Newcastle suffered a collapse at St. James' Park on Saturday. But they fought back hard in the final 20 minutes to force a 2-2 draw, and earn a much needed point in the standings.
Newcastle will have to wait to finally defeat Wigan. But for the time being, they have a precious point as they prepare to visit London next weekend to take on a deflated West Ham squad.
Consistency is not one of Newcastle's qualities this season. So it should be no surprise that James Perch, a Championship-level player who showed some promise in August and September, completely failed at his defensive assignment on Saturday. I think it is past time to start someone in his place and let Perch come in as a substitute in the second half.
Tall defender Mike Williamson also let down the lads last Saturday.
Credit must be given to Newcastle for fighting back in the second half. Shola Ameobi is often ridiculed for accidentally scoring goals. But his header in the second half, which helped ignite Newcastle's comeack, was precise and top flight level. Did you know he has said that he wants to complete 20 seasons with NUFC? He just might. He's in his eleventh season.
Newcastle have internal problems as well. Team chemistry and morale are not percolating. Everyone is still competing for starting positions, as well they should be. But they need to mesh together like gears in a machine, and they are not there yet. Manager Chris Hughton, who has done a splendid job overall, has not yet found an offensive strategy that the team can master. So far this season, Newcastle have alternated between moving the ball down the wings, and triangular passes that don't get them anywhere near the box, and often lead to turnovers.
One could argue that part of the problem is that the whole Premier League has figured out how to play against a 4-4-1-1 formation fresh out of the Championship. But we know Newcastle dominated the Championship last season, and are close to Premiership quality today (minus their veteran goalkeeper and new star midfielder, both out for the season). We also know that despite their injuries, Newcastle have depth on the bench. I think it's time to start a young striker like Xisco or Ranger in place of Andy Carroll. Peter Lovenkrands, who started in place of Carroll on Saturday can be moved to the midfield. Ranger should be ready to start up front, with Carroll taking his place at the start of the second half. And Shola Ameobi, who has been terrific this season, can continue to serve as a midfielder or striker substitute. Again, we Newcastle fans might laugh at Chris Hughton for trusting Ameobi, but so far that trust has given him bonus job security, hasn't it?
The formation could also change, but I know how conservative Chris Hughton is. He will never do anything out of frustration or desperation. He and his team are going to London to face a weak West Ham squad, and the current formation should work. They just need to start the players who have more drive and motivation at the moment. Considering Carroll's looming legal troubles, and his inability to dribble the ball forward, he is not going to be starting in a game anytime soon. He is a backup striker, and Newcastle have others who want to start in his place.