Monday, February 07, 2005

Bore draw

"Newcastle look every inch a mid-table team", began the reporter during one of Radio 5's visits to St James's Park on Saturday afternoon. Hard to stomach, perhaps, but absolutely true nonetheless.

Following hard on the heels of Wednesday's lacklustre showing at Man City, in which we managed precisely one shot on target all night, this performance was a further indication that whatever wind was left in our sails after a poor first half of the season and the Bellamy saga has now died away.

For the first time in months, Souness stuck with the same starting XI he'd selected for the previous match, and was rewarded with a carbon-copy display notable only for a rare goal by Kieron Dyer and the fact that we once again failed to keep a clean sheet.

We began brightly enough, Shearer proving a handful for the Charlton defence. In the early stages of the match he ensured that Dean Kiely wasn't a complete spectator.

But that impetus soon petered out, and despite a clear dominance of possession in the first half, we were unable to create any major chances, coming closest when Kiely almost palmed a thirty yarder from O'Brien into his own goal, the ball striking the top of the crossbar.

Our play was crippled by a distinct lack of imagination in attacking areas. Faye, making his home debut, was pulling all the strings in central midfield, but neither Dyer nor JJ was taking advantage of his presence to support the strikers in any useful way.

After a stern half-time talking-to by Souness, the team began the second period with renewed vigour. We took the lead when, as on Wednesday night, a long ball from Bramble found Shearer, but on this occasion he claimed the assist rather than the goal. Chris Perry failed to intervene, and Dyer was there to latch onto Shearer's header and knock the ball past Kiely (albeit with the aid of a slight deflection). Two goals in the space of less than two months - by his own miserable standards, he's on fire.

But barely a minute later we shot ourselves in the foot for the umpteenth time this season, O'Brien's terrible miscontrol presenting Dennis Rommedahl with the chance to level the scores from distance.

After another lull, the introduction of Robert and Kluivert briefly livened things up towards the death, and we had chances to snatch a win through Bramble and JJ. At the other end, though, the lively Rommedahl twice threatened to make the afternoon even more depressing. As it was, disgruntled voices were heard at both half and full times.

Charlton may have been unambitious, but for our attack to have been so comfortably contained by what is, on paper at least, one of the Premiership's most average defences is very worrying. We once again lacked width and looked one-dimensional in attack. At the moment we lack any guile in midfield, and as such are far too easy to defend against.

In the absence of creative ideas, pace is always a useful option to have, and it's perhaps telling that our goalscorer in the 1-1 draw at The Valley was a certain Mr Bellamy.

As Jack White once sang, I've said it before but it bears repeating now: unfashionable though they may be, we could do much worse than model ourselves on sides like Charlton. No big names with reputations and egos to match, just a quietly talented and efficient side with genuine team spirit and a hard-working ethic that doesn't seem to compute with our over-hyped bunch of white-booted poseurs - not to mention a tactically astute manager and an avoidance of anything approaching a bitter public squabble or a PR disaster.

Charlton are where they deserve to be, and so are we.

At the moment it's looking like becoming a dreadful season, with only the threat of relegation driving us forward. Progression to the business end of either the UEFA or FA Cups currently looks little more than a pipedream.

Fulham's replay with Derby in the latter competition means we have this coming weekend off, and so those not involved in international fixtures are jetting off for some "teambuilding" in Dubai ahead of next week's UEFA Cup fixture in Holland. It'll take more than papering over the cracks to get this club back on the right track.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Observer

A Charlton fan's view: All Quiet In The East Stand

(Report by Ben and Paul)


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