Newcastle United 3-1 Plymouth Argyle

NUFC Team: Harper, Simpson (Ryan Taylor 30), Enrique, Smith, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Barton (Guthrie 59), Geremi, Carroll, Nolan, Lovenkrands (Ranger 59).

So three more points and back to winning ways – although to be honest anything less than a win would have been completely unacceptable given the opposition. For some inexplicable reason, I have a bit of a soft spot for Plymouth, so there genuinely is no malice intended when I say that they are woeful. As easy a three points as we can expect to receive this season. As it happens, we made a bit of a meal out of it but ultimately the team pulled through.

An early Steven Taylor goal looked to set us on our way but what followed was a pretty dreadful half. But what do you expect? Yet again, we fielded four central midfielders – Geremi, Barton, Smith and Nolan. This is becoming a bit of a problem now – it simply isn’t working. We might be grinding out results but that is all we are doing – grinding them out. There are going to be plenty of games in the division where that is all that is necessary – against the likes of Cardiff, West Brom and Boro – but Plymouth at home? Is Hughton sticking with his central midfielders because he has no alternatives? Or because he isn’t brave enough to drop them? Because Geremi and Barton are certainly not worth their places in the team at the moment.

I’ve said it before, but Smith, Nolan and Guthrie are clearly our three best midfielders. By miles. There is no need to field Barton and Geremi. Ryan Taylor and Lovenkrands on the wings, and two of Smith, Nolan and Guthrie in the middle. That is obviously the best lineup at the moment (until Gutierrez returns). To waste Nolan or Guthrie ‘upfront’ in support of a lone striker is criminal – especially when we have a decent striker (Ranger) on the bench, presumably raring to go after a couple of excellent performances.

Hughton has built up a huge amount of good will from Newcastle fans in recent weeks. He really has earned it, for his hard work in such dire circumstances, but it would be a shame for him to squander it all. Is he seeing something that we’re not in Geremi and Barton? Or, as I suspect, is he simply reluctant to leave two players on £50k+ a week on the bench? That is not something that a strong manager would do (by the way, I am aware that he had the ‘strength’ to leave Butt on the bench on Saturday, but it is slightly easier to leave a 34 year old on the bench than a 27 year old Barton and a ’30 year old’ Geremi).

Back to the game, and the introduction of Guthrie and Ranger on the hour mark helped turn the tide in our favour (on for Barton and Lovenkrands). Nolan reverted to his preferred midfield role and scored moments later. Carroll then scored his second goal in two games late on to seal the victory. I know I’m not alone in having a huge amount of time for this kid. He might not work as hard as Ranger – or at least he might not appear to – but he looks like he could become a really good player for us. I’m reluctant to build up youth players too much in the wake of the Michael Chopra fiasco – I specifically recall saying to one of my friends once that he was going to be the new Alan Shearer – but, unlike Ameobi, Carroll can lead the line for us for years to come, even in the Premier League. Like Steven Taylor, you can just tell how much it means to him to score for us.

Peterborough away tomorrow night, and whilst I would be lying if I said that I’m desperate for us to progress in this year’s Carling Cup, it is no bad thing to maintain the good form. A solid away win would stand us in good stead for a vital away game on Saturday evening against Ipswich. Its been well publicised that Ipswich have yet to win a game this season, and it would be sod’s law if they were to break that dunk against us. The Roy Keane thing will be talked up – the Sunderland connection and his feud with Geordie ‘messiah’ Alan Shearer – so this game has upset written all over it (assuming that you consider Ipswich the underdogs, of course). Some things in football are inevitable, and I greatly fear that Keane getting his first win of the season over us is one of those things.

On the signings front, it appears that Marlon Harewood is signing a three month loan deal with us. Underwhelming is an understatement. From what I’ve read, both Villa and Wolves fans have nothing but bad things to say about him. However, I don’t like to criticise a player before he’s even pulled on a shirt, so I will of course give him a clean slate. And if nothing else, I would much rather him upfront than Nolan or Guthrie – who have looked extremely uncomfortable when put into that position.

A quick comment on Michael Owen and Craig Bellamy. Some of you may have noticed that in the biggest game of the season so far, there were three ex-Mags amongst the ranks. Shay Given pulled off some blinding saves whilst Bellamy notched a brace and Owen scored the winner. How sad is it to see so many good players performing to such a high standard for other teams? Bellamy was a little pr!ck but we’ve arguably not had as good a striker since we sold him (for non-footballing reasons). Given is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and we sold him for pennies, whilst Owen may have been shocking for us but if he is good enough to play for Man Utd then he’s certainly good enough to play for us. I have to say though, the little b*stard looked happier when he scored his goal on Sunday than he did in his entire four year spell at St James’ Park. He clearly didn’t want to be here, so he should have just left (or not joined us in the first place).

With the likes of Milner, N’Zogbia, Woodgate and Parker also playing well for their respective clubs (well, Woodgate is injured at the moment but has been largely excellent for two years at Spurs), it is extremely gutting to see such an array of great players that have all moved on for various reasons in recent years – to our detriment.

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