Match Analysis: Hull City’s disciplined defence stifle Newcastle

Hull City were the visitors to St James’ Park as Newcastle United went in search of a third league win in a row for the first time since a run of six consecutive wins in March – April 2012. The omens for Hull were mixed; while they had won only one of their last 11 games in the Premier League (drawing four and losing six), they had won on three of their last four visits to Newcastle.

The mood around the Newcastle camp was noticeably more optimistic following a testing summer and an underwhelming couple of opening fixtures. Following wins against Fulham and Aston Villa Alan Pardew certainly seemed more upbeat, with the Newcastle manager fielding perhaps his strongest side for the second consecutive game. In the other dugout, Steve Bruce was relieved that talisman Robbie Brady was passed fit, although will have been disappointed at not being able to call upon Robert Koren and Maynor Figueroa for his side’s short trip north.

Newcastle started the game brightly, retaining possession well, dictating the tempo of the game, and receiving an early reward as the impressive Loci Remy scored his first Premier League goal for Newcastle. To the frustration of the home crowd the Magpies didn’t press home this advantage and were soon punished as Robbie Brady finished well following some sloppy defending from the hosts. Remy restored Newcastle’s advantage on the stroke of half time to give Newcastle a lead going into the break that they really should have done better to defend. Newcastle lost the second half 2-0, and the game 3-2, as poor defending from a set-piece and Hatem Ben Arfa allowed Ahmed Elmohamady and Sone Aluko to give Steve Bruce’s men a valuable three points.

So, what were the key talking points in terms of each team’s style and approach to this game?

Newcastle’s style

In certain quarters, the jury has been out on Alan Pardew’s managerial qualities for some time now. A combination of displays bordering on the lacklustre and shambolic (the opener at Manchester City) has led some to question the manager and his style of play. For his part, Pardew has claimed he hasn’t been able to choose his strongest starting eleven anywhere near often enough.

With arguably his strongest team on the pitch, what can we make of Newcastle’s style of play on Saturday?

The most apparent (and pleasing, if you’re a Geordie) observation was the willingness of all players to look for the short and simple pass. In fact, over all of the weekend’s fixtures, only Chelsea attempted more passes than Newcastle. If the passing styles of Martinez at Everton and Laudrup at Swansea are anything to go by then this is a step in the right direction as far as style is concerned. With a team full of internationals, this simply has to be the starting point if the Geordies are to have a good season.

Despite the emphasis on a short passing style, Newcastle struggled to break down the opposition. This wasn’t through lack of trying – over 25% of Newcastle’s passes were in the final third (compared to 20% of Hull’s; 34% of Chelsea’s passes were in the final third).

However, for all of their efforts Newcastle simply didn’t create enough quality chances. While they did score two goals, which should be enough to earn at least a point (the average goals per game in the Premier League era is approximately 2.66), Manager and fans alike will be disappointed that only two of their 15 attempts at goal were on target (nine of Chelsea’s 24 were on target).

So, if the quality of the shots taken was not good enough, perhaps more telling is that the quality of the chance that Newcastle created was similarly poor. If we take as a crude proxy that chances created inside the box are better goal scoring opportunities than those outside of the box, then Newcastle will be concerned that only 40% (6) of their shots came from inside the box. By way of comparison, 75% (or 9) of Hull’s came from inside the box.

Hull City’s defending

Hull City went into the game having conceded five goals in their opening four fixtures. Conceding a further two on Tyneside might indicate that continuing defensive frailties might be their undoing this season. However, delving a little deeper into the analysis of the game suggests that there might be some green shoots of optimism for Tigers’ fans.

As we have seen above, Newcastle were limited to two shots on target, and just six in total from inside the box. Hull’ ability to defend the territory around their box was impressive. That Steve Bruce should take the credit for setting up his team so well is clear from the following graphic which looks at the incidence and location of ball recoveries throughout the game:

UntitledWhat the graphic shows us is that Hull were very disciplined in their approach, performing Bruce’s instruction to not chase the play but rather sit, be solid, and win the ball at the beginning of their defensive third.

Newcastle for their part won the ball (a) more often (55 recoveries to Hull’s 44) and (b) predominantly in the middle third, suggesting a more deliberate pressing game.


Newcastle will need to find a way of combining dominating possession with creating more and better chances for the likes of Remy and Cisse. This will be particularly important at home where Pardew’s preference for counter-attacking football will tend not to be effective, not least because teams will come to sit and frustrate the Geordie faithful.

For Hull fans they should quite rightly celebrate and enjoy a big three points. Bruce’s approach – and his team’s ability to implement the game plan – could be vital to helping them to stay in games, and with the quality of the likes of Robbie Brady, Sone Aluko and the impressive Tom Huddlestone, they have match-winners in their side that could make the all-important difference come May 2014.


  1. […] reputation as one of the leagues most effective operators. His priority, it seems, has been in making Hull difficult to beat, instilling a tactical discipline in midfield and defence, ensuring that only one team (Tony […]

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