Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We're the lumberjacks and we're very much OK

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Nottingham Forest

In the sort of fixture described by countless half-witted pundits and armchair enthusiasts as "a classic six-pointer" (someone should have set up some kind of swear box in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation), we chopped fellow Championship promotion-chasers Forest down to size to take a massive step closer to a Premier League return - but not before the Tricky Trees had lived up to their nickname.

The form book - which revealed that we had won our last six at home and Forest had lost their last six away - suggested that it might not be unceremoniously defenestrated by the visitors, but the Reds rejoiced in victory over us in October, when our fine early-season form was in real danger of unravelling, and we were wary of the threat they posed. So it was something of a relief that we were not far off full strength, able to welcome back Jose Enrique, Mike Williamson and Peter Lovenkrands from injury, with Tamas Kadar, Ryan Taylor and Nicky Butt making way.

In teeming rain, Forest started marginally the brighter, but the majority of the first-half chances fell to us. Bigger Lad - whose appearance at a 50 Cent gig in Manchester last week underlined that he wasn't just wearing gloves because he was cold - nearly struck first blood, but his athletic volley from Wayne Routledge's floated cross was well saved by Lee Camp.

The visitors survived a strenuous penalty appeal from the stands when Lovenkrands plunged to the turf in the box, but in truth January transfer target James Perch's tackle was perfectly timed. In the ensuing melee, Bigger Lad weaved from side to side trying to find a gap but couldn't squeeze his shot through a determined cluster of red shirts. Lovenkrands rather fortuitously found himself with a chance shortly before the interval, but could only prod wide.

Forest's only real opportunity in the first period had been sliced comically wide by Dexter Blackstock from a prime position between the posts, but the fluidity of their five-man midfield - and in particular the lively Paul Anderson and Radoslaw Majewski - will have given Chris Hughton food for thought.

All the more so, indeed, when the game resumed, Billy Davies seeming to have spent the break impressing upon his charges that a point wouldn't really be enough for them if they were to hold out any hope of automatic promotion. Nathan Tyson, a striker playing wide on the right, headed a great chance straight at Steve Harper.

Enrique had been caught on the wrong side of his man on that occasion, but soon made amends with a pair of crucial interventions under pressure, while Williamson stuck out a boot to prevent another shooting opportunity.

Danny Guthrie fired a warning free-kick over Forest's crossbar, but it took a moment of inspiration from Big Lad to break the deadlock. On early in the second period for Bigger Lad, he profited when Kevin Nolan seized upon a fortunate ricochet and fed the ball into him, creating the space before skidding his left-footed shot in off the far post.

From then on, our confidence soared as Forest's evaporated. No one was more ebullient than Routledge, a free spirit darting at the Reds' defence from all angles and proving himself pleasingly hard to knock off the ball. Unfortunately for him and us, a fierce volley from the edge of the area was straight at Camp.

The chances suddenly started piling up: Nolan had an angled drive pushed behind for a corner, and Camp was also called upon to repel two more curling Guthrie free-kicks, the second particularly testing.

But, as though spurred on by the possibility of the increasingly prominent Routledge stealing the man-of-the-match award, it was Enrique who sealed the win in stoppage time. The Spaniard worked the ball neatly on the left before gambling on a sortie into the penalty area. Big Lad rolled the ball into his path with the sort of deft backheel few of us thought he was capable of, and Enrique jinked inside a challenge before firing home at the near post. It was not just his first goal for Newcastle but his first senior goal full stop - little wonder, then, that after the game he confessed to being unsure of how to celebrate. Those in the stands certainly did, though.

The facts now are thus: should Forest lose at Bristol City on Saturday (and we've had a recent reminder that Ashton Gate isn't an easy place to visit) and we win at Peterborough, we'll be promoted. Posh have shown flickering signs of life under the temporary charge of Jim Gannon, but they're rock bottom of the division and heading through the other exit door, so we will rightly be fully expected to fulfil our side of the deal. A good time for the Robins' Bradley Orr to remember his first club and score a goal or two...

Other reports: BBC


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After last seasons nightmare, this season has been very pleasant. That feeling of dread as game day approached has been replaced one of anticipation.

The danger was NUFC would implode and be lost forever in some championship wilderness, so I have nothing but praise for Chris Hughton who has turned the club around.

What has impressed me that NUFC are a club with spirit again - something sorely lacking last season.

Even Ashley appears to have learnt from his blunders and he seems t have developed a good working relationship with Hughton.

I also like the philosophy of recruiting young and hungry players. It seems more sensible than spending a fortune on players like Michael Owen and who usually never deliver for the club.

I'm writing from New Zealand by the way. Howay the lads!

4:38 a.m.  

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