Monday, December 21, 2009

The delivery man cometh

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Middlesbrough

Given the time of year, when thoughts of various deliveries are at the forefront of minds young and old alike ("What will Santa bring?", "Will Royal sodding Mail manage to get it here in one piece in time for Christmas Day?"), it was perhaps fitting that delivery was crucial to our win over the Smogs. The deliverer in question was Danny Guthrie, and the grateful recipients striking duo Homer and Big Lad.

All three had been brought into the starting XI, alongside Danny Simpson, with Fabrice Pancrate, Ryan Taylor and Nicky Butt dropping down to the bench and Bigger Lad, singled out by Chris Hughton for praise in the wake of his two assists at Barnsley just last weekend, mystifyingly absent altogether.*

This particular Tyne-Tees encounter was never going to have the same intensity as the clash in May, which ended in sweet victory for us but which ultimately gave only false hope of avoiding the drop. And so it certainly seemed in the opening few minutes, as we appeared content to allow the visitors to make themselves at home, Leroy Lita heading over when well placed.

But, with 15 minutes on the clock, Guthrie seized upon the opportunity to flight a delicious free-kick to the back post. Big Lad beat Boro 'keeper Brad Jones to the ball and nodded it down for Homer to blast home from close range. On closer inspection, though, it was evident that the goal owed as much to the short-sightedness of referee Kevin Friend and his linesmen as to Guthrie's delivery, the officials failing to spot Big Lad's not-so-subtle shove in the back of Emanuel Pogatetz. Let's hope the Smogs are still whingeing about our promotion push at the end of the season.

Pogatetz's bizarre mask contraption and Big Lad's gumshield suggested a contest more akin to rugby than football, and it certainly wasn't pretty. Thus far this season we've proven we're quite adept at taking on the Championship at its level, and again much of our play was direct and unsubtle but undeniably effective - and once we'd taken the lead, we largely controlled the game and could have gone further in front had Alan Smith's left-footed shot from the edge of the area not skidded narrowly wide.

The Smogs' best chance of the first half came when Steve Harper parried a fierce Gary O'Neil free-kick and on-loan Villain Isaiah Osbourne followed up from six yards. Our advantage was only preserved with some more help from our Friend, the man in the middle missing the fact that the ball deflected off Steven Taylor's hand before bouncing off Harper's bonce, onto the base of the post and into our 'keeper's hands on the line.

Both sides had good chances to score within ten minutes of the restart. From Jose Enrique's dangerous low left-wing cross, Homer contrived to tread on the ball when prodding it past Jones from two yards seemed easier, while the Smogs' lunk of a centre-back David Wheater saw his header drift just wide of an unguarded post from a dead-ball situation.

In both instances the delivery had been good but the efforts fluffed - but it was a different story soon afterwards. Guthrie's ball from the right was sublime, perfectly whipped and directed for Big Lad to bury the header beyond Jones. Whether he liked it or not, Guthrie was making a good case for being selected on the right of midfield and staying wide, rather than drifting naturally infield.

Boro's response was largely pitiful. Lita was lively up front but blasted wildly over on the occasions when he did get a sight of goal, while Marcus Bent managed to prove himself an even more useless foil than Dave Kitson (an erstwhile nemesis of ours, in his Reading days) had in the first half.

Our defence was superbly marshalled by Fabricio Coloccini on a day when all of his tricks, turns and dummies came off and made him look a class above everyone else rather than someone too worryingly relaxed and lackadaisical in a dangerous area of the pitch. Man-of-the-match Enrique had a decent game, but how the sponsors could overlook the Argentinian is beyond me - presumably they were too busy stuffing their faces with prawn sandwiches to see what was obvious to the biggest crowd in Championship history.

It could have been worse for Wee Gordon Strachan and the Smogs if a penalty had been rightly given when Kevin Nolan's shot was blocked by a flailing forearm (instead, Friend awarded a free-kick to Boro for a non-existent offside) or if substitute Nile Ranger had been able to direct a late header on target. But we're not greedy - another two goals, another clean sheet, another three points and now, courtesy of the postponement of the Baggies' game at Blackpool, ten points clear at the top of the table at Christmas will all do very nicely thank you very much.

Other reports: BBC

* Update: Thanks to Maggiepud for pointing out in the comments box that his omission was actually due to a one-game ban for collecting five yellows. Mystery solved...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but I wanted to ask if anyone has heard of National Clicks?

Can someone help me find it?

Overheard some co-workers talking about it all week but didn't have time to ask so I thought I would post it here to see if someone could help me out.

Seems to be getting alot of buzz right now.


7:23 a.m.  

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