Monday, October 17, 2005


Wigan 1 – 0 Newcastle

This game can be neatly summarised as a story of two goals. The first was a good finish through the legs of Shay Given by Jason Roberts, after some sloppy defensive work allowed him to get through on goal.

The second, a towering header by Alan Shearer, which crossed the line by a good foot before being hacked away, only for incompetent officiating to see it not given, and leave us goalless and pointless at the JJB Stadium.

In truth a draw would have been the most we deserved, as our first half performance in particular was woeful. A weak Bowyer shot, which somehow hit the post, was the best we could muster in forty five minutes of turgid football in which our one tactic seemed to be punting the ball up to Shearer and hoping Owen latched on to a knock down. He didn't, and instead we kept giving the ball away to Wigan and inviting them to attack us. Something that they did with far more effectiveness than we could muster, and their goal and subsequent half-time lead were thoroughly deserved.

The decision to start with Parker and Faye in midfield had presumably been taken with a view to making us harder to break down in the centre of the park, but given Faye's inability to do anything useful on the pitch it was hardly surprising that we failed to impose ourselves on Wigan. The loss of Bowyer to a knee injury and his replacement by Ameobi was a blow, not least because Shola was unsure of how to play on the right of a midfield four and looked short of fitness, and Bowyer had been our best player up to that point.

Half time saw the need for action being taken in the dressing room, and the return of Emre to the side in place of the ineffective Faye, allowing Souness a rare opportunity to field his first choice central midfield pairing.

Despite a lack of games, and presumably a lack of fitness, the Turk began to influence the game and turn the tide in our favour. Whilst our approach in the first half had involved attempting to bypass midfield by hoofing the ball long, we now began to pass the ball about, retaining possession and building the pressure on Wigan, with a string of free kicks and corners forcing the home side back.

From one such corner by Emre the ball came into the box, and Shearer, climbing all over Arjan De Zeeuw, headed the ball goalwards. Beating the keeper, the ball was knocked clear by Leighton Baines who had been stationed on the far post. However, in true Kieron Dyer fashion, he clearly allowed the ball to cross the line before clearing it.

Well, it was clear to people in the crowd, it was clear to Michael Owen, who wheeled away in celebration, and it was clear to the defender who admitted as much when interviewed later. Unfortunately the one person who was uncertain and whose sole job it was to check if the ball crossed the line, was referee's assistant Andy Williams, a man who on appearances made Clive Dunn's "Grandad" look young. With no helpful flag, referee Phil Dowd had little option but to play on and deprive us of the parity our second half performance merited.

Williams was to further endear himself to Newcastle players and fans later in the half when bizarrely flagging for a foul by Shola Ameobi when he controlled the ball with his chest, seeing a swinging elbow that nobody else noticed, and getting Shola booked for his trouble.

With five minutes to go, the influence of Emre on the game looked to have reached a premature end as Lee McCulloch chose to halt his run with a thigh-high swipe, injuring himself and the Turk in the process, and leaving Phil Dowd to red card him as he limped from the pitch for treatment. Souness must have wondered what he has to do for Emre to last a full game, but thankfully after some attention from the physio our midfielder was able to continue.

With Newcastle probing away at the Wigan defence, it was perhaps inevitable that we would contrive to leave ourselves stretched at the back and in the final minutes 10 man Wigan broke away following an appallingly slack pass by Shola and it was only thanks to an excellent defensive block by Stephen Carr that we didn't concede a second goal.

The end of the game followed shortly, and left us to make the journey home pointless. Looking back, we certainly didn't deserve to win, with our inability to create meaningful chances for Shearer and Owen our biggest undoing. The sooner we can get Nobby into the side the better, and we might then see better service to the strikers. On a positive note, Emre appeared to survive relatively unscathed, and looks an incredibly promising player – one who could start to really pull the strings in midfield and make us tick – particularly if we can get Solano fit to provide width and some quality crosses.

However, until that day comes we continually flatter to deceive, and it won't be long before Souness again starts to feel the heat. Next Sunday's game against the Mackems could be crucial to his long term hopes for gainful employment on Tyneside.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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