Monday, April 24, 2006

Bye bye Baggies

Newcastle 3 - 0 West Brom

A second 3-0 victory of the season over West Brom on Saturday gave Bryan Robson's Baggies a firm shove in the direction of the relegation trapdoor.

There's no room for sentiment at this stage of the season, given our European ambitions - ruthlessness is the key, and thankfully we set about the task in a manner that made clear that claiming the three points was just as important for us as it was for them.

The margin of victory was comfortable and could have been significantly more, so poor were the Baggies against a very unfamiliar-looking and patched-up Toon side. Chopra took the place of Shearer, who - as expected - has announced his career is over, with Given handed the honour of the captain's armband. Meanwhile Dyer's hamstring niggle saw N'Zogbia move into the centre of midfield and youth product Matty Pattison given his first start in the first team wide on the left.

We were soon on top, the only surprise being that it took us half an hour to capitalise. Solano had been desperately unlucky to see a superb long-range volley smack off the crossbar, and it was he who opened the scoring. Pattison's pass found Chopra in the area, and when the striker's shot was deflected into Solano's path by Neil Clement, the Peruvian supplied a Shearer-esque poacher's finish. Having taken a frustratingly long time to recover fully from injury since his return to St James' Park, Nobby is now very definitely back to his best, that being his sixth Premiership strike of the season.

Ten minutes later we doubled our advantage following Clement's clumsy challenge on Chopra. There remains some debate over whether the foul was definitely committed inside the area, but Ameobi - preferred to Luque despite the horrific facial injury he sustained against Wigan and the Spaniard's goal against the Mackems - had no qualms about taking over Shearer's penalty-taking responsibility (following some debate with Solano) and tucking the ball into the corner past Tomas Kuszczak.

A furious Robson made all three substitutions at half-time (and later said he'd have made eleven if it had been possible), but to little discernible effect. As a strike pairing Nathan Ellington and Kanu were almost as anonymous as Kevin Campbell and Diomansy Kamara had been in the first period, Ellington squandering the Baggies' only real opportunity.

Shearer, looking on from the bench as we cruised in the comfort zone, was honoured with some warmly appreciative chants, and responded with a wave, while Roeder brought Pattison off with ten minutes remaining to give the youngster the opportunity to savour the fans' applause for his personal efforts.

The icing on the cake of a fifth successive win came in the last minute, Ameobi played in by N'Zogbia to score the goal that meant we had notched three for the third successive home game - a distinct improvement on our shot-shyness of earlier in the season (though, admittedly, that blighted us predominantly in away games).

The win sees us level with Blackburn, and just four points behind Arsenal. Both have a game in hand on us, though, as do Bolton and Wigan who are below but well within striking distance. Saturday's game at St Andrews is going to be crucial.

Roeder has been given FA permission to continue in charge until the end of the season despite not having the requisite qualifications, so we won't have to indulge in any ridiculous superficial juggling of the coaching staff. The question now is whether his tenure in the managerial hot seat will continue on into the summer on a permanent basis.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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