Friday, February 25, 2005

Heer we go

Last night saw our UEFA Cup campaign continue into the next round with little cause for anxiety. Leading 2-1 from the first leg, the tie looked far more comfortable after Breuer deflected a Laurent Robert cross past his own keeper inside the first ten minutes.

An Alan Shearer strike on 22 minutes, after Robert had rolled a free kick to him, gave us a 4-1 lead on aggregate and made the tie safe, and took Shearer one goal closer to Milburn's record.

It could, and perhaps should, have been a more comfortable lead at half time, as Shola Ameobi wasted three good chances before the interval, the first with a weak shot straight at the keeper, the second bringing a good double save, and the third a header which deflected off the post and out. The third appearing to prompt Souness to ask: "How the fuck did he miss that?" – a question echoed by all watching.

Half time saw Souness replace the energetic and impressive Dyer (one run from inside our half taking him most of the length of the pitch, and reminded me of the talented player we signed from Ipswich, not the lazy git we've witnessed in recent seasons) with Jenas.

Unfortunately, this move not only robbed us of a creative outlet, but also left the midfield slightly confused as to who was playing where, with variously JJ, Faye and Butt all finding themselves on the right hand side as the half progressed. Shearer was subsequently replaced by Milner – who huffed and puffed, but struggled to impose himself on the game, and finally Steven Taylor replaced Andy O'Brien in the centre of defence.

From memory I believe this is Taylor's first senior run out in his preferred position, and with only ten minutes he didn't really have time to settle, if anything appearing slightly nervy, and was caught on the ball as a result.

Almost his first action on the pitch was to argue with the referee following the decision to penalise an Ameobi handball with a penalty. There appeared to be little ground for complaint though, as Shola's hand clearly struck the ball. The penalty was duly dispatched, and another clean sheet lay in ruins. However, with two goals still to find in less than ten minutes, Heerenveen never really looked like they had sufficient quality to cause an upset. That didn't stop the last few minutes coming over as an edgy time, with players suddenly looked hurried on the ball, and lost some of the composure which they had displayed when 2-0 up.

Ultimately though, it's a case of job done with a minimum of fuss, and the early goals took away any jitters that might have surfaced had the visitors scored first. Decent performances from Dyer, Robert and Titus coupled with solid performances all around the park, with only Ameobi's profligacy in front of goal keeping the tie close.

Our third win in a row should hopefully boost the confidence of the team, even if we are to an extent winning ugly - and provided no injuries have been picked up we should be more or less at full strength when Bolton come to call on Sunday. As for the UEFA Cup, Greek outfit Olympiakos await us in the next round, a tie that promises to be far more testing but one which we can still be justified in believing we can win.

Other reports:, BBC, Guardian


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