Monday, March 07, 2005

Kop that!

A Saturday afternoon that began with tears - those of six-year-old Toon mascot Adam Horner, who was comforted by Souness, Shearer and Given - ended with broad smiles as Newcastle fans celebrated a fifth successive win, a tremendous long-range goal and a clean sheet to boot.

Hughes played at left-back in place of the injured Babayaro, whilst a fit-again Kluivert took his seat on the bench. With Faye and particularly Bowyer impressive in last week's victory over Bolton, Butt and JJ had to be content with being named as substitutes once again, both getting a run out towards the end.

Liverpool - lacking a number of important attacking players including Fernando Morientes, Djibril Cisse and Harry Kewell, as well as midfield orchestrator Xabi Alonso - played the part of obliging visitors, no doubt much to the relief of Souness who as an opposition manager had failed to win in 12 previous encounters with them. Particularly ineffectual up front, they allowed Given a relaxing afternoon, not stinging his palms once. Keeping a clean sheet has rarely looked so easy.

After a slow start we were always the better side, with the vast majority of possession, but the Reds had managed to stifle our attacking instincts and with twenty minutes to go a frustrating 0-0 draw looked on the cards - until Robert stepped up to hit a free-kick way out on the right into the top corner from around 30 yards. A splendid goal, inch-perfect and giving 'keeper Scott Carson - making his debut following a transfer window move from Leeds - no chance whatsoever.

Not so long ago, Robert looked to be out in the cold following public criticism of Souness, but now he's rehabilitated, back in the side and playing well. His talent has never been in question, only his temperament and consistency, and it's wonderful to see him rewarding the faith that's seen him forgiven and restored to the side with the sort of performances that make the whole team tick. Another spectacular strike to add to his Toon collection, too.

Kluivert came off the bench and nearly wrapped things up late on, but there was still time for an injury-time scare, when Gerrard burst into the box but pulled his shot across the face of goal. As is so often the case, Gerrard was the only Liverpool player to turn up, and it was his deflected shot in the first half that had been their best effort up to that point.

Another victory in which we've looked unspectacular but encouragingly solid, the only down side of the afternoon being the fact that Boumsong's name was misspelt on his shirt. A win for Man City tonight will drop us back down to 12th, where we were before Saturday's game, but we can only look after our own results and we certainly seem to be moving in the right direction.

Thurday sees us travel to Olympiakos for what is expected to be a much tougher test. The Greek side, eliminated from the Champions' League by our opponents on Saturday, have recorded 1-0 victories in each of their last four home matches in European competition. We're more than capable of grabbing an away goal, though, and our recent defensive resoluteness gives us cause for cautious optimism. A draw would be a decent result.

Other reports:, BBC, Guardian


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