Final Score: Norwich City 0, Newcastle United 0
WHEN the final whistle sounded at Carrow Road all eyes centred on Fabricio Coloccini to see if he had anything special planned for the Newcastle United supporters.
He simply walked with his team-mates in the direction of the fans and applauded them.
There was no grand gesture or throwing his shirt into the crowd. It was just like any other game.
There was also something very familiar about his performance.
While Tyneside has been debating his future, Coloccini turned in a confident and composed display to remind everyone he would be a difficult man to replace.
After asking for a transfer to be arranged, which would see him head back to Argentina to sign for San Lorenzo, there are footballers who would have refused to play.
The captain, retaining the armband ahead of a midweek meeting which will look to find an end to the situation, looked relaxed, composed and focused as he marshalled a defence which kept a first away clean sheet since winning at Chelsea last May.
His former manager, Chris Hughton, now in charge of the Canaries, never questioned Coloccini’s character and reckons he will continue to perform.
“There’s not a better lad than Coloccini, he was excellent when I was there and he’s really, really developed as a top player,” said Hughton, who left after leading Newcastle to promotion in December 2010. “Certainly the club will not want to lose him.
“He’s a top player from the way that he trains. He doesn’t miss many games and he’s a really tough i n d i v i d u a l , mentally as well.”
Coloccini has not been as consistent as he would like this season and it has become apparent that his personal matters – believed to centre on his wife’s health – have been a distraction.
But after ten days of increased talk about his desire to leave before the end of the month he was asked to play at Carrow Road. And he looked somewhere near his unruffled best to ease concerns his situation would have had a knockon effect on the team’s performance.
Yohan Cabaye, making his return to the side as a secondhalf substitute, said: “The back four and the keeper all played well. Colo plays for Newcastle, he is a Newcastle player, so for us nothing has changed. Nobody was thinking about that situation.”
Coloccini showed exactly the sort of mental toughness Newcastle are going to need if they are to climb away from relegation trouble.
In fact, if anything, it was Newcastle’s attack rather than defence that often looked disjointed and distracted.
While Krul was competently guarded more often than not by the players in front of him, including £5.5m debutant Mathieu Debuchy, there was a lack of threat posed to the Norwich goal. Following the departure of striker Demba Ba, who has not been replaced as yet, scoring goals is a real concern.
With Newcastle sitting just two points above the bottom three, Alan Pardew needs to find a way of hitting the net ahead of matches with struggling Aston Villa and Reading.
A failure to do so will drop his team into the relegation zone. Cabaye, playing for the first time since November 11, hopes the foundations have been laid for an improvement in results after watching the majority of an alarming slump of two wins from 18 games from the sidelines.
“For us a clean sheet was the most important thing and will give us more confidence.
It will make us more solid,”
said Cabaye, after recovering from his hernia problem. “I can’t explain the difference in results from last season when we finished fifth. After each loss it became more and more difficult to get out of the run.”
Cabaye’s return could be crucial. Newcastle have lacked his creativity and Pardew needs to come up with something to spark Papiss Cisse in to life. Cisse’s touch was seemingly left on Tyneside on Saturday, while he often looked isolated up front on his own.
Does Cabaye feel any extra pressure after his comeback?
He said: “Every team-mate, every player has their responsibilities on the pitch. I don’t think I was asked to come back because of all the defeats.
“I just worked hard to get fit and help my team-mates.
Every game we lost I was far away from the pitch and I could not do anything about it. The only thing I could do was to get fit and come back to help.”
There were occasional efforts on goal at Norwich, although none seriously tested the goalkeepers except until 14 minutes before the end.
A free-flowing move from right to left ended with Norwich’s Anthony Pilkington cutting inside and his shot had to be well saved by Krul to keep the score goalless.
That was how it remained, even though Grant Holt’s injury- time header was turned narrowly wide by Pilkington from under the bar; meaning Newcastle avoided an eighth consecutive defeat.
Having stopped the rot the focus will again turn to Coloccini, with a solution required quickly if Newcastle are to prevent heading into their next two fixtures with unwanted off-the-field worries.