Monday, May 18, 2009

Staring into the abyss

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Fulham

Our season in a microcosm. We didn't play well enough as a team to create sufficient chances to win the game, and sadly we didn't defend well enough to ensure a clean sheet. The net result of which means we're back in the bottom three and reliant on other teams doing us a favour.

With Little Saint Mick ruled out with a groin strain before the match the only change in personnel from Monday night's win over the smoggies was a return to the starting line-up for Martins. It was the Nigerian who had our first decent chance, crashing a shot against the post.

At the other end, Bassong and Taylor were looking solid enough, and with Bolton beating Hull things were looking reasonably rosy in the Geordie garden. Unfortunately we then got caught playing Nevland onside, he drew Harper before slotting the ball across to the unmarked (and arguably offside) Diomansy Kamara who fired home past his erstwhile marker Taylor who had retreated to the line.

Half time, and losing at home, things still weren't looking horrific, with Bolton continuing to do the decent thing against Hull. However, seconds after the restart, news filtered through of a Hull equaliser. After some no doubt fairly strong words at half time, we emerged in the second half with renewed vigour, and Viduka had a good chance saved before he got on the end of a left wing cross to head home and level the scores.

Frustratingly, referee Howard Webb decided that all Kevin Nolan must now do is block players, and he penalised the former Bolton captain for a non-existent block on Schwarzer, and ruled out our equaliser.

At the other end, we were caught on the break and Bassong clipped Kamara when the Fulham man was through on goal (albeit heading slightly wide). As the last man, the Frenchman was understandably sent for an early bath, collecting our seventh red card of the season for his troubles.

Down to ten men and behind by a goal we never really looked like getting something out of the game until, late on, Nicky Butt flung himself at the ball after Andy Carroll's flicked header only for Schwarzer produced an excellent save from point blank range to deny us an equaliser. Elsewhere, Hull huffed and puffed but couldn't get their noses in front at Bolton, which at least leaves us within touching distance of safety next Sunday.

However, the simple fact is that once again we weren't good enough to get something from a game where we badly needed at least a point. That we didn't manage to grab an equaliser against a well organised Fulham side shows how far they've travelled in a season, having managed the great escape last year - which presents some home if we can somehow avoid the drop next week. Tellingly they've fielded the same back four in 35 of their 43 games this season. If only we'd been able to say the same, I suspect we'd not be in quite the mess we currently find ourselves.

Make no bones about it though, while we may have been denied what should have been a perfectly decent goal and conceded one which should have been ruled out for offside, the fact that we're in the bottom three with one game to go is because we've not been good enough over 37 games, rather than robbed by poor officiating in this match.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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