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A case for the defence - 28/11/2002

A case for the defence
Defending isn't just about the back four
   Patrick Vieira
   Jermaine Jenas
   Kieron Dyer
   Laurent Robert
   Dietmar Hamann
   Roy Keane
   Gary Speed
   Nolberto Solano
   Newcastle United
 Leagues & Cups:
   Champions League

Part and parcel of this profession is the need to take criticism, although criticism can be positive itís usual of the negative variety. Itís all too easy to point fingers at the back four and to be quite honest, itís not doing us any good. Confidence plays a part in football, persistent criticism will chip away at even the most assured players Ė all to the detriment of performance. My motivation for writing this article is nothing to do with my own personal situation, Iím writing this because I feel that since the season started in August, the defence has become a regular target and a scapegoat when results go against us.

Something needs to be said as all the criticism is one way. The back four have taken a hammering, and whilst there has been justification for certain articles, itís simply gone too far. Individual mistake happen in football, itís a part of the game, but defensive mistakes stick in the mind more than those further up the field. We need to pull together and work this out together. Itís a simple fact that Newcastle United play attacking football, I donít think anyone would disagree with that. We score a lot of goals but we also concede Ė thatís what happens with teams have a preference to attack rather than defend. Think of the midfield and take a look at the players whoíre regularly pickedÖLaurent on the left, Nobby on the right, with Keiron and Speedo in the centre. JJ has come in recently, but generally youíll agree that weíve a midfield with flair and pace, fantastic at getting forward and making and taking goals. Teams defend as a unit, thatís all eleven on the pitch. Iím not criticising our midfield Ė far from it, but you have to realise that thereís a trade off between flair and ball winners. If we had a middle four made up of David Batty, Roy Keane, Patrick Viera, and say Didi Hamman, you can bet weíd concede less goals. The flip side is that although these four are all world-class players, they certainly wouldnít be as creative as the lads weíve got! As I say, Iím not having a go at the midfield and strikers, but we play to a system that by itís very nature will mean that we concede.

Of course there are times when weíve had a bad day at the office, and you can include the Old Trafford performance. Last nightís performance also included a couple of individual mistake, but it has to be accepted that playing 10 against 11 for 85 minutes Ė against a fantastic team, will stretch the best of defences. But weíve played more than a fair share of games where weíve failed to score, and did you see the defenders and press having a go at the other lads? No, and I wouldnít expect them to. After the defeat against Man Utd the media gave us a hammering, and once again the back four were the bad guys. Now lets look at a good performance, take Juve at home. Ok we were under pressure, but the Italians are a world-class outfit, they caused us problems but ultimately we beat them 1-0 and the lads kept a clean sheet. Now I know goals make the headlines, but can you remember the all the reporters praising a wonderful defensive display? Were the back four seen as the good guys? Again, Iíve no personal axe to grind, I didnít take part either of the above games, but I would ask for a bit of perspective.

Youíve also got to look at how the criticism is being directed, generally thereís no personal vendetta against any one individual. There have been individual mistakes, and Iíll hold my hand up and include myself Ė Iíve made a few, but the fact thatís thereís been no witch-hunt on any one individual evidences the fact itís the defensive system thatís in question. So the when the media jump on the bandwagon, are they wanting us to change our style? The gaffer joined the club when we were in a relegation spot, weíre now in the second phase of the Champions League Ė is his system at fault? Of course itís not, so in having a go at the defence, youíre also having a go at a system that has taken us to where we are today.

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