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Why depleted Toon are off the pace.

Byline: By John Gibson

Let's try not to knee jerk or there'll be accusations of impatience after waiting only 36 years for a trophy, a mere half-a- century for a domestic pot of note. We're so demanding, us Geordies!

So let us sum up what we have standing before us.

We accept that Newcastle need to steady the centre of their defence which is as rocky as Gibraltar. They need to score more goals ( 13 in 15 Premiership games isn't near enough.

And the midfield lacks vision and composure, the ability to pick out the perfect pass and unlock opposing defences.

Come to think of it, there's only the goalkeeping department that doesn't need severely looking at, isn't there?

But wait. Rescue was supposed to be at hand, was it not? Michael Owen was girding his loins for a return tomorrow, Kieron Dyer was poised to somehow pick up his bed and walk, and Stephen Carr was also considering reappearing.

We couldn't presume all would be present to put themselves in the sights of the Gunners and their master blaster, Thierry Henry? Of course not.

In any case, when he does belatedly respond to the bugle call, can Owen turn a tide that would appear to be too strong ( or will he be just another King Canute?

Owen has been a goal-poacher of the highest order all his career and even in his extremely short time playing for United ( six games, four goals before falling down a black hole ( he has proved he has radar perception.

However, he doesn't make his own goals like Henry, Peter Beardsley or SuperMac. He requires a supply line ( then he's the best at doing the rest. He needs someone in midfield releasing the ball early and accurately, allowing him to run off the shoulder of the last defender. Who is that going to be on a regular basis?

Of course, a fully fit Dyer would be a huge help all round, but there are serious question marks about his consistent availability. United have suddenly been struck with a massive lack of pace, having lost Dyer to injury, Craig Bellamy to a personality clash, and Lee Bowyer to indifference.

They can look plodders in an era when pace is a vital commodity and something Arsenal possess with their quick-fire counter-attacking.

It is difficult to make out a convincing case for the current team without Owen and Dyer. It means they lack quickness and a cutting edge, and as we've seen recently confidence isn't exactly bubbling like a witches' cauldron.

United have some good players, of course they have. But do they have as many as just a few years ago when Bobby Robson had them third in the Premiership? Or Kevin Keegan when Newcastle finished runners-up? I'll let you decide that. I know my answer.

In 2003, which now seems an eternity ago, Robson relied on Bellamy, Dyer, Speed, Jenas, Robert, Woodgate and Bernard, with Shearer and Solano significantly friskier and scoring 17 and seven league goals respectively.

KK, back in 1996, went with Albert, Beardsley, Ferdinand, Ginola, Batty, Lee, Asprilla, Beresford, Howey, and Gillespie as the backbone of his team.

United have in recent times jettisoned Bellamy, Jenas, Lomana LuaLua, Darren Ambrose and Aaron Hughes, who have all done well to varying degrees this season and, right now, wouldn't weaken a shaky collection of Magpies. Neither would James Milner, banished on loan for a season. Would you have any of them back?

One thing's for certain ( we've fallen way off the pace we once set. But Arsenal are no longer as invincible as two seasons ago when they went through the whole of their league programme unbeaten.

They are red hot at home ( seven games, seven wins ( but away they have triumphed only once, with two draws and four defeats. Hence Arsenal are no higher than fifth, which is surprising for them.

Arsenal are fragile and were exposed by an in-yer-face Bolton. They don't like teams to get about them, but you must because technically they are gifted and will punish the meek.

This would appear to be the time to play the Gunners ( if well-equipped yourself. Whether or not Newcastle are is a different matter.

We'll see on the morrow.
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2005
Previous Article:Pressure - what pressure?
Next Article:We can still be a top four side.

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