Sunday, December 12, 2010

Protests and points

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Liverpool

What a week that was, and what a way to end it - vociferous anti-Jabba protests (my favourite banner labelled him "a fat slug") preceding a tremendous team performance and ultimately a thoroughly deserved victory over Liverpool.

Last time the Reds were in Toon they romped to an embarrassing 5-1 win which prompted Shay Given to announce he was sick of being made a sitting duck and put in a transfer request (three separate standing ovations clearly not being enough to persuade him to stay), and Steven Gerrard to go out for a few quiet celebratory drinks in Southport. Thankfully both Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were both missing on Saturday, but Roy Hodgson was still able to bring Fernando Torres into a side that had comprehensively beaten Villa in their previous fixture.

Meanwhile, the new man in our dug-out, Alan Pardew - introduced to a reception which could only charitably be described as "mixed" and looking a little bewildered by all the attention - sensibly brought back the suspension-free ASBO and injury-free Kevin Nolan, with Danny Guthrie and Wayne Routledge dropping to the bench.

Our returning Scouse duo were to enjoy quite an evening against their hometown side - and indeed it took them all of a quarter of an hour to make their mark. ASBO floated a central free-kick to the right edge of the six-yard box, where Rocky headed the ball into the middle of the goal for Nolan to sweep home from close range. A perfectly executed set-piece move, the likes of which we're very rarely privileged to see - though whether our captain was onside when Rocky's bonce met ASBO's ball was questionable.

We went on to have the best of the first half, with two opportunities being spurned by Rocky. For the first he fired a shot straight into Pepe Reina's midriff and for the second Spidermag's cute ball just evaded his control. Big Lad was also putting himself about usefully, while at the other end Tim Krul was rarely troubled. Jose Enrique, a dynamic force at left-back, did clear off the line from Raul Meireles, but the shot may actually have been destined to strike the foot of the post anyway.

The equaliser did come, though, within five minutes of the restart. Another poor mistake by Sol Campbell resulted in confusion with Enrique, seized upon by Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman cut inside and tried his luck with his left foot, the ball sliding agonisingly wide of Krul's dive due to a prodded deflection from the unwitting Steven Taylor. Anyone else relieved that Mike Williamson and Sideshow Bob will both be available again for Saturday's trip to St Andrews?

Liverpool then started to look dangerous, and when a lofted free-kick caught our defence napping Torres seemed certain to score, but Krul intervened with a crucial save. Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Rocky's marker and Doppelganger) and David Ngog both missed presentable headers - though Rocky did too, arriving late onto ASBO's curling cross. If most of the latter's contributions were worthy of praise, then his totally unnecessary taunting and crotch-grabbing antics very definitely weren't and will in all likelihood land him with yet another ban. Jabba is certainly not the only person at the club utterly incapable of learning from his mistakes.

The key to the victory turned out to be Pardew's decision to replace Big Lad with Nile Ranger shortly after the hour mark. The youngster may be unproven and painfully raw but he immediately unnerved Martin Skrtel with his power and unpredictability, shooting wide having manufacturing himself a golden chance. And when we regained the lead Ranger was instrumental, easily outmuscling defenders for ASBO to steal in and poke an opportunist finish past Reina.

Hodgson's furious scrub of the cheeks on the sidelines was hilarious and his side proceeded to shoot themselves in the other foot in stoppage time. Lucas Leiva granted Rocky time and space 25 yards out, correctly assuming he wouldn't be able to score a header from there - and our man proved the Brazilian right but also that he's no one-trick pony, despatching a venomous drive into the bottom left corner.

The three points (and the ascent to eighth, one place behind the Mackems) were just desserts for a great team effort, but all is certainly not rosy. ASBO's dedication of the victory to Chris Hughton - scant consolation for the man celebrating his birthday, no doubt - probably rankled with his successor. Pardew spoke of needing to win the fans' trust, but I suspect he still has to win the players' trust as well, skipper Nolan looking none too pleased at being hauled off towards the end despite whatever he may have said post-match in Pardew's favour.

Meanwhile, the sight of Jabba and Llambiarse, apparently oblivious or wilfully ignorant of the venom directed at them, hugging and jigging around like a pair of drunk Ann Widdecombes on Strictly Come Dancing was stomach-turning. Regardless of this result, and whatever we achieve under Pardew, the sacking of Hughton was unjustified and they shouldn't be allowed to forget it.

Liverpool fans' verdicts: Liverpool Football Club Blog, The Tomkins Times

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (be warned - the latter's by TBW...)


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