Monday, March 24, 2008

Class tells

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Fulham

Snow fell in flurries before, during and after Saturday's home game with Fulham, but whilst the weather remained cold and bleak the first win of Keegan's third coming was enough to warm every Geordie heart.

Sticking with the same starting eleven, and formation, which had earned a point in Birmingham in the previous match, Newcastle again played with three up front, and the creative trio of Butt, Geremi and Barton in midfield.

After an early long shot by Fulham's Jimmy Bullard (back at the ground where he broke his leg 18 months ago) it was the home team who managed to string some passes together, and after good work by Butt down the right, he found Geremi who fed the ball into Viduka on the edge of the penalty area. With his back to goal, the Australian was able to create sufficient space to turn and fire the ball low into the Leazes goal with his left foot, and give us a much craved lead.

With Fulham having a four man midfield, Bullard (undoubtedly the visitor's one decent player) was repeatedly able to pick the ball up in space and drive at Steve Harper's goal. Thankfully, however, this was a day in which Bullard had left his shooting boots at home, and as a result, we never really looked in danger of conceding.

Going forward, it seemed clear that Owen was dropping deep to pick the ball up and augment the midfield whenever possible, however he, Martins and Viduka didn't look particularly comfortable with the formation. Owen should have doubled our advantage when, having started the move, he had a free header from six yards out, but could only scuff it in to the turf, and the grateful hands of Kasey Keller.

With Beye enjoying plenty of space down the right, it was hoped that we'd continue to enjoy sufficient time and space in the second half to double our advantage. With Fulham offering even less after the break, Newcastle should have been able to press ahead and start redressing the abysmal goal difference which has come as a result of our poor performances this season. Enrique too started to get forward and enjoy some of the space which Beye had begun to exploit in the first half. However, it wasn't until Martins was replaced by N'Zogbia that we were finally able to double our advantage. A Geremi free kick (which bizarrely Steven Taylor appeared to be orchestrating) was whipped in and Owen made no mistake with his second free header of the match and made the game safe.

Undoubtedly a game between two poor sides, in which the telling difference was that we had more players with a touch of class to ensure the points were all ours. A few years ago, I'd have been far more scathing of our performance, but given the bilge that we've endured this season this was a real bright spark.

Beye and Enrique both had good games going forward, Butt had a good game in midfield, and Owen and Viduka were able to show a touch of class at the vital moments. With the players we have, we should do better, but at least we've gone a long way to ensuring that we'll still be in the Premiership to try and improve next season.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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