Poyet’s incredible Sunderland revival continues with 3-0 win at Newcastle

SAFC Fans

SAFC Fans

Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0 for the second time in nine months in a pulsating Tyne-Wear derby at St James’ Park.

The victory means Gus Poyet has won 11 from 23 games with a club who were bottom of the league and without a win in seven matches when he took charge.

A first half penalty from Fabio Borini and a close-range effort from Adam Johnson gave Sunderland a half-time lead, while Jack Colback scored late in the second half.

A frantic first half was dominated in the early stages by the away side, who were better in possession and played with an urgency that Newcastle failed to deal with.

Newcastle did have opportunities wasted in good areas – both through Davide Santon – and they gifted Sunderland an opening on 18 minutes. A clumsy tackle from Vernon Anita on Phil Bardsley gave Borini the chance to put Sunderland in the lead, and the Italian duly smashed home.

The well-taken penalty into Tim Krul’s top right was Borini’s second goal in a Tyne-Wear derby since joining Sunderland on loan in September.

With St James’ Park agitated, Sunderland continued to push and probe and, within five minutes of Borini’s opener, had doubled their lead. Krul parried Colback’s shot across goal into the path of Johnson, who finished from four yards for his sixth goal in his last five games.

Jozy Altidore played a key role in the build-up to Sunderland’s second, perfectly executing a flick into the path of the on-running Colback, and the American was outstanding for Sunderland in the first half – holding up play, frustrating and bustling his way through a Newcastle defence that could not handle him.

Conversely, Sunderland dealt with the minimal threat of Shola Ameobi with ease. The home side were largely limited to shots from range, and even then they were not given the time or space for pot-shots. Hatem Ben Arfa tried and failed, repeatedly, to wriggle his way through a stubborn Sunderland defence, while Sammy Ameobi was the least effective player on the pitch.

The big openings that Newcastle had in the first half came after some rare patient build-up across the penalty area. Shola Ameobi’s attempted turn and shot was eventually mopped up by Bardsley while, with half-time looming, Ben Arfa had the chance to place the ball across but chose to smash it out for a throw-in instead.

Sunderland were better in every position in the opening 45 so it was hardly surprising when Alan Pardew made a change at half-time. Loan signing Luuk De Jong even had the first chance after the break, shooting tamely straight at Vito Mannone.

Sunderland continued to have the upper hand on their biggest rivals but actually seemed able to take the foot off the gas a little.

Phil Bardsley, particularly, starred for Sunderland, containing Ben Arfa again and again. Johnson was also a stand-out player, and at one point the Wearside-born winger jinked his way around three Newcastle defenders and fired a fierce shot against the post. Johnson is, surely, now firmly in the thoughts of England manager Roy Hodgson.

Chieck Tiote did go close for Newcastle but his shot was acrobatically saved by Mannone. And it was Sunderland academy product Colback who completed the scoring and topped off a fine afternoon for the midfielder, brilliantly placing the ball into the top corner from 10 yards.

Sunderland closed the game out with ease, with Newcastle offering little, but the Wearside team were outstanding from the first whistle. The changes that Poyet has brought in have been resoundingly successful, making further mockery of Paolo Di Canio’s disparaging remarks about the club and certain players earlier this week.

Difficult characters have, seemingly, been turned around, while players like Johnson and Ki-Sun Yeung are thriving. In Colback, Ki and new signing Liam Bridcutt – who was brilliant on his debut in such a testing fixture – Sunderland have a midfield packed with creativity, poise and hard work.

They play with a similar urgency and directness as they always have but there’s now an added precision and zip in their play. To simply get the results that Poyet has gained as Sunderland boss would be remarkable but do it in such style shows a much more shrewd approach to management than the previous manager.

While Newcastle look like enduring a tough last four months to the season with a beleaguered and tepid squad, Sunderland are now mid-table and, currently, look like a side capable of rising higher still.

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Wigan Athletic to beat the drop again?

Picture from BBC

The fans sang “we shall not be moved” at full volume, adamant that they’d not be forced from their position. It was the continually-ridiculed Wigan fans making the noise, though, not the much-fabled Newcastle away support as the DW Stadium (including it’s JJB days) witnessed what must be one of its finest hours.


Going in to the match, the Latics had won five out of their last eight games, a run of form that has seen them rise from the relegation zone. Before March, Roberto Martinez’ side had won just four games, but recent weeks saw wins against Liverpool, Stoke, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Just when Wigan appear to be finally down and out after years of final-day drama, they do it again. Survival now looks likely rather than virtually unfeasible, as it did at the end of January, with only three wins under their belt.
With an outstanding and in-form Newcastle side visiting Greater Manchester, though, it was widely thought that Wigan’s superb run of form was about to be halted. The Toon had won their last six games, conceding just one in that time and with one of the Premier League’s most lethal strikers, Papiss Cisse, scoring in each of those six games.
Newcastle are chasing the Champions League, wary of Chelsea winning this term’s competition preventing them reaching next year’s equivalent. Wigan are fighting against the drop to the Championship. Both sides had something to play for then, which makes it all the more remarkable that the latter beat the former.
And they really did beat them, in a ruthless fashion. Wigan dominated the first half, their play consisting of short, intricate passes in the middle and long, ranging diagonal balls to the flanks, be it to Maynor Figueroa on the left or the right-sided Emmerson Boyce.
The first goal came from great wing-play, on both sides. Figueroa burst forward, with the excellent Shaun Maloney eventually playing the ball out to Boyce. His cross landed perfectly on the head of Victor Moses, who really is starting to show the potential that he has long been touted for.
Moses’ second goal was more controlled than his first, more beautifully crafted. Another clever pass from Maloney – this time a backheel – found Moses who touched it to the ever-improving Jean Beausejour. The winger whipped in a devilish ball which was cut out by Fabio Collocini, only for Moses to steal in and place a shot past goalkeeper Tim Krul.

At this point fans, players and coaches must have been equally as delirious. Where do they go from here? At 2-0 up with 15 minutes gone, do they park the bus? No. They keep playing their game, just as they always do. In the build-up to Moses’ second, the Wigan defense exchanged passes, aware of the Newcastle pressing but never looking to go long. Keep the ball, keep the play, work the ball forward.
Newcastle, on the other hand, were desperate to get back into the game, and it showed. Too eager to get forward at times when the personnel forward did not equate, they gave the ball back to Wigan repeatedly. The Latics may not have great possession in games – 49% average, per game, after this meeting – but when they do have the ball, they use it well – an average pass completion rate of 80% places Wigan higher than Napoli, Borrussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao in that particular league.
When Wigan do lose the ball, they are dogged in getting it back. They harass, they are aggressive and are quite happy to foul to break up the play – they make sure no one plays their game against them.
Newcastle attempted to mirror their system for a short period in the first half to try and stop Wigan from playing, but it didn’t work. The 5-4-1 that becomes a 3-4-3 in attack means there are always options, especially on the wings. A great togetherness and work-rate makes for superb energy and fast but measured attacks.
It was down the left-hand side, again, where Wigan attacked for their third; Franco Di Santo playing a magnificent first-time ball to the surging Maloney, who buried it in the bottom corner with ease. It was Di Santo who started and finished the move for the fourth, too – a one-two on the halfway line was clever, the placed shot into the corner from 30 yards was incredible.

Newcastle, of course, had their chances and were by no means dreadful at the DW which, as harsh as it sounds, they’d be expected to be if utterly outplayed by Wigan. Hatem Ben Arfa curled a free-kick over and pulled a shot wide late on, Cisse hit the bar and Ba dragged a shot wide. Battled and weary, Wigan controlled the second half but allowed Newcastle to press and threaten more, but it’s times like that that clubs really value their goalkeeper – a strong performance from Ali Al Habsi, thwarting Cisse in a Gandalf-esque performance. Newcastle rattled the bar and post but, as Liverpool fans know, that’s poor finishing rather than bad luck.
To pick a man of the match here would be difficult, which speaks volumes for the widespread brilliance of this Wigan performance. They finished the game attacking, still playing their game – Collocini preventing Conor Sammon from adding a fifth.
Wigan will keep doing it their way. A trip to Blackburn and a home game against Wolves await, two games that look set to be exhilarating and, on current form, the Latics look the favourites. Wigan are going to do it again. They’re going to survive.

The eventual English comprehension of Mario Balotelli

On Sunday evening Manchester City faced Arsenal in a game that, pretty much, could see their title chances either fade away or give hope of a possible resurgence.
With rivals United drifting to a 2-0 win over QPR earlier, victory at the Emirates was needed.  A Mikel Arteta strike soon put paid to that, though, leaving City eight points behind United with six games to go. Mathematically possible, sure, but – in reality – it is hard to see City putting in a convincing performance at the minute, never mind United slipping up at this late stage.
The fluidity and sheer power seen in the first half of the season has completely evaporated for City. And the man that has, slowly but surely, taken most of the flak for this demise is the man who was so revered just months ago, the ‘character’ of the Premier League, the ‘enigma’.
English football, it seems, has finally turned on Mario Balotelli.
It’s been coming. As stupid hats and toilet trips turned into car crashes and hookers, Balotelli’s actions became less innocent, more idiotic. All of a sudden, Balotelli wasn’t the lovable rogue – he’s disruptive, a trouble-maker. He’s the problem.

 

Of course, he’s not the problem at Manchester City, just one of many. There were players who put in worse performances against Arsenal, but some dangerous tackles, petulant play and a general futility up front are all more high-profile than the complete ineffectiveness of James Milner, or a clearly-exhausted performance from Sergio Aguero.
The second-half collapse of City’s season is down to many, many things but Balotelli is the easy target. When winning, a maverick’s fun; when losing, he’s a detriment to the side.
Of course, Balotelli has had poor stages of his Manchester City career and that will impact on his team, but the way in which he’s being used as a scapegoat seems a little harsh on the young Italian.
Yet, the 21-year-old has been playing football long enough now to know that going into a tackle with studs showing is stupid and doing it in a vital game such as Sunday’s is certainly that, to an almost infuriating level. It is hardly surprising, then, that Mancini feels he can’t trust Balotelli, and now seems ready to cut ties with the man he has placed so much faith in both in Manchester and Milan.
The dangerous tackles are nothing new and the free-kick blusters and common on-pitch arrogance (or ‘swagga’ as it’s called when you’re winning) seem to have all taken their toll now. Surely the negatives largely outweigh the positives for Balotelli now, given that the positives seem so intermittent in occurring? 
Even the things that originally gave Balotelli cult-hero status have been dismissed as silly rumours. In the BBC interview with Mario, it turned out that the media – whomever their sources may be – fed the nation false stories on their latest headline-commanding Premier League footballer, while Balotelli came across as reserved and, really, rather shy.
And that’s the thing, in interviews Balotelli seems like a nice, affable chap. Entirely innocent although obviously with a cheeky side and an expert in not giving a fuck. Hardly arrogant, anyway.
 

He talks of working towards being the best rather than already being there, he’s reluctant to talk about his youth and, let’s not forget, this is a man just out of his teens who’s forced to live his life under the spotlight of country that expects the very best of the celebrity youth. He’s immediately likeable, then.
But then we get to the business end of the season. Football likes its mavericks but they have to turn it on when needed. They have to be professional when it really matters. You mess about on our terms, basically.
Interruptions of Inter Milan press conferences are as bizarre as they are bewildering and one wonders whether Balotelli misses home, and the continual assertion that he’s at Manchester City because of Mancini rather than any great affiliation with the club hints at a possible exit in the summer if Mancini has had enough, or even if Mancini departs Eastlands.
Will the Premier League miss Balotelli? The striker does bring the odd chuckle, a smile to the face of fans bored by banal footballers who make up a game that is meant to be entertaining.
But a man who infuriates his own manager and fans will not last long, no matter how many titters he delivers on a weekly basis.
At the start he was loved because it was promised that he would come good, that there was good in there. Now, with the discipline continually slipping and the form so erratic, the English seem to have finally worked out Mario Balotelli. And they, overall, don’t like what they see.