Sunday, December 09, 2007

Beating the Blues

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Birmingham City

Three games in eight day, three performances packed full of effort and endeavour, and at the third time of asking, three points to Newcastle.

In truth, this was probably our worst performance of the three, with poor starts to both halves seeing us go behind to a soft early goal, and almost concede a second after the restart. The visitors' goal came after a long aimless punt forward was not dealt with by Rozehnal, who let the ball slide across him for Cameron Jerome to nip in and slot the ball past Given. This was the low point of a pretty torrid afternoon for our Czech international, who needs to spend some time learning to take responsibility for dealing with long balls forward if he is to succeed in this division.

However, as with the game against Arsenal, the early goal didn't see our heads go down, but rather galvanised us in to action. James Milner, in particular, enjoyed a strong attacking game, repeatedly sending in quality crosses, or cutting inside and threatening to score from longer range. Our ascendancy, which saw us raise the tempo of our passing, saw us create chances, only for Milner and Martins to fail to force the ball home point blank range.

Withstanding wave after wave of pressure, it was perhaps inevitable that Birmingham would eventually crack, and finally Martins was caught in the box to win a penalty. Martins it was who stepped up to slot home our first penalty of the season - via Maik Taylor's outstretched fingers and the inside of the post.

1-1 at half time and it looked like Newcastle would push on and take the win. However, we didn't start the second half the way we had ended the first, and instead allowed Birmingham to dictate the midfield. Having lost Butt midway through the first half, Geremi and Barton struggled to stem the tide, and it was only when Allardyce pulled Alan Smith back in to the midfield, and introduced Emre for Geremi that we managed to get back into the game.

With Birmingham pressing for a winner, we still had chances to nick one ourselves, Martins in particular looking lively, and drawing a smart save from Taylor with one snapshot on the turn. As the clock ticked down, N'Zogbia's surging run forward was ended abruptly on the edge of the box, and from the resulting free kick we should have been awarded a penalty, as Jerome clearly handled Emre's dead ball kick.

Fortunately, that free kick wasn't to be the Turk's final contribution, as it was his corner in injury time that Habib Beye met at the near post, to send the home side in to raptures, and give us three much needed points.

What was again apparent from this match is that hard work on the pitch will see greater support from the stands. Obviously, what we need to do now is turn the last three performances into the norm, in terms of hard work, whilst increasing the fluidity of our play. Long balls forward only get us so far, but our best spell in this game was during the first half, when Birmingham couldn't live with the tempo and accuracy of our passing. If we can do that, then we will have turned a corner, but if we fall back into our old ways, the pressure will soon be back.

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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