Premier League

Newcastle United 2011 AC [After Carroll]

Later tonight Newcastle United go to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham. It’s their first game since Andy Carroll’s controversial transfer to Liverpool for £35 million on Monday. Naturally, the pre-match build up will be full of questions about how Newcastle will cope without their talismanic No 9.

Let’s not beat about the bush here, Newcastle fans have had a rough ride this season. They’ve seen some terrific results against Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool but they’ve also seen their respected manager, Chris Houghton, be sacked from his post and their top striker sold to League rivals. Nobody could blame them for feeling sorry for themselves. But, as a Newcastle fan, I refuse to do that.

Before dying people are supposed to go through 5 stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The same could be applied to my reaction to the Carroll transfer. At first I couldn’t believe it was happening, then I ranted and raved at Sky Sports as they revealed the story. I don’t see how bargaining applies to me personally, but I was hit with a depression that I’m sure most football fans have experienced at some point in their lives. And now, finally, after two days I’ve hit the final stage; acceptance. I’m not sure many Newcastle fans have joined me yet, and I’d go so far as to say that many haven’t left the anger stage!

But the fact remains; we have to accept that Andy Carroll is gone, and that Newcastle have to move forward without him. Alan Pardew’s tale of events about Monday’s activity at St. James’, undoubtedly conflict with what Carroll is saying about the move. And no doubt when we hear from Llambias and Ashley, the facts will have altered again. One fact hasn’t altered though. Newcastle have a winnable game tonight against Fulham. No disrespect to Fulham fans, but Craven Cottage is one of the grounds Newcastle need to pick up points if they’re going to achieve this season’s goal of Premiership survival.

Pardew hit the nail on the head, in a press conference yesterday. When asked how he would prepare the team for tonight’s fixture, he answered ‘professionally.’ That’s exactly the sort of attitude we need to get through what, let’s face it, is a difficult time for the club. Nobody’s died. We wouldn’t have had Carroll for this game anyway, and our performances without him have been decent already this season. After 11 days without a match, Newcastle have a chance to pick up some vital points away from home at a place which you would hardly call ‘Fortress Craven Cottage.’

Pardew really has 3 options. His remaining 4 strikers are all fit, and he has a number of combinations to try.

1) BEST/AMEOBI + LOVENKRANDS – The classic set up. A big target man, and a pacy runner off him. Crazy as it sounds, Ameobi is now our best striker and there’s no danger of anyone coming in with a £35 million bid for Leon. Both of them can score goals however, as can Lovenkrands, who’s speed can still cause a few problems for defenders. The idea of a big target man would suit Newcastle, who are used to playing the long ball up to the pony-tailed head of Carroll.

2) RANGER + LOVENKRANDS – Well, why not? I’m excited by Ranger, however he’s not what you’d call prolific. He’s a proper rude-boy though, and he likes to mix things up just like Carroll did. This is as good a chance as any for him to prove himself to Pardew, who so far hasn’t appeared convinced by him. It’s too early to say whether or not he’ll develop into a fully fledged Premiership star, but why not take the opportunity Carroll’s leaving has provided and let him have his moment?

3) AMEOBI + FIVE MAN MIDFIELD – If the idea of 2 strikers isn’t appealing to Pardew, he could try supporting a leading striker (in this case Shola) with 2-3 attacking midfielders. One of the positives we can take from the January transfer window is that we kept hold of Barton and Nolan and brought in Stephen Ireland. All 3 of those have proved to be good Premiership players.

In fact, Nolan has managed to score 10 goals this season from his midfield berth, and his hat-trick against Sunderland showed that he still has an eye for goal. Whilst tonight sees Tiote suspended, Gosling, Ben Arfa, Ireland and Smith all injured, we can look forward to those players coming back in the next couple of weeks, reinforcing the midfield. Quite how Guthrie survived the Ashley axe is another story….

I can understand if Newcastle fans express themselves vocally at tonight’s game. They will feel, and should feel, quite hard done by. But if that negativity creeps onto the pitch, then we could make matters much worse. We need to see a committed, professional and creative performance from the players and then we can start looking to the rest of the season. Let’s face it, a win tonight, a few Ameobi goals and, whilst it won’t be “Andy who?”, we’ll start to see a rainbow over the Tyne bridge again.

It’s hard times, but that’s reality. And reality is a mutha. But time wounds all heals, or something like that!

Like where I’m coming from, or am I just a new-age hippy posing as a football writer? Come join my ashram at Twitter @petermagpie.com

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