Monday, February 01, 2010

Almost outfoxed

Leicester City 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A dogged rather than classy display secured a point against a determined Leicester team on Saturday, thereby increasing our lead at the top of the table by one point.

With Nottingham Forest losing away to local rivals Derby County in the early kick-off, our teatime visit to the East Midlands could have seen us open up a six point lead at the top of the division. However, everything about our performance - from team selection and substitutions to attitude on the pitch - seemed geared to ensuring that we didn't concede a goal, rather than grabbing the opportunity which Derby's win had presented.

Chris Hughton opted to leave Spiderman on the bench (still rumoured to be carrying a slight knock from the win against Palace) and started with a five-man midfield featuring both Alan Smith and Nicky Butt, with Kevin Nolan instructed to get forward and support Bigger Lad. Wayne Routledge was handed a first start on the right wing, whilst new loanee Patrick van Aanholt was pitched straight in to the fray at left-back.

With a significantly reshuffled team, it wasn't surprising that the home side started the brighter and once they'd stopped Bigger Lad from winning the long balls we looked pretty impotent going forward. Even after Premier League referee Andre Mariner had sent off Richie Wellens for two clear bookings, we still struggled to really get to grips with the game and it was Matty Fryatt of Leicester who had the first decent opportunity. His slaloming run began when he picked up the ball inside his own half, and ended with a shot cannoning off the covering van Aanholt. Our young Dutchman then had the presence of mind to set off on the counter attack, charging down the wing as the ball made its way through the centre of the park before finding himself in an advance position, and Foxes 'keeper Chris Weale did well to palm his fine shot round the post.

With Alan Smith coming close to scoring from the resulting corner it looked as though we'd begun to exert ourselves just before half-time. However, it was Nigel Pearson's team which emerged the stronger after the break, despite our numerical advantage, and we again struggled to break down their spirited midfield. Had Mariner sent off the Foxes' left-back Bruno Berner who, already booked, clattered into Routledge, the story might have been different. However we missed the opportunity to continue to test Berner and instead allowed him to settle back into the game.

Bizarrely, Hughton took until the 62nd minute to make any changes, finally concluding that we didn't need two defensive midfielders against a ten-man team. However, his decision to replace Butt with Nile Ranger and then wait a further 13 minutes before replacing Nolan with Pancrate wasn't enough to tip the game decisively in our favour. Presumably Spiderman's injury was such that he wasn't to be risked (in which case, why was he on the bench?) as I'm sure his introduction would have enabled us to create more chances. Similarly, the decision to leave Peter Lovenkrands in his tracksuit rather than launch him at a tiring Foxes defence seemed overtly defensive.

It was only as the home team's legs grew heavy that we really began to threaten, and even then chances remained at a premium - with Ranger sending a header over the bar and straying offside to waste our two best chances.

For the home team, the introduction of new boy Nobby Solano was warmly greeted by all sides of the ground, and the Peruvian was able to show his control and eye for a pass whilst thankfully not being given an opportunity to demonstrate his dead-ball expertise.

The final whistle saw us rack up another game unbeaten, but the nagging sense that it was two points dropped is one which we can only hope won't still be gnawing away at us in May.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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