Saturday, February 06, 2010

TFI Friday

Newcastle Utd 5 - 1 Cardiff City


Friday night football?! What a bloody stupid idea.


Hang on a minute - I could get used to this, actually...


Mike Craik
Chief Constable
Northumbria Police
North Road
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear Mike

I am writing to ask if you would be so kind as to advise that all Newcastle games should henceforth be moved to Friday evenings.

Yours sincerely



After a succession of narrow unconvincing wins and frustrating draws when we appeared to be playing within ourselves, half-hearted, content with not losing, I suppose it's been coming: a first-class, five star romp.

But what was a surprise was the identity of the opposition to feel the full force of our forward power: a Cardiff side lying fourth in the league, beaten only once in their previous 12 games and whose last away match was a 6-0 humiliation of near neighbours Bristol City. Tonight the humiliation was very much theirs.

The Bluebirds pack considerable punch upfront themselves, so it was gratifying that a 75% new rearguard restricted them to just one goal - and that an 89th minute consolation. Patrick van Aanholt made his first appearance at St James' Park with debutant One Size partnering Big Willi in the centre, Fabricio Coloccini having joined regular partner Steven Taylor in the treatment room. Fellow new acquisitions Wayne Routledge and Leon Best also featured in the starting line-up together with the fit-again Danny Simpson and Spiderman. The absence of both of our defensive midfield enforcers, Alan Smith and Nicky Butt, presented Danny Guthrie with a rare opportunity to start in the centre, while our bench had a pleasingly potent look to it, with Peter Lovenkrands sat alongside Big Lad and Nile Ranger.

It seems bizarre to think about it now, but the visitors nearly caught us cold inside the first 30 seconds. Instead, though, the boot turned out to be very much on the other foot as Bigger Lad scored from close range with three minutes on the clock (his first goal at the Leazes, apparently), One Size involved in the build-up. Three minutes more and we doubled our advantage, Bigger Lad firing against David Marshall's post for Cardiff's Hungarian defender Gabor Gyepes to helpfully deflect the ball into his own net.

Ross McCormack promptly served notice of the Bluebirds' threat, spanking the ball off Steve Harper's crossbar, but it wasn't long before we made it three. Van Aanholt and Spiderman had been dovetailing to good effect down the left, the Dutchman doing a decent job of filling in for the absent Jose Enrique, but the precision cross for Bigger Lad's second of the evening came from the boot of Simpson on the other flank.

The points effectively secure with 75 minutes left to play, we relaxed and Cardiff gradually eased their way into the game, bringing back memories of November's win over their fierce rivals Swansea. They struck the frame of the goal again, though whether Adam Matthews' effort that deceived Harper and glanced off the angle was intentional or just a wayward cross wasn't clear. Agent Chopra, named as captain for the night by Dave Jones, was once again fulfilling his role perfectly, admirably making a show of being fired up but failing to inspire his team-mates (top scorer Peter Whittingham looking particularly far off the pace).

Chopra it was, though, who forced Harper into his first real save of note early in the second half, athletically tipping a shot that had deflected off One Size over the bar. But that was as close as they came to gaining a foothold in the match, substitute Lovenkrands putting the match further beyond their reach nine minutes after entering the fray as a replacement for Best, who had enjoyed a busy but not particularly effective debut. The assist for the goal came from Routledge, who had tormented his full-back (first Kevin McNaughton, then Mark Kennedy) throughout and who looks to have given us a much better balance in midfield, as we'd hoped, in addition to a bit of trickery and guile.

With ten minutes remaining Bigger Lad would have wrapped up his first senior hat-trick had it not been for Gyepes this time getting his angles right on the line. Cardiff weren't spared for long, though, Lovenkrands again the player to find the back of the net, on this occasion with a left-footed curler. The only person in Newcastle colours not celebrating the goal quite as enthusiastically as the rest of us was probably Best, who must be fearing that the Dane will now be preferred by Hughton for a starting berth against Derby on Tuesday.

Cardiff's consolation came a minute from the end of normal time, young substitute Aaron Wildig finishing neatly after good work from Agent Chopra. Before the match our old boy had promised not to celebrate if he scored - with hindsight, might he be wondering if saying that was tempting fate?

The win sent us six and seven points clear of West Brom and Forest respectively having played the same number of games (though both our rivals are in action tomorrow) - and, almost equally importantly, our goal difference is now best in the division, four better than the Baggies'. It may well come down to such narrow margins - but there were no narrow margins tonight.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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