Sunday, November 11, 2007

Crossbar challenge

sunderland 1 – 1 Newcastle Utd

A somewhat fortuitous goal by James Milner ensured that Newcastle left the dark place with a share of the points and extended our record of not having lost on Wearside to 27 years.

Welcoming Marc Viduka back into the side, and having reshuffled his defence following last week’s shambles, it was yet another different starting eleven which took the field for the lunch time kick off on Saturday. However, it was the hosts who started the brighter, and in what was an incredibly scrappy first half they enjoyed the better chances, with Agent Chopra in particular looking determined to fully ingratiate himself with his new employers, looking particularly lively upfront. Thankfully, David Rozehnal and Abdoulaye Faye were managing to keep things relatively quiet, with Faye in particular winning the aerial battle with Kenwyne Jones.

With Alan Smith enjoying a decent game in a holding role, Newcastle looked reasonably solid, without ever really managing to string enough possession together to threaten Craig Gordan’s goal.

Following half time it was noticeable that we started to involve Emre in the game, with the Turk’s increasing involvement coinciding with our game improving. Unfortunately, having managed to establish ourselves in the game, we promptly gifted the mackems a goal when an attacking throw was worked backwards, and chasing back to clear the ball Rozenhal foolishly tried to hook the ball back to Harper rather than knock the ball out for a throw in. His pass didn’t get anywhere near the keeper, and taking a quick corner, the mackems found our defence unorganised, allowing Danny Higginbotham a free header at the back post.

Thankfully, rather than see our heads go down, the goal finally sparked us in to life, and our play went up several gears as we pressed forward, and started to keep the ball better in their half of the pitch. However, when it came, the goal still had an element of luck. Milner, cutting in from the left, curled a low cross to the back post, which evaded everyone and found its way in off the woodwork and sent the away fans (including Smith-shirt-wearing Mike Ashley) in to joy and silenced the forces of darkness.

With the game opening out, it was sunderland who fashioned the best chance, Agent Chopra hitting the underside of the crossbar (a piece of finishing which suggests that either his precision (to avoid scoring) is immaculate, or proving we were right to let him go…).

Changing the largely frustrated Owen for Martins, Allardyce almost saw his substitute take all three points, only for him to stray offside when well placed.

Looking at the game as a whole, it was heartening to see Taylor enjoy a much stronger game than he did a week ago, and in the centre of defence Abdoulaye Faye was outstanding. Further up the pitch, Viduka again showed what we miss when he is out injured, and I thought Smith enjoyed a decent game.

However, the draw shouldn’t mask over the problems we still have, principally the need to find a settled team and a consistent pair of central defenders. Faye showed his experience and aerial strength, but to my mind Rozehnal made errors which a player of his international experience should avoid. Going it to the break, there remains work to be done on the defence, but Milner’s fortuitous goal should buy Allardyce the time to work on the team.

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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