The Agenda: Searching for striking solutions

Misfiring strikers can be a bit of a problem. As Stuart Rayner points out, both Newcastle United and Sunderland have them

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore

You could have been forgiven for thinking Gustavo Poyet was stating the bleedin’ obvious.

“You cannot maintain a player up front if he does not score too many goals,” the Uruguayan said yesterday.

Sunderland’s coach should not have been so defeatist. Both the Black Cats and Newcastle United have managed it perfectly well this season.

Papiss Cisse has one goal in 10 Newcastle appearances.

Jozy Altidore has an identical record for Sunderland.

With one goal in five matches for his new club – four, in fairness, from the bench – Altidore’s team-mate Fabio Borini is positively prolific this term. Yet a career record of two goals in 21 Premier League appearances is hardly the stuff to keep defenders awake at night – unless, perhaps, they play for Newcastle who hold the dubious distinction of having conceded both.

Some strikers bring more to the table than just goals. Emile Heskey won 61 England caps – more than Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler, Chris Sutton, Kevin Phillips, Stan Collymore and Tony Cottee combined – despite scoring just seven international goals. Some, though, do not. A striker with the “yips” can present his manager with a difficult dilemma.

If Cisse had not seemingly been wearing his shooting boots on the wrong feet on Wednesday night, Newcastle might be in the League Cup quarter-finals right now.

Sadly, it was not just one of those nights. For the Senegal forward, 2013 is almost turning into one of those years.

“He’s doing everything we want, he’s just not getting that break,” his exasperated manager Alan Pardew reflected yesterday. Pardew seems to have mastered the art of always having one striker – Demba Ba, then Cisse, Ba again, now Loic Remy – scoring regularly, never two.

Since his early-April burst of three goals in as many games, Cisse has not scored against a top-division team.

Yet jettisoning a quality striker can be a mistake too and 13 games in his first 14 Magpies appearances suggest Cisse is such a player.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images Papiss Cisse of Newcastle United
Papiss Cisse of Newcastle United
 

Take Fernando Torres. That is precisely what most Chelsea fans have been begging for much of his Stamford Bridge career.

So deadly at Liverpool, the Spaniard has turned into a flat-track bully.

His Chelsea record in Europe and the Fifa World Club Championship is 16 goals in 35 appearances.

He scored five goals in three Confederations Cup games this summer. Four came against the mighty Tahiti.

His Premier League record in 2013 is two goals in 24 matches. If £50m strikers came with receipts, Roman Abramovich would have long since looked down the back of his sofa for Torres’.

Yet the quality of his performances against Schalke and Manchester City, more than the goals scored, suggested the old magic might just be coming back. It could be a horribly false dawn, but if Torres can get back to anything like his old self, expect a line of fawning journalists queuing up Fleet Street to sing the praises of Jose Mourinho’s managerial genius. To see Torres playing like that last week explained why Pardew is steadfastly persevering with Cisse.

Altidore is another with a split personality. The powerful front man has scored in his last six international starts – not all against top-drawer opposition (he plays for the USA).

In two years with AZ Alkmaar he scored 38 goals in 67 league games.

Stick a Premier League badge on his sleeve and it is a different story. Altidore can no more buy a league goal with Sunderland than he could with Hull City. Does Poyet persevere, or accept the forward is unsuited to the cut and thrust of English football? The qualities of others are less obvious. The much-maligned Heskey was a case in point.

“As a manager you cannot maintain a player up front if he does not score too many goals, unless you don’t have anyone else,” argued Poyet, perhaps explaining why Altidore has played so often this season.

“The only one I remember is Emile Heskey with England. He needed to play because of Michael Owen. Owen was doing well and England were winning, but if you don’t win and your top scorer doesn’t score he is not going to play.” Poyet’s point was a warning aimed at Borini. The Italian has piggybacked a career off his No.1 fan Brendan Rogers.

The Northern Irishman liked what he saw of Borini as a Chelsea reserve, so much so he bought him for Swansea City and Liverpool.

Even his patience seems to be running thin, though, loaning the 22-year-old to Rome last season and Wearside this.

Poyet is acutely aware one swing of Borini’s right boot – even in a Wear-Tyne derby – does not a deadly goalscorer make. He seems sceptical enough about Borini’s potency but fond enough of his all-round game to be considering reinventing him as a winger.

“He gives you plenty of options, the problem is how we use him,” the Black Cats coach mused.

“Fabio has gone from playing up front to then, for different reasons, playing wide.

“He has played on the left in England then back in Italy last year on the right. If you use him well and give him the opportunity to have shots he is going to score goals.

“Now, it’s up to him. He needs to play and score (or) other players will knock on the door and say, ‘What about me? I’m here!”

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer