NUFC are arguably the worst team in the league when it comes to scoring via a set piece. We only scored one goal directly from a ball crossed into the box from a corner in the Premier League last season. That was when Demba Ba nipped in at the near post v Wolves on the 1st Oct 2011 which is a whole calendar! That is absolutely disgraceful. I think only Villa were worse with zero. It's got to the stage now where myself and fans now expect us to waste a free kick or a corner and then hope we pick up the second ball once it is inevitably cleared. It's not good enough.
Pardew at the end of last season admitted that our set pieces were not good enough last term and took personal responsibility for their failure and made it clear he would improve them this term. So far, he hasn't succeeded. The Villa game on Sunday was a masterpiece on how to waste every set piece you get. Pardew has come out and said as much after the game.
We hit the first man on countless occasions which is unforgivable. However, what is more worrying is when the ball does manage to make into the box, we don't even win the header, never mind threaten the goal. How can this be? The law of averages tells you that if you stick the ball in the box on enough occasions, you we will win your fair share. Is there a space time continuum in both penalty areas at St James' that we aren't aware of? Or is there something more explainable?
My personal opinion is we are failing on 2 fronts.
a) the type of delivery.
We are constantly attempting to 'whip' the ball in at pace, with an in-swinger, for our player to hopefully glance into the net. It isn't working. Unless you pick somebody out absolutely plum, a whipped ball bending into the box is easier for the defender to not just win the header but to use the power on the cross to clear it sufficiently. Especially if the cross is an in-swinger bending away from our oncoming players, towards the opposition. Of course a whipped ball into the box is a dangerous ball to defend if the attacker makes the right run...which we are not doing. So seeing as this is failing every single time, we need to start dropping it into the box.
Back when he had Joey7Barton in the team, for all his faults, the one constant positive thing he brought our team was delivery from set pieces. Very rarely did he actually whip the ball in, but simply dropped the ball in for our biggest lads to contest over. The fact we had Andy Carroll was a major bonus, but the theory was spot. Once our player wins the header, he may not score directly, but what he did do was knock the ball down for Kevin Nolan to tap it into the net standing in front of the keeper. It was beautiful. Off the top of my head I am immediately thinking of the two derby games in 2010/11 season.
Nolan scored his first of 3 in the 5-1 mauling from an overhead kick in the six yard box, via a knock down from a corner. In the other game, he opened the scoring in the Stadium of Plight from a similar knock down, also from a corner. The set piece was our biggest weapon in that season. These days it is our weakest. So it has gone from being our strongest to being our weakest in 2 short years. We don't have Nolan, Carroll or Barton any more, but that is not a good enough excuse. The personnel may have changed, but the set piece routine shouldn't have. If it ain't broke, why smash it into to a million pieces to never get it back again?
Not good quality video; but quality goal.
b) the set up in the box.
The other problem that is clear as day to me is the set up in the box, especially from free kicks. What is this tactic we constantly use to isolate one player (usually Williamson) with one opposition defender and lump it towards him to head it back across goal into the pack of players? Has it ever worked? It's flawed in one major way. That is if Willo doesn't get a good enough contact, or even not win the header at all, then the ball just drifts out for a goal kick. Totally wasted. It makes no sense whatsoever. Talk about throwing all of your eggs in one basket. Pointless.
Do ourselves a favour and keep it simple. Drop the ball into the box towards our strongest headers, win the header, have someone who can finish stood in front of the keeper and see what we can get out of it. It may not be pretty, but who cares?
All this is theory of course, plenty of teams whip balls into the box with success, but we aren't. So we have to look to change. To continuously carry on regardless over and over again for a whole year, hoping for the best with still no results is insane. Albert Einstein said it best when he defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Never a truer word spoken.
When I look at Man City, I am not jealous of the fact they can spend a billion pounds on a team. You know what I am jealous of? It's the fact that no matter how much they spend on technically gifted footballer's, they are the best team from corners. The amount of goals they get from corners and set pieces in general is staggering. It's something I have noticed and the stats will back me up.
I see goals from set pieces as 'bonus goals'. Goals that don't require any necessary talent or have any baring on how good/bad your team might be. Just look at Stoke. Without their huge amount of goals they would be in relegation trouble. So considering the fact we managed to finish 5th last season, without any bonus goal's from set plays to speak of...just think where we might have finished. It's scary to think. We have to add these 'bonus goals' onto our tally to have any chance of bettering last season.
So moving forward. Pardew, his staff and our lads have 2 weeks together to work on our set pieces with the international break. We have to start getting back to basics. Coming up with fancy new techniques isn't going to work. You can't run before you can walk. Get back to simply dropping the ball into the box with our 2/3 top headers of the ball competing for it to either score directly, nod down to a team mate or flick the ball on into a dangerous area. Along with somebody, preferably Cisse, stood in front of the keeper to eat up any chance that may arrive. We have players who are good in the air so there is no excuse. Steven Taylor scored in 3 games in a row at the end of the 2010/11 season, so this excuse of we don't have the players won't wash.
Just make sure whatever you do...win the header! Then the goals will come again.
(Comments welcome. Follow me on Twitter @ToonBano)