Little Britton makes for a jolly Rodgers
Newcastle United 0 Swansea 0
St James' Park
Monday 19 December 2011
Attempting to prosper in the Premier League is no laughing matter, but Brendan Rodgers can always raise a smile when asked to discuss little Britton. "He's about two stones soaking wet," the Swansea manager said of his admirable midfielder Leon Britton, whose physique, or more accurately lack of it, is refreshing antidote to the worryingly ubiquitous identikit top-flight footballer big on stature but short on talent.
Britton, who stands 5ft 6in, exerted an increasing influence on an encounter Newcastle could conceivably have won at a canter, but didn't. The hosts struck the woodwork twice in the space of four first-half minutes through Fabricio Coloccini and Demba Ba, and found Michel Vorm a formidable barrier in the Swansea goal, as an eighth clean sheet for the Welsh side will attest. That Newcastle had six times as many shots on goal and nine times the number of corners as their opponents tells its own story.
A failure to exploit their supremacy left the hosts open to a late rally by the visitors that almost saw Scott Sinclair claim all three points. Regardless of their wait for a first away victory of the season, on a day that another fine exponent of the midfield art in Gary Speed was remembered with a fitting tribute, Britton's work was exemplary.
Alan Pardew describes the returning Cheik Tiote, the midfielder who came off towards the end "with cramp everywhere" as his warrior. By contrast, Britton, whose care and attention when in possession is evident, is more of a worrier. Each painstaking pass is lovingly sent by the footballing flyweight, Swansea's erstwhile quarter-back directing operations from the centre of the park; a small man helping the Welsh club make big strides in among the top-flight giants.
"The traditional British outlook on players is that they have to be over six foot, quick and strong," Rodgers, himself among the more diminutive of his Premier League peers, reflected. "Along with a number of my other players, Leon showed a wonderful demonstration of technique, talent and an ability to pass the ball. He's been terrific. At many other clubs, he wouldn't get a game, but because we play a certain way, he offers a great structure for our team, in a controlling position. He was outstanding today and the catalyst behind everything, the door which opens a lot of things up for us."
Depending on your viewpoint, for Newcastle, it was either back up to sixth, or a fifth game without a win. Either way, this was a first clean sheet for two months. Tiote and Coloccini were welcome returnees from injury, but the nagging suspicion remains that the bubble has burst for Pardew's side, and that the only way is down to the comfort of mid-table.
The absence at home to West Brom on Wednesday of Yohan Cabaye, in the wake of a rather harsh fifth yellow card of the season, will only make the task halting the malaise that bit harder.
"I've got no problem if that's what people think," Pardew insisted. "We all want the possibility of the top-six spot, and we'll just go to the next game and see what happens."
Substitutes: Newcastle Shola Ameobi 6 (Best, 71), Sammy Ameobi (Obertan, 82), Vuckic (Tioté, 82). Swansea Agustien 6 (Gower, h-t), Dyer (Sinclair, 77).
Booked: Newcastle Cabaye. Swansea Richards.
Man of the match Britton. Match rating 5/10.
Possession: Newcastle 56% Swansea 44%.
Attempts on target: Newcastle 6 Swansea 0.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 51,767.
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