Monday, September 27, 2004

Liquid gold

Fluidity was the key to Newcastle's victory over West Brom on Saturday. Souness sent out the same team as that which started against Southampton last Sunday, but this time he pushed Bellamy further forward and played a 4-3-3 formation, with Kluivert sometimes dropping off Shearer and Bellamy.

In the first half, with Carr and Bernard getting forward down the flanks, and the midfield bossing play, we saw a lot of the ball. To my mind, a goal always looked like coming, but despite several chances, resolute West Brom defending saw us reach half time goalless. Arguably we should have had a penalty, when Bowyer went down in the Leazes end penalty area (or if not a penalty, then surely a booking for a dive) however Mavis Riley lived up to his reputation by refusing to make a decision, choosing simply to ignore the whole incident.

Goalless at half time then, and whilst I felt confident that it was only a matter of time before one would come, it’s always slightly worrying when we fail to score despite a lot of possession.

The second half saw Geoff Horsfield replacing the ineffective Robert Earnshaw up front for the Baggies, and a change in tactics, with the more physical ex-Birmingham player putting himself about in an effort to unsettle the defence. One late challenge on Given from a corner leaving the Irishman in a very unhappy mood.

The change in fortunes came after Darren Purse fouled Kluivert on the edge of the Baggies penalty area in the second half. Already on a booking for doing something similar to Bellamy in the first 45 minutes, Mavis Riley produced a second yellow card and left West Brom without their captain for the remainder of the match.

Robert appeared for the seemingly injured Bellamy (how serious it is remains to be seen) and it was his ball in, which eventually found its way to Kluivert who knocked it into the net, and then picked up a booking for removing his shirt in celebration.

The Dutchman came off to be replaced by Milner, and it was he who scored the second following excellent work from Jenas, now playing on the right after Robert’s introduction saw a change to 4-4-2. Milner appeared to fluff his first attempt, with the ball trickling towards the net; however he was able to smash it home before anyone could get in and clear it.

Good work again from Jenas meant that Shearer was able to add a third shortly afterwards and St James' was bouncing. Only some slack defending which allowed Horsfield to get in at the far post to slot a header home took the edge off an otherwise excellent performance.

True, West Brom are a team in trouble, and certainly a team we should beat. However, for me the important thing was that we didn't panic when the goal didn't come quickly and sure enough our persistence paid off. Defensively, aside from the lapse for the goal we dealt with the various threats posed against us well, and in midfield the triumvirate of Butt, Bowyer and Jenas linked up well together. Up front, the big three also played well together, and Kluivert in particular looked every inch the class player with one touch play and forty yard passes all inch perfect.

So, plenty of positives to take into Thursday's UEFA Cup tie in Israel provided the injury to Bellamy isn't too serious, and we are able to cope with Butt suspended we should be able to safely negotiate that, before looking to put one over on Steve Bruce's blues next weekend.


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