Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Merry Xmas NUFC Supporters!"

Newcastle 3 - 1 Tottenham

"Merry Xmas NUFC Supporters" - so read Kieron Dyer's T-shirt, lifted over his head in celebration at scoring the first goal in today's comfortable 3-1 win over Spurs. If our current run continues (the only blots on the copybook being the two desperately narrow defeats to Chelsea), then it could still be a happy New Year.

Glenn Roeder stuck with the same starting XI as took to the field against Chelsea on Wednesday, while Martin Jol's game plan was disrupted by an injury to Jermaine Defoe sustained in the warm-up, which led to his replacement by a midfielder, Danny Murphy, and a switch in formation from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1.

And things soon went from bad to worse for our visitors - to our obvious delight. There were just three minutes on the clock when Obafemi Martins took down a Nobby Solano ball out of defence and set Dyer away. Faced with no fewer than three defenders and the current England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Dyer ran on and calmly placed the ball into the bottom right hand corner from 20 yards. The T-shirt-displaying celebration promptly followed.

Four minutes later and we really were walking in a winter wonderland. James Milner, restored to the right wing after being deployed on the left on Wednesday, slid the ball inside to a clearly offside Scott Parker, whose perfect cross was buried beyond Robinson by the forehead of Martins. Cue the increasingly familiar gymnastics from Martins, and a mad dash along the walkway in front of us by a black-and-white-clad Santa, to the cheers of thousands of Geordies. He too had a Christmas message, but this one - a simple "Merry Xmas" - was felt-tipped straight onto his pie-enhanced gut.

Spurs' goal, which came when a mishit Murphy shot deflected off the unlucky Steven Taylor to leave Shay Given completely wrong-footed, took some of the gloss off proceedings, as did our subsequent tendency to sit deep and allow Spurs long periods of possession. Equally frustrating were Given's continued long balls to Milner, hardly the tallest player on the pitch, and the fact that Emre's natural inclination to drift inside meant a complete lack of threat on the left.

Parker and Nicky Butt were tigerish in centre midfield and Dyer came close once again, but Spurs were passing the ball better and it came as something of a relief when the third arrived on 34 minutes. With Emre off the field receiving treatment, Milner curled in a free-kick which Robinson could only parry. In the ensuing scramble other Newcastle players tried their luck but Parker it was whose header finally found the back of the net.

Early in the second period Jol acknowledged his side were chasing the game and threw on Mido for Didier Zokora, but to no discernible effect. Aside from one half-decent chance Dimitar Berbatov was anonymous. The ever-charming Spurs fans briefly made themselves heard with a chant of "We're only here for the slappers" - well, given the urgency and incision with which Spurs were attacking, I certainly hope they weren't there to see their side win.

At the right end Martins, a continual handful for Ledley King and Michael Dawson and rewarded with frequent chants of his name, fired in a good shot that Robinson held. Meanwhile, substitute Giuseppe Rossi, on for man-of-the-match Dyer and making his last appearance at St James' before his loan period expires, looked lively and fired in one shot that was deflected behind for a corner.

The game threatened to peter out, albeit to an entirely satisfactory conclusion, but then came perhaps the loudest cheer of the day. Given, who had been leaving his goal kicks to Peter Ramage, was replaced with three minutes remaining, the man coming on being Pavel Srnicek. Probably unnecessary, so full credit to Roeder for allowing Pav the opportunity to savour the St James' atmosphere again after a gap of several years - and for the fans to dust down the "Pavel is a Geordie" chant. A couple of confident claims were greeted with massive cheers - though his kicking was dreadful...

Another three points and grins all round. In truth Spurs put up precious little in the way of a fight, and we can expect a much tougher time in the next three games. We should be quietly confident about picking up some useful points, though.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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