Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Newcastle Utd 1 - 5 Birmingham

Where to start?

Well, how's about posing the question: where the FUCK did THAT come from? From a spirited if slightly fortuitous win on Sunday to easily our most humiliating defeat and abject performance of the season in the space of just three days.

As if the extraordinary margin of the home defeat - and to a lower division side, albeit one that sit atop the Championship, and one managed by plastic Geordie Steve Bruce - wasn't bad enough, there is no way we can possibly write it off as a freakish result. Much as it pains me to say it, but Birmingham were far and away the best side and thoroughly deserved their crushing victory.

Glenn Roeder sent out the same side that came from behind to beat Spurs on Sunday, as much out of necessity as choice, and they were soon on the back foot as our opponents started brightly. Plenty of visitors to St James' Park do that, though, only to succumb eventually. Two things prevented that scenario from unfolding tonight: we were utterly shit throughout and Birmingham scored after just five minutes.

Peter Ramage gave away the ball, not for the last time in the match, and when it ended up at Gary McSheffrey's feet he left Nobby Solano on his arse and fired into the net with his right foot. And that was just the beginning of an appalling evening for two of our best players of late - and a very good one for the former Coventry striker.

At the end of a first half in which only James Milner had shown anything approaching a decent performance, and in which Kieron Dyer had been (wrongly) flagged offside before putting our only chance of note wide, it got worse for Ramage and Solano. The former was easily outpaced by Cameron Jerome on the right, and his cross was slid into the net by the Peruvian, under pressure from DJ Campbell.

As might have been expected, Roeder sent the team out with a flea in their ear for the second period, and there was a brief upturn in proceedings. Still nothing would come off for Dyer or Obafemi Martins, and when our goal came it was a stunning long-range effort out of nowhere from Milner.

That should have been our springboard back into the contest - and yet two minutes later we had contrived to ensure it was all over. Steven Taylor hauled back Campbell as he advanced on goal and was rightly red-carded, underlining the contrast with alleged target Matthew Upson in the opposition defence, who marshalled those around him superbly well and managed to stifle what little threat we posed. From the resulting free kick, Larsson's shot deflected kindly off the wall to Bruno N'Gotty who calmly shot into the top corner.

Birmingham eased off then, but there was never any real suggestion of us getting back into the game. It was no real surprise when the Blues ground salt into the wound with late goals from outstanding Arsenal loanee Larsson and the equally impressive Campbell, our defence once again not worthy of the name. Shay Given, as superhuman as he often is, could have done nothing about any of the shots that flew past him.

The players have reason to be thankful that there was such a shocking attendance (under 27,000) because, had the ground been anywhere near capacity, the volume of booing would have been deafening.

This has to go down as real incontrovertible evidence that cracks have been being papered over. Tonight those cracks were clearly visible, and seemed more like faultlines. As committed as our young defence has been, it has also shipped sixteen goals in six games. You can't win anything with kids...

One thing's for certain: West Ham may have been woeful of late, but if we play like that again on Saturday they'll be travelling back down the A1 with all three points and a much improved goal difference.

To conclude, here are the thoughts of Dyer before the game: "Kieron Dyer expects Newcastle to learn the lessons from their failure to see off Birmingham at the first attempt and kick-start their FA Cup campaign". Two things there, Kieron - firstly, I hope you're not a betting man, and secondly, as a Newcastle fan I'm used to being mocked by fate but that's just ridiculous.

"We got very complacent in the first game", Dyer is quoted as having said. He then added: "Of late we've turned St James' Park into a fortress and after Birmingham it's a home tie against Reading. If we keep getting home ties then who knows." Er, do you see what you've done there, Kieron?

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (no surprise to seeing Michael Walker relish writing that report)


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