuchy settled in and eventually the hard fouls and boots to the side subsided, if not the trying to get under his skin. It was between he and Kevin Ellison that we were informed late in the first half of the broadcast: "words of a non-pacifist nature have been exchanged".
Shola Ameobi was on for Hariis Vuckic at halftime and whether that had the most direct effect or not, Newcastle finally came into the match in the second half. Possession was kept, defensively the NUFC center backs managed to settle down and get their minds right (particularly captain for a day Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa) and the screws were slowly being turned on Morecambe. Aside from the palpable visual relief of seeing Newcastle controlling the game after having watched the first half, very little came of the pressure that came from extended possession. Except for that wide open chance for Shola that he put in row ZZ... By midway through the second half, the match had largely turned, with Morecambe now looking to catch Newcastle on the break more than pressing constant attack - which still lead to plenty of nervous moments for the 1800 some Geordies who made the trek to The Globe Arena.
Still seeking the breakthrough as the knots in the collective stomach of the Toon Army grew tighter and tighter, Alan Pardew subbed Hatem Ben Arfa on for Yoan Gouffran who had not had his finest match in the black and white stripes. The move was greeted with much expectation and not-so-hushed whispers of what the magic man would be able to do to the Morecambe defense with his tremendous on the ball skill. He did try to produce one of those moments once or twice just after he was introduced, but credit to The Shrimps defense, they stood him up and dispossessed him rather easily. For the best part of his 20+ minutes, however, HBA played a rather grown up match. It was his pass from a deeply withdrawn central position to Shola Ameobi that set up Newcastle's breakthrough and it would be his pass that found Sammy Ameobi as well, leading to the breakaway deep in injury time that put the match out of reach.
This kind of match is a no-win for an unpopular manager with a squad which the support base perceives as under-performing. If Newcastle were to have lost, all unholy hell would have broken loose and it's not hard to envision a scenario that such a result would have ended up costing Pardew his job. Win any way other than convincingly (16-0, probably) and the narrative would be what we have: Newcastle struggled to beat a League Two side and why didn't Alan Pardew send out the first team to make it a 16-0 result? Let's be honest. The first half was dire. Morecambe had been dangerous enough that they could have been in the lead. On the flip side of that coin, however, Newcastle had done enough to not be behind.
With the rampant frustration surrounding the lack of players being brought in to the squad by Bedo Fif and the fact that Alan Pardew's bi-annual mail-in of the Manchester City match happened in the first match of the season, the spin was always going to be negative on this result. We were not the only Premier League side to struggle with lower league competition, however: Everton needed 114 minutes to find a (lucky) winner against League One Stevenage Borough. Fulham required an extremely lucky penalty miss rebound to hit the back of League Two Burton Albion's goalkeeper and in during the penalty shootout for their pass to the next round. Our friends from down the road were 12 minutes away from being dumped out by League One MK Dons before managing to explode just in time to earn their ticket.
These matches in the League Cup are difficult matches to navigate. The opponent has nothing to lose and much to gain. Morecambe were surely emboldened by the groundswell of 'It's Newcastle United - this could be our Magic Of The Cup UPSET", the TV cameras and radio announcers waiting for their anticipated schadenfreude. With many neutrals and probably most gamblers (including many from within the Toon Army) against them, Newcastle managed to get the result and that is what we have to take away from this. Nothing more, nothing less. Is Alan Pardew clueless as to how to use the players at his disposal? Perhaps. Does Joe Kinnear need to get off his duff and "get one over the line"? Of course. For now, though, Fulham are coming to St. James' Park on Saturday and we've got a September date with Leeds United.