Friday, April 08, 2005

It was never going to be Portugu-easy

After another extraordinarily turbulent week in the history of Newcastle United, last night's 1-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon went some way to repair the damage. It'll take more than that to help us to forget the disaster that was Saturday afternoon, but it's a start.

In the absence of Boumsong, Bramble and Babayaro, the defence took on a makeshift look, Taylor lining up in the centre alongside O'Brien with Hughes at left-back. But in the build-up to the game, the real speculation was of course whether Dyer or Bowyer would play after Saturday's fracas. In the event, Souness left Bowyer on the bench but selected Dyer for a midfield role, Ameobi coming in up front.

Ameobi it was who set about unsettling the Lisbon back line. Goalkeeper Ricardo was the ungrateful recipient of a boot in the head as Ameobi slid in for a ball that was 60-40 in the 'keeper's favour. It was frustrating that after the incident we failed to test someone is decidedly dodgy at the best of times. The closest we came was a wickedly swerving Robert corner which struck the outside of the near post, a defender frantically scrabbling across to cover.

As the half wore on, there was plenty to be worried about. Faye and JJ - the latter in headless chicken mode - were losing the battle in central midfield against a very skilful and technically adept side. Taylor, meanwhile, was looking a little rash in the tackle, a bit of a liability in the heart of the defence especially with O'Brien for company, but thankfully he calmed himself down and helped nullify the threat of their pacy forwards.

Around the half-hour mark, Shearer connected with a left-wing Robert free-kick to flick a header into the bottom corner only to see it disallowed, the ball having been crossed before the whistle was blown. Somehow Sporting failed to heed the warning, and when the situation repeated itself on 37 minutes, they left Shearer completely unmarked and the skipper duly powered a header past Ricardo. Certainly an interesting strategy for dealing with a player bidding to be our record goalscorer.

Bowyer and Dyer's spat (and Villa too) might have ruined Shearer's celebration of signing a new deal on Saturday, but this time nothing could spoil the day, even though Rui Jorge did his best, going extremely close after some sloppy play at the death of the first half.

At the beginning of the second, Joao Moutinho forced an excellent save out of Harper, on for Given who had succumbed to a hip injury, but it was us who carved out the majority of the chances. Substitute Milner, on for the disappointing Robert, blazed over when well-placed, while Ameobi squandered a good chance and was then pulled back for handball when he blocked an attempted clearance from Ricardo. Had the whistle not sounded, he would have had a tap-in in front of an empty net.

The only other moment of note in the second period was the carefully stage-managed replacement of Dyer with Bowyer on 63 minutes. For Bowyer to receive a standing ovation from the fans only five days after attacking one of his team-mates during a match is a sad indictment of our ability to forgive and forget the misdemeanours of those wearing black and white shirts. The little toerag will have to work very hard indeed to stand any chance at all of a place in my affections - I'd happily see him sold in the summer.

That we took an advantage to Lisbon next week was vital, and, though we could have done with scoring another goal against a team that are likely to be a very tough prospect on home soil, we did at least prevent them from getting an away goal. On the positive side, danger man Liedson will be suspended, but then so is Hughes, leaving our defence worryingly threadbare. We'll need to be on our mettle to progress.

Other reports:, Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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