Monday, October 24, 2005

Emre of sunshine

Newcastle 3 - 2 The Great Unwashed

Miraculous what a derby victory over the Old Enemy can do for a crippling hangover - though yesterday's game did infinitely more harm than good for the nerves. One for the neutral, as they say - but on the final whistle it became one for the Toon fans too, as they cheerfully waved the miserable Mackems off. The narrow win was deserved, if only just.

Our pre-kick-off hopes of triumphing had been struck a blow by the news that neither Bowyer nor (more importantly) Owen were fit. The out-of-form Ameobi came in to replace Owen, while Bowyer's place was filled by Solano, injury-free and appearing in the first team for the first time since his return from Villa. Emre started ahead of Faye (thankfully), and at left back Ramage was preferred to Elliott, and our Geordie contingent swelled to four (Shearer, Ameobi, Taylor and Ramage).

We started brightly, Solano and Emre giving our midfield a refreshing attacking and creative impetus, and came close on a few occasions in the first half hour. Shearer curled a fine shot just wide, but surprisingly it was Ameobi who was catching the eye, seemingly intent on "doing a Titus" ie confounding all expectations by playing out of his skin following what could be described as at best an indifferent series of displays. When Emre burst through the middle and fed Ameobi, the striker turned neatly and quickly dispatched a left-footed shot which Mackem 'keeper Kelvin Davis did well to parry.

When the game exploded into life in the 34th minute, it was Ameobi who broke the deadlock, left completely unmarked from Emre's corner to plant a firm header past Davis. Not just a goal from Ameobi, but a header too - a rarity indeed.

The lead lasted less than two minutes. Stung into action, the Mackems responded with a long-range Liam Lawrence shot that Given only saw late and which crept just past his hand and inside the post.

Undeterred, we went back up the other end and regained the advantage. N'Zogbia rescued Carr's overhit cross and Ameobi unsettled his marker Stephen Caldwell sufficiently for the ex-Toon defender to put past his own 'keeper. In post-match interviews Ameobi sounded determined to claim it, and there's no doubt that Caldwell would rather not be credited with it.

Three goals in four minutes became four in eight, when Boumsong allowed Stephen Elliott too much space 25 yards out and the Republic of Ireland striker and Given lookalike fired an unstoppable shot past his international team-mate.

The half-time whistle brought much shaking of the head in disbelief. We had completely dominated proceedings, and yet thanks to two bolt-from-the-blue goals the Mackems remained on level terms. But it was our foes who emerged with greater intent for the second half, and we were fortunate to survive as Dean Whitehead's shot deflected just wide of the post and Given saved brilliantly from Elliott.

Then, just after the hour mark, came the game's decisive moment. Ameobi once again inspired panic in the Mackem backline, winning a free-kick in a central area 25 yards out. Shearer and Solano left it to Emre, who curled a beauty with his left foot in off the post to join the likes of Shearer, Liam O'Brien and Scott Sellars who have scored spectacular free-kicks in this fixture in recent years. Emre headed straight for Souness on the touchline, seemingly proving that he was one summer signing for whom the claim that he'd come to Tyneside because of the manager was not merely empty rhetoric - and for that, at least, we have to be grateful.

Taylor would have added a fourth shortly afterwards had his header not been saved at point-blank range by Davis, but the real danger was at the other end. N'Zogbia unadvisedly stuck out a leg to impede Lawrence's run but a penalty wasn't forthcoming, and immediately after Souness had replaced three of our best players Emre, Solano and Ameobi with Clark, Faye and Chopra, Stephen Elliott lobbed a loose ball onto Given's crossbar with our 'keeper a helpless spectator.

Add to those incidents the fact that Carr should have been sent off for two bookable offences (his first yellow card being erroneously awarded to Parker) and it's safe to say that fortune favoured us - but then we were cheated out of a point at Wigan last week, and it's inevitable that the gods should smile on us and help us to defeat the forces of evil.

Defensively ragged and seemingly content to invite pressure upon ourselves, we were hanging on at the final whistle against a very poor side. The second half display gave much cause for concern, but we had the three points and in the short term that was all that mattered.

We also had a new hero to celebrate. In the post-match interview Emre - a broad grin plastered across his face - revealed an appreciation of just how much it means to beat the Mackems. To accomplish that feat with your first goal for the club - well, it was a very special day for the little fella. Hopefully the first of many.

Isn't it a shame how pre-match boasts can come back to bite you in the arse?

Other reports: New Links, BBC, Guardian


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