Do Newcastle play the long ball game and does it matter?

Posted on September 14th, 2011 | 78 Comments |

Newcastle United's alleged long ball game.
Long ball game?
With recent accusations of Alan Pardew’s alleged long ball tactics, I wanted to ask the question: do Newcastle United play the long-ball game and does it matter?

After England’s 1-1 draw against the United States in the 2010 World Cup Franz Beckenbauer had this to say:

What I saw from the English in their 1-1 draw against the United States had very little to do with football.

It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards into the bad old times of kick and rush. I am not sure if the England coach Fabio Capello can still change much there. The English are being punished for the fact that there are very few English players in the Premier League clubs as they use better foreign players from all over the world.

Beckenbauer had the last laugh too of course because we subsequently crashed 4-1 to Germany, but is his general damnation of the long ball game valid? And I ask because there have been a few questions lately about Newcastle’s game plan and whether or not Alan Pardew prefers the long ball game.

One of the main advocates of the long ball game is Charles Hughes, whose book ‘The Winning Formula: The Football Association Soccer Skills and Tactics’ allegedly demonstrates statistically that most goals are scored within a maximum of 5 passes. And Hughes used his position as head of coaching for the FA in the 1990’s to promote the long ball strategy, which has somehow become more associated with English football than the football of many other countries, even though many other countries do indeed play in that style anyway.

In the 1994 World Cup the team whose goals came as a result of the most passes was the Republic of Ireland and they went out in the second round, yet Brazil, who won the World Cup, scored most of their goals from three or fewer passes. So does this tell us that the long ball game is the most successful way to play?

I’d suggest is doesn’t because it’s not that simple. Statistics can be a blunt instrument and you could argue that what those raw statistics fail to take into account that Brazil may have been (and probably were) a more skillful side in general and could have employed most methods of play more successfully.

I think one particular opinion about the long ball game is wrong though and that’s that it is only employed by teams who lack skill. Clearly that wasn’t the case with Brazil in ’94 and I don’t think that’s the case in general. It is a legitimate tactic that’s lauded in a more than just Charles Hughes’s coaching manuals.

The main criticism of the long ball game is that it isn’t as much fun to watch and that’s true enough. We all like dazzling football and the ‘possession game’ but that isn’t necessarily winning football either. Remember Inter Milan’s game against Barcelona in 2010? Inter Milan had a 3-1 lead from their home game and in the return leg Barcelona had 75%-85% of the possession (depending on which stats you read), which is astonishing, but could only get one goal against José Mourinho’s side who, Mourinho claimed, deliberately gave the ball away to avoid ‘losing focus’ (I doubt they did – that’s more likely to be a typical Mourinho’s wind-up). It does prove that possession football isn’t everything either though. Sure, Inter didn’t win that game but they did enough to get through.

The point of all this, I think, is to suggest that both the long ball game and the possession game are perfectly valid tactics and a manager must tailor his approach based on the players he has and the opposition he’s facing and truly good teams will be able to play – and play against – all forms of football.

So, if – as the accusation goes – Alan Pardew is employing the long ball game, does it matter as long as we get results?

NUFCBlog Author: Hugh de Payen I'm a baby-boomer of the punk rock persuasion, currently exiled in Somerset for crimes committed in a previous life where locals keep trying to poison me with something called 'scrumpy'. Hates sprouts, coat-hangers, Cilla Black, ornaments, Steven Seagull movies and 50 Cent (he's not worth 10). Hugh de Payen has written 634 articles on this blog.

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78 Responses

  1. I’d like to quote the well-known philosopher Vin Diesel here;

    “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning”

    As long as we are picking up the points that’s great – could be worse, we could still have Big Sam, he has the most defeatist tactics known to man

  2. well when we did managed to to get the ball off QPR on monday neet it was deffo – jackie charlton – tactics like.

    boot tha bal up tha field.

  3. The point is surely all contained in the last sentence ‘a manager must tailor his approach based on the players he has’. I suggest playing the long ball game is not an option for the toon…we don’t have the right players to do it!

  4. Ive never seen Brazil use the good old UP and Under tchnique that was mastered by Wes Saunders in the 90s and seemingly brought back by Alan Pardews Newcastle against QPR,

  5. Ha Ha @ 1 and the vin diesel quote. I think a good team should be able to mix it up a bit, not in different games but during a game to keep the opposition guessing. KK the first time round was a master of this.

  6. A lot is being made of our lack of fire power and the failure to sign a top striker. But I’ve seen enough of Leon Best to think that if you get the ball to him in the right places[and he’s got a bit to learn about getting in to the right places] he will score regularly. If you remember Andy Cole scored oodles of goals due to Peter Beardsley’s defence splitting through balls. Punting the long ball over the head of people like Cabaye and HBA when he returns seems like a hell of a waste of ball playing talent

  7. i remember at some point the same time last year we were taking about Newcastle’s excellent short passes and how they would string together 4-5 passes and was great to watch of course that was under hughton and times and players change now with pardew bringing in his own tactics the long ball is being used more often. good example was the qpr game best was winning the headers but no one was running on to them. the direct long ball option is good at times but bringing back the passing game earlier from last year would be great to see back!.

  8. So Pardew is lying again!!! Wasn’t it Cabaye that said he was interested in the way Pardew sold the football style that he wanted to play and wasn’t that the passing game and that is what convinced him to join (Something along those lines). Personally I feel that on Monday the midfield where out numbered and played to deep that when the defence looked up they seen more blue/white tops so couldnt do anything else than hit and hope. The other thing to consider is that when Tiote got the ball he managed to give it away the defence will have seen that and decided to bypass.

  9. The Brazil 1994 statistic is slightly misleading. They might have only passed 3 or 4 times in the run up to a goal, but it was usually proceeded by a pass from the keeper to the left back who sets off a run, beats a couple of players before a pinpoint pass to a midfielder who beats 3 more players then feeds Romario who skins the central defenders for pace before rounding the keeper then blasting the bal into the roof of the net.
    We employ the ‘hoof, head, hit’ tactic. Except usually without the hit. Or even without the head too.

  10. i dont know if there’s any truth in this rumor that’s currently doing the rounds – but they reckon that the sky sports camera man that was sitting on the half way line on monday neet has just signed on the sick for a fortnight with a creek in his gregory peck.

  11. The long ball system is not a very reliable strategy, first of all, defenders will see the pass comming and will be able to position themselves and unless you have a very strong targetman with good control, you will end up losing the ball and it will come straight back at you as were the case against QPR. If the long ball was so great as, England would have won more World Cups and the top sides such as Barca, Real, Bayern and the EPL’s own top clubs would be using it, which they dont… A long pass is best used when the situation calls for it, for instance if the defenders are out of position in a counter attack and so on.

  12. Use everything at your disposal should be order of the day.

    england are one of the ugliest teams in world football as they have had all skill coached out of them, it’s like having ya’ eyes replaced by hot toffee-apples.
    brazil are shite sometimes, stop wearing them like a hat, same goes for barca too.
    arsenal have been the best footballing team for a few years (over here) & it just happens to coincide with them winning ball all. Just like when we set the world alight under kk. So, in summary, do whatever, whenever, to win, even if the ball bounces off a defenders ear, hits their ‘keeper on the knee, pings up, smacks Shola in the face, ricochets off Saylor’s ass, bobble’s ’round the box bouncing off every defender, then trickles over the line, just!


  13. clint – if they were in my back garden & playing like that then i’d close the curtains – i want/need entertaining m8.

    anyhoo is the – new addition – giving you any sleepless neets? or are them duties for others :)

  14. Roy,
    i closed the curtains on england many moons ago, we’re not quite that bad yet.
    I don’t mind being entertained by not losing for now, but if we’re still in the top 4/6 by xmas i’m gonna be mighty pissed off mate, i can tell ya’.

    Aye, not much sleep gannen on round our yard, but hey, par for the course hey mate? Fortunately, i lack the ‘correct equipment’ that the lad needs right now…Phew! :)
    Thanx for asking bud.
    How’s it for you man?

  15. Three or fewer passes doesnt necessarily mean the long ball – it could be three very good passes?
    I seem to remember Glen Hoddle was lauded for his 40 – 50 yard passes (always to someones feet granted!)
    If we have a player good in the air and capable of holding up play, the long ball is perhaps not always a bad thing.
    It is also possible that AP feels we need to adapt to every game differently – grinding out points away possibly.
    Maybe he is waiting on some of the injured players returning and will change his tactics accordingly?
    If we won every game 1 – nil and where as boring as hell, would we complain when we finally won something?
    Just a thought (Dont fight about this untill 11.00 tonight – I’m just playing Devils Advocate)

  16. roy, also you wouldn’t have to worry about getting your windows smashed,as amoebi and co,couldn’t hit them.

  17. clint

    top 4/6 :) them sleepless are catching up with ya lad – but then again this is the toon & owt could happen…

    as good m8.

    aye trojan – barn door ect :)

  18. Roy,
    i was more suggesting that it was disgusting & a disgrace (& other words like that), Oh! I forgot woeful, that we were in that position.

  19. We played 4-4-2 away against a 4-3-3 home team.
    This does not work.
    Our mid field 4 included 2 wingers who succeeded in neither supplying the 2 forwards nor dominating the midfield.
    Hence Tiote & Cabaye were outnumbered and Best & Shameobi were starved of supply – long balls were the only way through.

    I think with the players we have 4-5-1 with Best up front looks the “best” option for us and plays to our strength of good midfield players, with 2 wingers and an extra man (Gosling scored twice) to support Tiote & Cabaye.

    Our forwards are not going to get enough goals! We need to find a midfield to supply the sort of goals from midfield that have been or strength for the last couple of seasons.

    We have the players for 4-5-1 – it won’t make us world beaters but we should beat most of the teams in the PL from what I’ve seen so far, and we should earn a 7-9 final position.


  20. Away from home you play anyway you can to get a point, if we play lyk that at home the already reducing crowd will sink even further.

    I can not watch Staylor lump it up to the strikers every week!!!

  21. If a certain Mr Shearer was on the field, by all means boot the ball up there. He’d win it, hold it up and pass it on. If a Mr Ameobi gets anywhere near it, he falls over, claims a foul and then watches as it makes its way back into our half.

    Surely it’s only a good tactic, if you have a team that can win it and then hold it. Otherwise its just an exercise in asserting pressure on yourself?!

  22. Supermac @ 23

    Have to agree with you Supermac. We must play to our strengths which at the moment is our midfield and defence and certainly not our attack.

    Therefore, we have to play 4-2-3-1 if we want to have Tiote and Cabaye in midfield with Ben Arfa in a free role between them and a single striker. In Ben Arfa, Marveaux, Vuckic and Cabaye we have players who are skilled on the ball.

    In the old days when pitches were very often a clogging muddy quagmire it made sense to lob the ball but today it doesn’t as the pitches are like billiard tables.

  23. If we has Shearer? How about if we had Carroll? or Macdonald!
    We havn’t! Nor do we have anyone remotely able to fill their boots!
    What we have are good midfielders & wingers – so we must play to those strengths and forget about 2 forwards until we have 2 forwards woth playing!
    Until then we need a forward capable of getting into the box early, able to contol crosses & through balls and to score (to be brutally realistic) 10 goals a season – and the only one we have is Best! Shamiobe & Lovers can’t fill this role.


  24. HAHAHA

    Are people only now just beginning to realise we have played nowt but long ball this in all our 5 games?

    Yes it does matter if we play pathetic hoof ball tactics.

    Did it not matter for Big Sam at both Newcastle & Blackburn???

    I bet you Cabaye and Obertan are loving Pardew’s passing possession game right now! HAHAHA

  25. Kamar,
    aye mate, that’s exactly what we should be employing.
    Then if we need to change up later in the game we have Ba & Sammeobi who could be good impact subs.

  26. But anyhoo,
    for a team still gelling & getting to know each others strengths & weaknesses & still have players to come back from injury, it could be a lot worse like.
    Look at 5*1and!


  27. I mentioned this on Monday night but I dont think its pure long ball but more hopeful long ball on a number of occasions probably borne out of necessity ?

    Thats why it remains a mystery to us all that he took so long to change things !

    “With the tendency for Premier League managers to blame the referee, agents, or anything else they can think of for their team’s downfall (looking at you Brucey), it is refreshing to hear Pardew reflect on the game with an honest and balanced critique of proceedings. However, it is interesting that in recognising that his game plan was faultering, with QPR controlling the midfield and the strikers not having their desired impact, that he didn’t opt to revert to a 5 man midfield until there were only 9 minutes left. In which, although it is obviously a short sample, Newcastle looked far more comfortable and on par with their opponents with the extra man in midfield.

    Given Pardew’s acceptance that his 4-4-2 game plan did not go as planned, and he gave it 81 minutes for it to do so, we may see Newcastle adopt a different formation, presumably 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, and implement a few personnel changes for this Saturday’s league fixture (3pm kick off) against Aston Villa at Villa Park, as the Geordies look to hold on to their Champions League place”

    We can only hope that The Clueless One gets the message ?

  28. Andy,
    you know as well as anyone that managers don’t like changing it while they’re not losing.
    That’s why Raylor’s getting the nod, although it will have been a great prem-style game for Santon to study from the bench.
    451, 4231 or 433 is the way forward as you state man.

  29. Sir Bobby says:
    September 14, 2011 at 11:35 am


    Are people only now just beginning to realise we have played nowt but long ball this in all our 5 games?”

    I realised quite some time ago Sir Bobby and said so on these pages. However many people scoffed and preferred to rely on propaganda rather than what is actually happening on the pitch.

  30. It’s funny though how we got dicked for 81 minutes before he changed it, it was so lucky that the score wasn’t 3-0 at half-time. If he had known the system wasn’t working, why didn’t he change it sooner. His ego maybe?

    Even Mourinho will take a player off before half-time and change systems, as will Ferguson if they think they’ve got it wrong. The moment that QPR’s 4-4-3 was known, he should have changed it round, but no, he won’t because he had faith in the defence… I’d call it faith in QPR’s lack of a decent finisher!

    Utter rubbish also saying “last season we would have got beat 3-0 and not drawn”. If we had played a Stoke or a Bolton we would have still got smashed like last season.

    Expect another 4-4-2 on Saturday with that twat Ameobi up top and more hoof ball. But it’s OK though, because we’re 4th… Nobody should even look at the table until 10 games in, even then I’d say it’s around Christmas where the table begins to take shape.

    Right better stop my mini-rant this morning, I can’t be bothered having to deal with any “Kum Ba Ya me Lord”, holding hands around a fcking camp fire, whilst toasting marshmallows responses.

  31. Kamar @ 29
    You name midfielders Tiote, Ben Arfa, Marveaux, Vuckic and Cabaye – a mouthwatering midfield.
    But who plays wide & supplies crosses? Are these in place of wingers? I’m not criticising, It’s just that I cant’t picture us having room for them all (plus Gosling).
    But it does show how close we are to a skillfull team with options!


  32. “It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards into the bad old times of kick and rush. I am not sure if the England coach Fabio Capello can still change much there. The English are being punished for the fact that there are very few English players in the Premier League clubs as they use better foreign players from all over the world.”

    “Beckenbauer had the last laugh too of course because we subsequently crashed 4-1 to Germany, but is his general damnation of the long ball game valid?”

    Bearing in mind what Becks said, it’s quite ironic that the Sausagemunchers’ first goal in that game was pure “route one” ie a massive hoof from the keeper, Manuel Neuer, to Miroslav Klose.

  33. Worky, that’s one goal of 4 against us. Watch how the Germans play football, and compare it to how England play. We’re so far behind, hence we will not achieve much at the Euros. Our players are nowhere near as good either, because they’re not getting enough time on the pitch. We need to go with youth, and in form players, but we keep playing the Lampards, Ferdinands etc. When floppy chops Redknapp becomes manager, he’ll still play them lot until their 40 probably.

  34. I dunno what you’re implying, I only appreciate Natalie’s presenter skills and sporting knowledge.

  35. Supermac @ 38

    Yes, we haven’t got room for all the midfielders. A nice problem to have though.

    I believe that Ben Arfa will be play in the hole and his deputy will be Vuckic but I cannot see them playing together. Too alike maybe. Vuckic isn’t fast enough to play on the wing but has the vision, skill, playmaking and passing ability to play between the lone striker and the midfield.

    I see Gosling playing alongside Tiote or Cabaye but not both. He could also play instead of Vuckic.

    I have been wondering whether Tiote’s off form is because Cabaye is occupying space where Tiote used to roam. Cramping his style perhaps. Is it like Lampard and Gerrard for England. They never really gelled together. Too similar?

    I see Marveaux playing on the left (in place of Jonas)whenever Ben Arfa plays as I think they will have a better understanding. However, there is nothing stopping Marveaux playing on the right and cutting in.

    Of course yesterdays reserve match may have put the kibosh on my theories as Gosling played at No 10 and by all acounts did well in that position!

    With regard to ‘…But who plays wide & supplies crosses..’ Quite a choice in Marveaux, Jonas, Obertan, Ferguson and Sammy. The other question is what type of crosses. With a big old style centre forward ( a la Carroll / Shearer) crosses would be at head height. I’m not sure that Pardew is looking for that type of player. The strikers we were linked with in the summer didn’t strike me as Carroll / Shearer types. I think Pardew wants a more mobile on the ground forward. Who knows.

  36. Jimbob says:
    September 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    “I dunno what you’re implying, I only appreciate Natalie’s presenter skills and sporting knowledge.”

    Of course Jimbob. Of course.

    You never get enraged when they place the Skysports news ticker over her considerable cleavage, as some do. :lol:

  37. Er…Do the mighty brazil even know what w(h)ingers are?
    We should try & move away from the constant reliance on wingers. It’s one of the main reason for the current malaise & lack of goals. 442=wingers.

    I would read too much into Der Kaiser’s comments, he was trying to get a rise outta the british pressmongers.

  38. While still on the subject of Natalie Sawyer, I notice that her and her colleagues at SSN are taking far more notice of Manchester City’s stadium name change than they ever have of Newcastle United’s Sports Direct @ St James’ Park.cock.

  39. worky,
    that’ll be de rigeur soon(stade namings).
    & no-one will even care or notice, just like shirt sponsorship & the like.

  40. Kamar,

    Sorry, I’m not ignoring your lengthy and erudite comment on Newcastle United’s possible tactics and player deployment in favour of Jimbob’s admiration for Natalie Sawyer’s cleavage.

    There’s some food for thought there.

  41. Kamar says:
    September 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm


    ‘….There’s some food for thought there…’

    My comments or Natalie Sawyer’s cleavage?”

    Errrr, both I suppose Kamar! :-)

  42. There`s probably some support for Natalie’s Cleavage, but we can’t be sure unless we examine the issue farther.

  43. “Man gets eel up his penis story” had to have a Dr Wang involved somewhere along the line :lol:

  44. chuck says:
    September 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    “There`s probably some support for Natalie’s Cleavage, but we can’t be sure unless we examine the issue farther.”

    Chuck, I’m sure that Jimbob would be more than happy to lead that inquiry. :lol:

  45. AndyMac says:
    September 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    “Man gets eel up his penis story” had to have a Dr Wang involved somewhere along the line”

    Not bad Andy.

    I’m surprised that the Stun of all newspapers missed the opportunity to use that one.

  46. Ah ! “the long ball game”, favorites of BSA and Jackie Charlton, both of who used it with much success, at Bolton and with the Irish national side.
    Not to mention the English national side, who just refuse to play any other way since the fifties, regardless of who the manager is.
    Sorry the question was do “we” NUFG play that style ?
    Hard to tell ? if you consider hoofing the ball upfield
    (a hail mary pass)hoping one of our big guys gets his loaf to it and……
    Nah ! we dont play the game of Charlton & BSA, there was rhyme and reason to their game, not just hoofing it out of panic or lack of any tactical plan.
    Having watched that awfull game the other night, a game that appeared as if the manager had sent the players out with the instructions, “just go out there and play”!
    Cause if there was any kind of tactical plan, i guess i missed it ?
    Then we read shit about how good we are defensivly, keeping clean sheets, look we just lost our best defensive player (much to Jonas’s chagrin)the rest are decent, only decent, nothing special and can we get a look at the new guy, anyone but Raylor, puhleez !
    Any injuries and our defense is screwed.
    As for midfield, we got the tecnical skills of Cabaye,
    Marveaux, HBA, to back up Best and BA, our best forwards, but we have to leave Tiote in front of the back four, not share the role with Cabaye, causes only confusion.
    And fourth place is temporary dont get carried away, check our position out at Christmas.
    A glimmer of hope here, there has been talk of Clarke replacing Pardew (please god! actually anyone)no not Steve Clarke, whom i would really like to see here, but beggars cant be choosers.
    Soh ! it’s the two undefeated sides this w/end, two clubs who are over-rated, lets see what happens?

  47. villa may be over-rated chuck, but i don’t think anyone’s over-rating us, we’re decent faves for the drop, last time i looked like.

  48. Long ball-short passing game ?
    At times the typical short triangular passing style employed by Arsenal, can be even more frustrating and boring to watch than the maligned long ball game.
    If employed properly, the long killer pass is a thing of beauty, the switching from one wing to another are all pleasing to watch, as is the perfect high ball into the box.
    Arsene Wengers sides, though pretty to watch, can be quite frustrating for the fans, with what appears to be a desire to walk the ball into the net, instead of wellieing it at the first opportunity.
    Point is there’s room for both styles to be employed and good teams will take advantage of of both.

  49. & Clarky won’t be replacing AP anytime soon mate either.
    Have a listen to that interview^^^^^^^^up there.

  50. chuck @ 63,
    exactly mate, employing a mix of both is ideal. Sometimes you have to match the conditions/oppo tactics etc.

    It’s amazing how many times barca, for eg, pass backwards, yet everyone lauds them for their atting play.
    Possession is 9/10’s of the law, as we say!

  51. Clint
    Favorites for the drop you say ?
    Hope you realise you are speaking herasy here, there are fans with european expectations.
    After all we have a much improved side,(well financially that is)got rid of all those big mouthed Scousers and that troublesome Geordie striker, not to mention the ungratefull Spanish defender, plus their overly compensated wage packets.
    Does’nt that make you feel better ?
    And to think it cost next to nowt !
    howeh man! count your blessings !

  52. It’s more hearsay tbh mate.
    All the ‘pundits’ have us down again, before we kicked off.

  53. Hugh de Payen says:
    September 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    “I could stretch to a fiver Clint.”

    That’s probaly far more than Sports Direct are paying Hugh.

  54. Indeed Worky. I’d like to see a breakdown of just how much Sports Direct are paying Newcastle United for all this advertising.

    Whatever happened to selling our email-like ground name for millions?

  55. Hugh de Payen says:

    “Indeed Worky. I’d like to see a breakdown of just how much Sports Direct are paying Newcastle United for all this advertising”

    I asked that very self same question Hugh my dear boy and the answer is probably a big fat zero :)