Monday, January 24, 2005

It's a shame about Shay

Two 1-0 defeats to Arsenal in the space of less than a month, but yesterday’s could have been much worse were it not for the between-the-sticks heroics of Shay Given, who didn’t deserve to finish on the losing side.

Babayaro missed out through injury, so Bernard was back in from the cold, whilst Bellamy was left out of the squad altogether – the official line was a recurrence of his hamstring problem, but the rumours suggest he took a leaf out of that weighty tome The Kieron Dyer Guide To Wrecking Your Newcastle Career and refused to play wide right in midfield. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of that…

We could have been one down within a minute of the kick-off, Dyer making a mess of a clearance in the six yard box following a lightning Arsenal attack down the left – presumably his mind was already on the possible post-match goings-on at the Grosvenor, because he certainly played as if it was. With Mathieu Flamini lurking with intent, Bramble’s outstretched knee blocked the ball on the line and bailed the Little Waster out of trouble.

The only goal of the game came eighteen minutes later, and it was that familiar thorn in our collective sides Dennis Bergkamp who strode onto Flamini’s flicked pass, held off Taylor’s flailing challenge and calmly slotted the ball home. Taylor had allowed Bergkamp to get inside him, and it was that naivety that cost us, as good as the finish was.

Further upfield Robert, Bellamy’s replacement in the starting eleven, was busy proving himself an even greater waste of space than Dyer. In the past he’s had some fine games against the Gunners, but on this occasion he was staggeringly lackadaisical, gifting the ball to opposition players time and again.

With Shearer anonymous it was left to Ameobi to provide our sole threat up front. Pushed out into the wide right position Bellamy had allegedly refused to occupy, he gave Ashley Cole plenty of problems on the ground but especially in the air. He had our only real chance of the half, heading over from Bernard’s cross when he should have done better.

In central midfield Bowyer and JJ showed a willingness to tackle hard and unsettle their more cultured opponents, assisted by some characteristically robust challenges from Taylor, Bernard and Bramble. Occasionally the line was crossed – Bowyer and Taylor both picked up yellow cards, the latter being replaced at half-time by Hughes – but too often in the past we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied out of games so this was reason to feel a measure of satisfaction.

We restricted Arsenal to very few chances in the first half, but the second period soon became a procession of close calls as their key players – Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Jose Antonio Reyes – shifted up a gear. Given had already made a decent stop from Henry in the first half, but now his goal was being peppered and he took centre stage with a series of marvellous saves.

We rode our luck when Henry was played through by Vieira, and his shot took enough of a deflection off Given to deviate it off the post and back into the keeper’s grateful arms. The Irishman’s two best moments, though, came when he saved a low shot from Pires following a flowing move that had our defenders chasing shadows, and then intervened even more spectacularly to claw away Henry’s shot and prevent what had looked like a certain goal.

In amongst it all Boumsong limped off, having put in a reasonably sound performance, and Given escaped punishment when Henry claimed to have been felled by an outstretched hand. Referee Steve Dunn made the right decision, waving Arsenal appeals away, but should have booked the Frenchman for his melodramatic plunge to the turf.

Our offensive threat had been virtually non-existent in the second half as we were pushed back relentlessly – our only effort of note being a tame free-kick from Robert, who was promptly replaced by N’Zogbia – but after this flurry of chances at our end we at last conjured up a decent passing move. Bowyer jinked into the area but planted his left-foot shot straight at Almunia. Right at the end of stoppage time Shearer had a half chance, but was unable to direct his header goalwards, and the opportunity to hit them with the sucker punch was gone.

A point would have been more than we deserved, though, and as was the case with the home defeat at the end of December, there was little shame in losing to the Gunners, especially considering they were at the top of their game in the second period. Up against a rampant attack, the defence remained fairly resolute though also indebted to Given on several occasions.

However, the result leaves us in 12th place, behind such mediocre outfits as Portsmouth, Man City, Villa and Spurs. Our results this season have suggested we’re fully deserving of that label ourselves. Europe seems like a distant dream, and we need to climb the table just for respectability’s sake. The media vultures are bound to be circling having smelt blood over the latest Souness / Bellamy bust-up, and that’s unlikely to help matters at a time when everyone at the club needs to pull together, stop believing their own hype and deliver the goods on the pitch.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

An Arsenal fan's view: East Lower


Post a Comment

<< Home