Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jim'll fix it - for Stoke

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Stoke

And to think we'd all been waiting for James Perch to make a slightly more meaningful contribution than picking up yet another booking. Be careful what you wish for, and all that.

In fairness to the former Forest defender, he had arguably his best game yet in black and white, making some important interceptions and even trying his luck from distance a couple of times. But that luck was very definitely out, with his headed own goal on 85 minutes condemning us to a defeat that less than 45 minutes earlier had looked a remote possibility at best.

With the exception of the enforced replacement of Steve Harper with Tim Krul, Chris Hughton reverted to the same side that beat Everton - meaning that Spidermag, Alan Smith and Peter Lovenkrands made up a strong bench together with Wednesday's scorers Big Lad, Ryan Taylor and Nile Ranger.

The first half was largely a non-event. Encouraged by a succession of awful clearances from Thomas Sorensen - one of four ex-Mackems in Stoke's starting line-up - we enjoyed the majority of possession without ever really exerting our dominance. Ben Arfa was busy but floated a couple of presentable free-kicks wastefully wide, while his drifting infield allowed Jose Enrique to push forwards, on one occasion delivering a superb low driven cross that bisected 'keeper and back four but also missed any of our forwards. Otherwise our closest glimpse of a chance came when Wayne Routledge failed to bring a whipped Ben Arfa cross under control.

Nevertheless, we still went in at the break a goal to the good courtesy of blockheaded former Smog Robert Huth, whose crude brand of bodychecking was acknowledged by referee Mike Jones when Bigger Lad was bundled turfwards. Captain Kevin Nolan calmly stroked the spot-kick past Sorensen.

ASBO, who might have expected to take the penalty, was then fortunate not to concede one at the other end when he cynically barged into Matthew Etherington, only the winger's decision to remain on his feet sparing us.

Notoriously poor travellers, Stoke's second-half solution to their predicament was clear: transplant the game from St James' to the Britannia. Sure enough, on came Rory Delap and thus began the bullying (perfectly legitimate, I should add, lest I should sound like Arsene Wenger).

Ryan Shawcross briefly worried Tim Krul worried with a header, but it was Kenwyne Jones - previously starved of service - who gradually emerged as our tormentor in chief. He was good enough to serve plenty of warning of his intent, heading first against the base of the post and then firmly off the face of the crossbar. But we paid little attention to it and paid the price when Jones' marker Bigger Lad was sucked to the ball, Huth setting him up for a simple nod into the net. If there was any consolation at his fourth goal in consecutive games (which, incredibly, was to prove Stoke's only effort on target all afternoon), it was that the Mackems look to have shot themselves in the foot by allowing him to leave.

Ben Arfa had already been replaced by Spidermag, his influence having waned, and the Argentinian set about terrorising Andy Wilkinson with relish. Hughton's other substitution, the once-again impressive Cheik Tiote off for Big Lad, was more mystifying - surely if we wanted to switch to 4-4-2 and stretch the game, the insurance policy Tiote provides would have been sensible, with ASBO, Nolan or Routledge likelier candidates for withdrawal?

The impetus largely with us, Bigger Lad's volley and Perch's fierce low drive were both held by Sorensen, the former at the second attempt, but there was a sucker punch to come. Battered by a merciless Delap-powered aerial onslaught, we conceded a corner, from which Perch, under pressure from Huth, lost his bearings and bulleted a header past Krul.

There was still time - thanks to substitute Ricardo Fuller sustaining a suspected dislocated shoulder - for Spidermag to carve out a wonderful opportunity that Nolan directed wide and for Huth to deflect a Perch shot behind for a corner, but 2-1 it remained.

So our topsy-turvy season continues, the splendid away wins of the last week at Everton and Chelsea sandwiched by desperately disappointing defeats to sides we should really be beating if we're serious about securing our Premier League status. Many more results like this and our fallibility on home turf will start to become a major concern.

A Stoke fan's perspective: The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

Other reports: BBC
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2 Comments:

Anonymous Jarrow Mag said...

One up front at home simply doesn't work. Either the manager has to change tactics at home, or he changes the players by buying better ones that can play that way. As the latter isn't an option as the Fat Cockney won't splash the cash, then it has to be the former. i had 3-1 as my pre-match bet and the lads looked sharp in the knock about before kick off. Drinks on Mr Ladbroke I thought. If only. Nolan should have made way and been brought off. At 60 mins I said that we couldn't defend a one goal lead against Dirty Stoke - I took no pleasure in being right - how come Hughton didn't see it coming? Away points are a bonus - 1 up front = ok. Home, it has to be 2 up front from the kick off. I'll be at Eastlands or whatever it's called next match, but there had better be 2 up front against the mackems.

8:59 p.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Hughton seems keen to play with that system both home and away. Fine if you can get people up to support Carroll, which we did only sporadically today. I think the problem wasn't so much the formation or personnel but the substitutions - we had nothing to lose by taking off a midfielder and slinging on Lovenkrands or Ranger.

As for Stoke being dirty, I don't think they were, really. Huth was cynical in fouling Carroll, but we got a penalty for it and Barton did just the same shortly afterwards and got away with it. The truth is that in the second half they started playing to their strengths and we couldn't cope. If we'd showed more attacking intent in the first half, the game could have been over by half-time.

11:44 p.m.  

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