Saturday, November 10, 2012

Returning heroes

Tomorrow West Ham United visit St James park with three former Magpies in their ranks. Former NUFC manager Sam Allardyce brings his Hammers squad north with former captain Kevin Nolan and local hero Andy Carroll in his team.

After Allardyces failure to win over the NUFC faithful, or produce the results on the pitch he is guaranteed a frosty reception from the home crowd - although in his defence as soon as Mike Ashley arrived with his new regime Big Sam's days were numbered.

Andy Carroll is no doubt going to receive a mixed reception from the Toon Army - there are many who still feel he loves our club, and that he was forced onto the helicopter heading for Liverpool - others however feel he deserves the Judas status for leaving his home town club for the big money on offer at Anfield. I have a feeling now Carroll is wearing Claret and Blue and not Liverpool Red his reception will not be as ferocious .

The off field receptions are all part of the drama of football and add a certain spice to this game - however for me they are really irrelevant to the outcome of the game. That being said it is the return of Kevin Nolan that I feel may have the biggest bearing on the game.

Nolan's abilities divide supporters. I am a big admirer of what he brings to a team, while I am also aware of his limitations. For me he led our team with the spirit and desire we require. He plays the game with the passion of a supporter and really understood what NUFC means to our city.

Kevin arrived at St James park in January 2009 in a 4m deal. He went onto make 85 appearance and scoring 29 goals. Nolan was appointed club captain for the 2010-2011 season and really did lead from the front with Newcastle winning the Championship at the first attempt.

29 goals is a great return for a midfielder in anyone's book. Nolan seemed to have a 6th sense which allowed him to be in the right place at the right time. So many of his goals came from Andy Carroll knock downs or goal keeper rebounds. Whenever a goal was needed Nolan would pop up and win 3 points for his team. For me this was enough to get him in the team each week and while we won the championship and then set out to remain in the Premier league Nolan was just what we needed.

The down side of Kevin's game is his lack of mobility and energy. No one would call Kevin a box-to-box midfielder and he relied heavily on his team mates to cover his defensive duties. He has been accused of carrying too much weight, although Nolan has never been a top athlete - he is an old school footballer who relies on grit, determination and passion to get him through each game.

As Newcastle looked to step up to the next level and push for a European spot it was obvious that Kevin was going to be left behind. The direct football style played under Chris Houghton was being phased out and with that Kevin's place in our team was under threat. The arrival of Cabaye, Ba, and Cisse,  the return to fitness of Ben Arfa and the importance of Tiote meant Nolan would struggle to get in our team. Alan Pardew's style is a fluid game based on pace and power which relies heavily on a pass and move game. Kevin did not fit into this model so when West Ham made a offer for him it really suited all parties. West Ham are likely to be battling for Premiership survival after achieving promotion and are adopting the same style Newcastle did during our first season back in the big league. Nolan would be ideal for any team in the bottom half of the Premiership.

The double act of Carroll and Nolan is working well for the Hammers this season and they currently sit in 9th position after a surprisingly bright start to the season. No doubt the direct style can cause some problems. Our centre half's will have to deal with the aerial attack from Carroll and our midfielders will have to pay close attention to Nolan as he drifts into the "hole" and takes up positions off Carroll and feeds of his knock downs.

Of course the focus will be on Andy Carroll coming home - especially after Alan Pardew again publicly stated his desire to bring Andy back to the club - however for me Kevin Nolan will be the returning hero who I feel can have a bigger impact on the game.