I don't know about you folks, but Sunday's match was pretty stressful for me despite the stellar play of our lads. It seemed like no one had the finishing touch that they needed to get that second goal, and I wasn't convinced that one was a enough until the final whistle blew. Still, it was a great showing from our lads and a very entertaining match.
The 1-0 score line isn't indicative of how far apart these teams were on Sunday, if I may say so with apologies to the Latics. The Magpies were on form; if not in the front the way we might like then they were in midfield where this game was won. I had a coach that used to say that if a team can't score it can't win and the best way to keep them from scoring is to keep them too far away to score. Our lads certainly had that or something similar in mind as the Latics struggled all day to get across midfield with the ball at their feet. The majority of their legitimate scoring chances came from long forward passes that usually leave most of the team too far behind the ball to pick up the rebound or offer more passing options.
Before player notes I'd like to say just a quick word about the close chances that NUFC were able to generate but not convert. I like to see lots of chances, I really do. But put all the chances in a basket and bring them to the final standings and see what they'll get us in trade. Nothing. I'll mention three chances that were much less than I expect our of premiership players. Danny Simpson's early volley: he just has to test the keeper with that. Jonas Gutierrez's break away: for all the dancing and step overs he pulls you'd think that he could dribble around a keeper way off his line with bad timing, but Jonas found a way to make him look good. Maybe I play too much FIFA, but I would have given that ball a little chip and ran to the away allocation section with my arms raised. Finally Barry Pepper- I mean Peter Lovenkrands: I know he isn't right footed but he does indeed have a right foot, and if he would have just put that thing toward the net I don't think the keeper had a play while screened by his defender....
Despite his breakaway blunder, Jonas Guiterrez showed signs of returning to form. I say showed signs, because Spider Man also looked lost sometimes, especially when coming back to defend.
I noticed this in a couple of earlier games that Peter Lovenkrands played in, but I think something is wrong with his finishing touch. I don't know how strikers train but I think being out of first team action has dulled his edge a bit. As of end of game Sunday, I'm almost into double digits on plays that my sensibility says McLoven should have scored on, and that's no good for a striker.
Kevin Nolan was uncharacteristically absent from the game. Somewhere toward the end of the first half I found myself thinking: Hey, wasn't the skipper supposed to be back today. I'm not worried about this yet, Wigan were playing down the sides a lot as the center seemed impenetrable. But, if having Andy Carroll out of the game means having Nolan out of the game too, then it may be something to worry about.
It seemed to me that Cheik Tiote had an off game, which isn't to say he was any less effective. On an off day does a little more of what they call in hockey "taking the body" meaning that he tends to play the man instead of the ball. From what I can tell he does this mostly on days when he gets frustrated about something, and Sunday was one of those days. It's one of the best ways to have a bad day on the pitch I think, but it puts him at extra risk for yellow cards.
The Defense played just spot on, giving only three chances that really had me worried. Of course I couldn't admit that until after the game, I've already mentioned how nervous it made me.
MOTM: Steve Harper, I'm throwing Harper a bone here because for all intents and purposes he set up the only goal of the game. I do it hesitantly because it means by proxy that I have made a concession in our recent Magpie vs. Magpie feature.