Wednesday, December 27, 2006


With the other half of Black & White & Read All Over away enjoying himself on the other side of the globe for the next three weeks, we've moved swiftly and decisively to secure the services of Jonathan, on loan from Crinklybee for the duration of Paul's absence - Ben

Bolton 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

This afternoon's game turned on a single incident, just after the half-hour mark. With the visitors deservedly a goal ahead, a typically artless home attack is petering out, quite pleasingly really, just on the edge of our area. With only the clumsy battering-ram Davies in attendance, Ramage and Srnicek seem to have plenty of time to deal with a ball bouncing invitingly between them on the penalty spot. One moment of joint hesitation later, Davies is wheeling away in celebration, while Ramage and Srnicek exchange doleful glances and pantomime-esque arm gestures. The ball is in the back of the Reebok net: one-all and game on.

I say "joint hesitation", as the multiple repeats on 'Match Of The Day' have not helped me to work out who was at fault for the calamitous own goal. The heart, of course, says the Newcastle goalie cannot be held to account. The Hollywood-esque script that has decreed the prodigal Pavel's unlikely return surely did not incorporate everyone's favourite Czech Geordie gift-wrapping a vital equalising goal to the opposition.

But then that would mean we have to blame Ramage, and I'm not sure that the ginger youngster - who, despite a string of assured Premiership performances, still looks to me like an acne-ridden lad picked at random out of a Blakelaw chip-shop queue and deposited into the Newcastle first team - is yet ready to shoulder responsibility for Premiership defeat alone without unmanageable damage to his still-fragile psyche.

Perhaps, on balance, we should concur with the ever-wise Roeder, who, showing that he is slowly getting the hang of this top-level management lark, was quick to blame the referee for not spotting the nudge in Ramage's back applied, at just the right moment, by battering-ram Davies. These Bolton forwards are nothing if not cunning, as we seem to learn to our cost, anew, with every passing Reebok fixture.

Whoever was at fault, the own goal was the turning point. Suddenly Srnicek looked like - well, like a semi-retired, slightly groggy goalie suddenly called upon to return to Premiership action when he really should be considering nothing more serious than a fourth turkey sandwich of Boxing Day evening. Just past the hour, another bouncing ball (from a set-play of course, like everything Bolton produced) left our Pavel stranded on his near post, reduced to adopting a dramatic hands-on-hips stance, like a half-drunk uncle stumped by a particularly difficult charades challenge, as the predatory Anelka pounced on a knock-down to score an ugly but effective Bolton second. We never really looked like bouncing back.

It was all so upsetting, because Newcastle - with Martins lively and Milner little short of rampant - had shaded an open first half. Reward for our attacking exploits had come within ten minutes - the resurgent Dyer latching onto a loose ball on the edge of the box and for once in his life electing to give the thing a damn good belt, instead of trying to pass it delicately into the bottom corner (even if the latter tactic did work against Spurs at the weekend). Maybe Kieron's been watching old videos of Malcolm Macdonald. If so he should try it more often. One-nil, and behind the goal three thousand largely shirtless Geordies exulted in the Lancashire drizzle. It was surely going to be our afternoon.

And it was - until fate, in the shape of that hesitation between rookie centre-back and veteran goalie, intervened. Next Saturday, we travel to Goodison - another North-West ground where we have in recent years toiled for scant reward against no-nonsense home tactics. For the fraught trip to Merseyside, the return of the peerless Given may be a pre-requisite. Or at the very least, a change in the script for the returning, prodigal Srnicek. The goalkeeping hero of the Keegan years deserves a more fitting swansong than that cruel bouncing ball at the Reebok. We will see what fate has in store. Fatalism, after all, is something we do very well indeed.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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