Sunday, September 18, 2005

Three goals, three points, three cheers

Blackburn 0 - 3 Newcastle

When the other half of B&W&RAO emailed me on Friday to announce that he was off on holiday, I attributed his cheeriness at least in part to the thought that he'd be off enjoying himself while I was left to hold the fort and reflect on another dismal Toon performance.

Well, with that scoreline I just hope he stays away a bit longer than planned.

For much of the game a win of any sort looked unlikely, but second half goals from Shearer, Owen and N'Zogbia ultimately ensured our first three point haul of the season and allowed Souness to breathe a big sigh of relief.

Our beleaguered manager (NB it seems to be a legal requirement to describe Souness as such) opted to scrap last weekend's failed attempt to accommodate five defenders by playing Carr on the right side of midfield. Instead, Bramble dropped to the bench, Taylor and Carr played in their customary positions in the centre of defence and at right back respectively and last Saturday's goalscoring substitute N'Zogbia came into a midfield which picked itself due to the crippling injury list and Parker's suspension.

The first half was predictable enough. Blackburn gave us no time on the ball, Lucas Neill picking up a booking for a typically vicious two-footed lunge within the first two minutes. We had no coherence whatsoever in midfield, while in defence the players looked either jittery (Taylor, Boumsong) or dozy and staggeringly lackadaisical (Carr, Babayaro).

Mercifully Blackburn have, like ourselves, been firing blanks of late, and their new look attack of Toon old boy Craig Bellamy and on-loan David Bentley couldn't capitalise. Despite carrying greater threat going forwards, Given was only seriously extended by Robbie Savage's free-kick, though another dead-ball strike from winger Morten Gamst Pedersen caused a few hearts to flutter.

At the other end, despite the complete absence of anything remotely resembling quality service, Owen had a couple of sniffs of goal but dragged an early shot tamely across the face of goal and found himself crowded out on the other occasion.

It looked like more of the same in the second period, Blackburn fashioning a chance for Steven Reid barely a minute into the half thanks to some characteristic sloppiness from Babayaro.

But then, just after the hour mark, came a ray of hope. Neill climbed all over Owen on the edge of the Blackburn area, and Clark rolled the resulting free-kick to Shearer who blasted into the bottom corner through a scrum of legs to end his seven month long Premiership goal drought. If it is to be the last time he plays at his old stomping ground, it was quite a goal to sign off with.

I fully expected us to sit back and invite them to equalise and for them to accept the invitation. But we were playing with a spring in our collective step, even Faye, and when N'Zogbia turned his marker and flighted a perfect right-footed cross into the six yard area Owen leapt to head past Friedel at his near post and send the fans wild. The vocal support had been outstanding throughout, but now they really had something to cheer - Owen's first strike for the club. Hopefully the first of many...

It wasn't all plain sailing after that. Taylor, already booked for a foul on Bellamy, was red-carded for tugging the Welshman back. A typically harsh decision from referee Mike Riley, who had been fussy to the point of absurdity all afternoon. We replaced Shearer with Bramble, and Mark Hughes responded by throwing on another striker.

But in their eagerness to get back into the game, Blackburn left the back door wide open and from Babayaro's well-judged pass (a last-ditch saving tackle aside, the only decent thing he did all game) N'Zogbia showed a lovely touch of skill to fox Friedel and wrap the game up. No more than his performance deserved, and the young Frenchman is now our leading goalscorer.

The goal pulled the plug on the home crowd, but as they drained out of the stands N'Zogbia was called upon to knock substitute Matt Jansen's header off the line to preserve our clean sheet and condemn Rovers to a fourth consecutive scoreless outing.

The emphatic scoreline shouldn't disguise quite how shit we were for the first hour - a better more incisive team than Blackburn would have seen we were there for the taking and had the job done long before Shearer's strike. But the points were ours, and perhaps just about deservedly so. Of course, part of the satisfaction comes from knowing that - for once - we avoided following the obvious script that dictated that Bellamy would get the manager who gave him the boot the sack.

Forget Arsenal, West Ham, Bolton, Man Utd and Fulham. The season starts here.

A Blackburn fan's perspective: A Town Called Malice

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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