Monday, January 21, 2008

No fizz

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Bolton

We cracked out the bubbly on Wednesday, but by 7pm yesterday it had gone a bit flat. With hindsight, it was inevitable that the first game of King Kev's second spell as manager would end in goalless stalemate, wasn't it?

Our free-scoring exploits on Wednesday against a hapless Stoke side already seemed a distant memory, and Keegan's post-match assessment that "we weren't quite good enough to win the game" was spot on. Despite keeping possession for long periods of time, we were unable to translate our dominance into clear chances, a couple of shots from Stephen Carr and Shola Ameobi aside, and Jussi Jaaskelainen never even had to dirty his gloves once. Keegan now has a better idea of the magnitude of the job he's taken on, if not of our defensive frailties, which were only seriously tested by an unadventurous Bolton side in the first five minutes.

It wasn't really down to a lack of effort on the players' part. Charles N'Zogbia did what he could to inspire things with some dynamic play through the middle, while David Rozehnal, pushed into an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, was initially very much a square peg in a round hole but gradually got to grips with it.

But Ameobi, brought back in from the cold in Mark Viduka's absence, seemed to be penalised for breathing every time the ball went near him, and Michael Owen, while a consummate opportunist from close range, really isn't the sort of striker who fashions chances for himself, dependent instead on service from others. In that regard, neither James Milner nor Damien Duff did enough on the flanks. We were like drunks, fumbling around for the key that might unlock the door, and the returning Andy O'Brien hardly did us any favours at the heart of the visitors' defence (why couldn't the old boy in Bolton's ranks have been Titus Bramble instead?).

So, new manager and same old failings, then. I wasn't totally despondent after the game, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it could have definitely been worse had Shay Given not pulled out a top-class save to block substitute Jlloyd Samuel's close-range shot with the clock having ticked into injury time. The point, as disappointing as it was, stopped the rot, ensuring we weren't facing up to a fifth consecutive Premiership defeat, and the clean sheet was to be celebrated too.

And second, because with Keegan at the helm rather than Allardyce, and with midfielders back from suspension and the African Cup of Nations, I know things will get better or at very least more watchable. If anyone can help us find that elusive key, Keegan can.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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