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Taylor does not inspire confidence yet may be key player.


IF THERE is one message Rafa Benitez should be drilling into his players all week, it's that they simply have to keep a clean sheet at Southampton on Saturday, To lose as they did at Norwich City would be heartbreaking, and while the decision to pick Papiss Cisse ahead of Aleksandar Mitrovic was baffling, a lot of it came down to the defending.

I thought Karl Darlow played really well behind them, but Newcastle's centre-halves were awful again. They're just not good enough, I'm afraid.

It was good to see Mitrovic make a difference in the second half, and I can't for the life of me understand why he didn't get the chance from the start. If you score the week before, as he did, you're nice and confident, and you should really be playing the next game.

When Norwich lost 5-4 right at the death to Liverpool, that killed them for a few weeks. Saturday's defeat could have the same effect on Newcastle.

When you saw they had got back into the game from 1-0 and 2-1 down you thought, 'This team's got a bit of character'.

It was a great strike from Martin Olsson to win the game, but having clawed their way back into it twice, it was a real blow to Newcastle.

Benitez will be working hard on the training ground this week to try to cut out the defensive mistakes and instil a bit of confidence that way. But when it comes to the test of character, you just have to hope you have a strong group of players.

If you're not blessed with good players in key positions, it's very difficult.

When Steven Taylor's on the field I'm not convinced Newcastle can keep clean sheets. In my opinion like too many others in that squad, he is a Championship player, but he could have an important part to play.

Taylor (pictured left) plays with his heart on his sleeve and there's no question about his desire to do well for Newcastle, but it seems like too many of his team-mates are in it for themselves. In the January transfer window Newcastle went for Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend - two good players who have improved them. But Sunderland's Sam Allardyce went for Jan Kirchhoff and Lamine Kone, two defensive players.

Maybe Newcastle should have got another defender in. Taylor, Daryl Janmaat, Chancel Mbemba are easy targets. Taylor could easily point out how little protection he gets. Georginio Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko are guys you want more from, but you don't really see enough of them to be as critical of them as the defensive players.

Lee Cattermole at Sunderland is a guy I'm not a massive fan of, but he's a grafter and if it's going wrong he will put his foot in. Asking him to get the ball down and play is not his game, but you know he will always give you everything he's got.

Taylor's got to simplify his game and marshal the back four. Shelvey is the captain but that shouldn't stop Taylor showing some leadership qualities. Captain or not, if it was me I would get the defenders into a huddle before the game and tell them that whatever we do, we are not giving a goal away.

Hopefully Mitrovic or Papiss Cisse pop up with a few goals to get us three points.

That's exactly the things Sam Allardyce is saying in Sunderland's dressing room.

It has to be the message to Newcastle's players too. Don't try to win games 4-3 or 3-2. This isn't Kevin Keegan's team we're talking about.

Look at Leicester - they've won five of their last six games 1-0. When you're churning out results like that it means you've got something to hang on to as soon as you score.

It's hard to explain the feeling when you're leading with five minutes to go. It's weird how the dynamics kick in and you will run yourself into the ground to protect that lead.

If you're losing 3-0 you might think - what's the point? It's hard to explain that to supporters, who rightly think you should give everything in every game, but we're human beings and it just doesn't work like that.

For Newcastle it was a different dilemma on Saturday. Once they got it back to 2-2 at Carrow Road it was a question of stick or twist. If they had got all three points what a win that would have been, but unless you're on the field at the time it's hard to know which way you should have gone. As a player you have a feel for how a game's going that a manager or a fan cannot.

It's easy to say in hindsight they should have settled for a point, but when you've got that momentum it's hard to put the reins on it.

When the game kicks off at St Mary's though, it should be all about staying solid.

| NORWICH City are at Crystal Palace on Saturday, and it's tough to say who the North East teams should be rooting for.

You might think it's better that Palace get the win that takes them to safety to keep Norwich right in it.

On the other hand, a draw just about keeps both teams in striking distance for Sunderland and Newcastle United.

I think on reflection I'd be more inclined to say, let Palace win. It will take them to 37 points. I think 36 is enough to keep them safe, then it will become a three-horse race between Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle, with only one team staying up.


<BLeft: January signings Andros Townsend and Jonjo Shelvey trudge off following Saturday's defeat at Norwich City; above: Aleksandar Mitrovic made a difference in the secondhalf at Carrow Road
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 5, 2016
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