Tony Cottee's Tactical Talk - Newcastle United
West Ham United striking legend Tony Cottee casts a tactical eye over this afternoon’s classic Premier League fixture with Newcastle United...
Regular readers of my column will know that, due to my media commitments with Sky Sports, I am not always able to attend our matches on a Saturday. Last weekend, however, provided an unexpected bonus…
I was scheduled to be covering Nottingham Forest’s Championship clash against Reading and had just driven past Leicester in torrential rain on my way to the City Ground when I got the call to say the match had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
There was only one thought in my mind at that point: can I get back to West Ham in time for kick-off against Sheffield United?! Despite my best efforts, I didn’t quite make it for 3pm, but only missed the first ten minutes or so of what turned out to be a slightly frustrating afternoon for the Hammers.
That aside, I actually thought it was an enjoyable, entertaining game to watch. Realistically, a draw was probably a fair result – both sides had a few chances, ours probably the better, but unfortunately we just couldn’t find that ruthless edge to kill the game off when we had the opportunity.
Overall, though, it was a good response from the team following a poor result and performance at Everton. It prevented us from slipping into a ‘losing run’, and there were some positives to take from the game – not least the display of Robert Snodgrass who, to no one’s real surprise, came back into the team and showed great energy, commitment and quality.
Snoddy is a bit of a throwback. It would be unfair to compare him to someone like the great Billy Bonds, but he is the modern-day equivalent – someone who combines ability with a great attitude, leads by example, is not afraid to put a tackle in and always plays with passion and desire.
We don’t know yet how Manuel will set out his team this afternoon, but I would think most people will be surprised if Snoddy is not in it, because I expect a similar encounter today against Newcastle – like Sheffield United, another hard-working, well-organised outfit who will provide a tough physical challenge.
In fact, we could see an all-British central midfield battle, with Declan Rice, Mark Noble and Snoddy up against the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and young Matthew Longstaff. The older Longstaff brother, Sean, is of course suspended, but that area of the field could have a big impact on the outcome of today’s game.
I watched Steve Bruce’s men recently in their match at Leicester, when they conceded five after going down to ten men and were slightly unfortunate, because they actually defended well for long periods of the game and only ran out of energy late on. Whether they play a back four or back five today, I would expect them to follow a similar pattern of play, perhaps not as adventurous going forward as Sheffield United, but they will make it difficult for us.
From our point of view, it will again be about producing the right quality and approach to break them down. I personally would like to see us find a way of providing Sebastien Haller with a bit more aerial service from wide areas – crosses that he can attack or get on the end of in the box, because he certainly has the quality in that sense. He wins a lot of headers and flick-ons with his back to goal, and we must do more to utilise that strength close to goal.
There has been a lot of talk about how we can play to Sebastien’s strengths and prevent him from looking isolated, but in my opinion it is more about the quality of delivery than how we line up or the shape of our attack. We know that we have the players capable of making assists for him because we have seen evidence of it already this season – but we do have to be more ruthless when those opportunities present themselves.
Today, though, will definitely be a case of winning the midfield battle before being able to make our extra quality count. The players shouldn’t be too down-hearted about how the last two home games have turned out – it’s all about fine margins, and if we keep playing and having belief in our ability, the goals will definitely come.