Match analysis: Newcastle United 0 Fulham 0
THREE quarters of the way into a game fully deserving its last-on-Match of the Day billing, one backseat manager had clearly had enough. “You’ve got subs you know!” he implored Chris Hughton.
Had Hughton taken the hint and turned around what would he have found? Steven Taylor, a centre-back yet to play first-team football after injury this season; veteran defender Sol Campbell; Alan Smith, a holding midfielder who has never scored for Newcastle.
All three would have been ideal for closing out a game, but the Magpies were chasing. Long since written off, Xisco was only on the bench for the third time this season. Wayne Routledge offers frightening pace, but has not put it to good use this season. Nile Ranger’s talent is still to make its mark on the Premier League.
Two long months before the transfer window opens – an opportunity Hughton says he has no intention of using – the cupboard is pretty bare.
Without Hatem Ben Arfa or the suspended Joey Barton there is not the guile to prise open teams determined to avoid defeat as the last two visitors to St James’. There is a Plan A and a B, but not the C and D needed in the Premier League, nor the depth for three games in a week.
With Cheik Tioté joining Barton on the naughty step for Saturday’s trip to surprise package Bolton Wanderers, things could get worse before they get better. Defensively, Newcastle are fine. For the second weekend running Tim Krul claimed a clean sheet with some impressive shot-stopping. If the Dutchman can sharpen up his work on crosses, he has a bright future.
Since his last season of top-flight football, Fabricio Coloccini has gone from Colo the Clown to Colo the Classy, his brilliance camouflaging the assuredness of the quiet man alongside him, Mike Williamson. Danny Simpson has plugged the problematic hole at right-back so effectively and quickly since returning from injury he is now on the fringes of the England squad. José Enrique continues to impress.
Tioté mixed the sublime with the ridiculous on guard in front of them, but Alan Smith does not play in the same Duracell bunny-style and therein lies a potential problem when the Ivorian pays for his fifth booking this season. Kevin Nolan has made an impressive start to the season, but plays best when he can concentrate on making runs into the box without having to waste energy putting out midfield fires, as he did on Saturday.
Danny Guthrie put two of Newcastle’s best crosses in against Fulham, but yearns for the centre. Jonás Gutiérrez has the opposite problem, always offering an outlet on the wing, not always delivering. With no trustworthy alternative, he needs to be on the pitch regardless.