Monday, September 12, 2005

New star fails to lift gloom

Newcastle 1 – 1 Fulham

With the eyes of the footballing world watching, and a capacity crowd hoping for great things, it was perhaps inevitable that Michael Owen's debut would prove to be something of a damp squib.

Lining up with a slightly disrupted side, with the midfield hampered by injuries and suspensions, we started with Steven Taylor moved to right back to accommodate the return of Titus Bramble, and Steven Carr featuring on the right wing of a midfield that also boasted Albert Luque, Scott Parker and Amady Faye (as the programme now spells his name).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the players looked uncomfortable from the start. Taylor looked out of place at right back, and Carr didn't seem to know what to do on the right of midfield. The biggest disappointment of the first half though was Faye, who looked incapable of passing wind or water let alone a football. His tackling was non-existent, and he contributed nothing of use to the cause, allowing Fulham far too much time and space in midfield.

Luque showed signs of promise down the left, although he was perhaps guilty of hogging the ball a bit too much at times he was at least prepared to take on his man, and the Luque nutmeg looks set to feature heavily this season. Or it did, until he crumbled in a heap, writhing in agony as his hamstring had gone with ten minutes to go before half time.

By that stage, we were already chasing the game, as a terrible backpass from the out-of-sorts Taylor fell to Fulham, who were able to calmly pass the ball across the box, past Boumsong, who slipped on the damp turf, and allowed Brian McBride the simplest of tap-ins.

On an attacking front, we lacked the creativity in midfield to really threaten the visitors; with a Shearer shot wide of the far post our only chance from open play. From set pieces we seemed incapable of getting a clear chance, and when the ball fell invitingly to Owen at the far post following one of Luque's better balls in, he was unable to control it, and it bounced harmlessly out for a goal kick. It's worth remembering that this was only Owen's second competitive game of the season, and it seems likely that with more games under his belt it could have been an even simpler finish than that enjoyed by McBride.

The second half saw the introduction of Bowyer for Steven Taylor, who had collided with the post just before half time, and with N'Zogbia having replaced the hamstrung Luque before the break, the team lined up with a revamped midfield for the second half.

Thankfully, Bowyer's dynamism galvanised his colleagues, and with Faye enjoying a marginally better second half we started to apply some pressure to the visitors defence. The service up front improved notably, and Owen was able to latch onto balls, and start to run at the defenders, winning free kicks as they lunged in.

From one such free kick, Stephen Carr blasted the ball against the cross bar, but it bounced harmlessly away. Then with less than quarter of an hour remaining, Souness finally acknowledged what we'd all witnessed with our own eyes, and replaced the quite frankly rubbish Faye with Lee Clark, who received a warm reception from both sets of fans.

Then minutes later, Owen picked up the ball on the right, and slalomed past several defenders before being felled just on the right corner of the Gallowgate penalty area. Up stepped N'Zogbia to curl a magnificent effort into the top corner and score our belated first goal of the season.

Belief now poured through the stadium on to the pitch, and Newcastle pressed hard for a winner. Unfortunately, they started to leave gaps at the back, and Fulham were able to attack on the break. With Scott Parker chasing hard on the heels of Claus Jensen the Fulham man fell to earth as if shot by the same sniper who'd had a pop at Steven Taylor at home to Villa last season, and crap ref Alan Wiley did the only thing he'd been capable of all afternoon and reached for his pocket to show Parker his second yellow card of the day and scupper any chance we had of getting a winner.

Fortunately we managed to hold out for the draw, but what had promised at one stage (before 3pm) to be a rousing debut for Michael Owen ended with a slightly streaky home draw with Fulham.

Undoubtedly, the game featured moments of real promise, and the sight of Owen running at goal in a black and white shirt promises to be a beautiful one for the months ahead. However, unless we can get some of our midfielders back fit and playing, we'll struggle to provide him and Shearer (who looks increasingly like this might be a season too far) with any sort of service, and as a result we'll fail to score sufficient goals to get the top 6 finish that Fat Fred couldn't resist mentioning when asked by the media last week.

Unfortunately for Souness, the pressure continues to grow, although there didn't seem to be any takers in the home stand when the Fulham fans started chanting "Souness Out". For the time being he looks to have our support, but unless results start to follow it could be a long hard slog for the manager, followed by a short sharp shove out the door from Fat Fred.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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