Over their last eight games, there is no more parsimonious defender in the Premier League than Mike Williamson.
Drink that fact in for a second. Of the millions and millions of pounds spent on talent from across the globe over the past few years, no player in England’s top flight has seen his team concede fewer goals over the last eight matches than Williamson, the man who came to St James’ Park via Watford, Torquay and Portsmouth.
The man who, let’s not forget, might have been on his way over the summer if United had pressed the button on a deal for Brazilian defender Douglas. His best friend James Perch was not quite so lucky, paying the price for performances that made an improved contract out of Newcastle’s price range. The defender remained – just.
But it is there in black and white, if you’ll pardon the pun. Williamson has conceded 0.75 goals per game in his last eight matches: equal with Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin of fourth-placed Everton and better than David Luiz, Laurent Koscielny, Daniel Agger, Vincent Kompany and all but one of the defenders in the England team.
His stats are also better than team-mate Fabricio Coloccini, who has been absolutely sensational in recent weeks. He’s conceded 10 in his last eight games.
Williamson’s rise is no statistical anomaly, either. Since the centre-back came back into the team United have kept four clean sheets from their last five games, and in the last eight Newcastle have shipped just six goals. Three of them came in one night at Swansea, which is a fact mitigated by shut-outs against Tottenham and Manchester United.
Williamson’s secret is that he does the basics extremely well. He is decent in the air, composed alongside Coloccini and offers the kind of consistency which hasn’t yet come from more talented team-mates Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Steven Taylor, who have both picked up red cards for moments of madness this season. Williamson, by contrast, is yet to be booked this season.
Few – maybe not even Williamson – would argue that he had the raw ability to rival either French international Yanga-Mbiwa or Taylor, who was picked for the England squad last year. What he does have is the temperament and consistency to match anyone in the league at the moment.
His other great asset is that his strengths dovetail effectively with Coloccini’s. While the Argentinian has the silky composure to play out from the back, Williamson’s strength lies in more prosaic things like aerial ability, his cool head under pressure and the way he is able to protect the space in front of him so well.
If that sounds overly simplistic, itis worth remembering that theColoccini-Williamson axis would have been no one’s first choice back in August. Yet sometimes successful combinations are constructed that seem to be effective not because both players are gifted with special ability but because they actually make each other better players.
For the time being, Williamson and Coloccini fall into that category. Pardew says: “I think continuity in the back four and goalie has really helped. We didn’t have that last year.
“Coloccini is a special player. Sometimes you take him for granted, or we do because he’s the captain and he’s got the flowing, curly hair, but he was terrific at Crystal Palace. He really was.”
Williamson was too, even if the Twitter account that popped up on Saturday evening that was titled “Mike Brazil-liamson” might have been a tad premature. England might not be blessed with an abundance of talent in the central defensive areas at the moment, but Williamson needs to extend his run of form until the end of the season to be on the radar of football’s great and good.
Still, considering where he was over the summer, no one should question where this unlikely story might conclude.
While unsung hero Williamson prospers, others are not making quite as much noise as they were previously. Loic Remy, for one, who has not scored since November 23 and is without a goal for his last five games.
Pardew’s solution is a reasonable one: he thinks Newcastle need to fashion more opportunities for a player who can cause problems to Stoke this afternoon – and tee United up nicely for a potential post-Christmas cracker against Arsenal.
“He’s a great finisher. He didn’t get many chances on Saturday,” he said.
That is a problem for a striker who, Pardew reckons, needs others to be enterprising for him to profit.
“He’s not a striker that, as Jose Mourinho keeps reminding us all, can create his own goals. To an extent he is a player that finishes moves and therefore we need to get more chances to him.
“But I thought his contribution was very good on Saturday. It’s not easy leading the line in any Premier League game.”