Newcastle United have been in a free fall for months. Eight consecutive losses were finally halted by a draw Saturday against West Brom, but that still means Newcastle are engulfed in a nine-game winless drought. The last time NUFC failed to achieve a win in 10-straight matches was in 2009 and if you need a history lesson on what that led to, read this:
When you start really analyzing what ails Newcastle United, it's easy to see how the Magpies find themselves in this mess.
Quite simply: set-piece defending.
During this nine-match winless run, the Magpies have surrendered 19 goals. Nearly half of those have come off set pieces.
It's unbelievable when you think about a Barclays Premier League team (at least for the next two weeks) being unable to defend on free kicks and corner kicks.
Case in point the last two matches against fellow second-half-of-the table teams Leicester and West Brom.
It has gotten to the point for fans that we hold our breaths every time a ball is cleared behind the goal to give away a corner or when any NUFC player challenges near the box because we fear a whistle and a free kick is to follow.
As soon as it happens, you can just feel the confidence from the opposition as it floods the box with more attackers. On the flip side of the coin is the visible dread and uneasiness from Newcastle players and fans.
Exhibit A: Saturday at home against West Brom
Newcastle defender Vurnon Anita concedes a corner kick in the 7th minute in order to relieve some pressure. A seemingly safe move to thwart a potential goal-scoring chance. But for Newcastle lining up to defend a corner presents a goal-scoring opportunity for the opposition and two seconds later, West Brom's Craig Dawson got away from his marker and delivered a pinpoint header -- that lucky for NUFC careened off the right post.
Newcastle did not give up another set piece until the 31st minute of the match. Again it was a defender, this time Jonas Gutierrez, willing to bring down a player to stop a potential attack. Seconds later, another West Brom player was afforded a wide-open header, this time off a free kick. Unfortunately for NUFC, the player was forward Victor Anichebe and he did not miss.
Exhibit B: May 2 at Leicester
It did not take long for Newcastle's set-piece deficiencies to rear their ugly head. In the opening minute of the match, Daryl Janmaat conceded a corner to relieve pressure on the defense. Seconds later, Leicester's Leonardo Ulloa got away from his marker and put his header into the back of the net. In the 17th minute a foul from Janmaat gave away a free kick and Leicester took advantage of Newcastle's set-piece ineptitude again, this time with a cross into Wes Morgan found the back of the net.
Exhibit C, D, E, F: Losses to Swansea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal
In all four of these losses – all part of the 8-match losing streak – Newcastle gave up at least one set-piece goal. Against Arsenal, both of the Gunners goals came off set pieces.
Exhibit G: The surge by Newcastle during September-December
You know where we are going with this. It was a great Halloween, Thanksgiving and early December period for Newcastle fans as the Magpies delivered a terrific run of results which included wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. Starting with a Sept. 29 win over Stoke, the Magpies racked up 23 out of 30 possible points!
How many set-piece goals did Newcastle concede during this run?
Chelsea scored on a set piece before Newcastle rallied back to win 2-1.
Now this is not a stone-cold solution to the Magpies problems, but the evidence presented gives a pretty good argument on Newcastle's map to success against QPR and at home for the final match against West Ham.
Defend set pieces.