Sunday, January 09, 2011

Revenge: a dish best served thirteen years later

Stevenage 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

To anyone who was sick of witnessing repeat after repeat of THAT Ronnie Radford goal: happy now?! Well done to our players for giving the ESPN cameras - when they were working - exactly what they wanted to see.

As had been anticipated, Alan Pardew decided to rest several first-teamers, with Cheik Tiote, Steve Harper, Steven Taylor, Jose Enrique and Spidermag sitting out the game and Tim Krul, Alan Smith, Mike Williamson, James Perch and Wayne Routledge all coming in. The changes meant that ASBO was forced to play on the left, ahead of Perch at left back, who looked about as comfortable as someone with a severe case of pubic lice.

Our makeshift left winger ASBO could have given us a fourth-minute lead with a far-post volley that Stevenage 'keeper Chris Day pushed behind, but that was about as good as it got. While we largely controlled possession in the first period, Krul was nevertheless the busier 'keeper. Stevenage captain Mark Roberts fluffed a goalwards header that was easily dealt with, but Krul was rather more severely tested by a fierce Michael Bostwick drive that he pushed wide of the post. The bearded Bostwick was regularly finding space on the edge of the box - surely no coincidence given that Smith was preferred to Tiote, though captain Kevin Nolan was also having a shocker.

Goalless at half-time, then, and Pardew decided to make significant changes, bringing Nile Ranger on for Leon Best, Wednesday's hat-trick hero having been largely ineffective, and switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation. But, just five minutes into the second period, lackadaisical defending from Danny Simpson allowed Stacy Long to fire in a shot which deflected off Williamson's head and past Krul, who had dived the other way. Unlucky yes - but not undeserved.

Worse was to follow five minutes later, when after a passage of sloppy play Bostwick finally did get the better of Krul, rattling a shot in off the post. That was our cue to start going for broke and leaving gaping holes at the back. Part of our problem had been the lack of protection offered to a shaky defence by our midfield, and the arrival of Tiote should have resolved that - but instead, within twelve minutes of replacing Smith, the Ivorian had earned his first red card in black and white. ASBO et al rightly protested that he won the ball, but the way he launched himself into the challenge, both feet very much airborne, meant that an early bath was inevitable - and he now misses the trip to the Dark Place this Sunday.

With what seemed like a half-hearted effort, we continued to try to score, and finally did so when ASBO rocketed in a long-range shot in injury time. The prospect of an improbable and unmerited equaliser flashed briefly before our eyes, until John Mousinho helped set up Peter Winn for a neat clipped finish over Krul on the counter-attack and ensure a final scoreline of 3-1.

Sometimes it's reassuring to be able to blame results on freakish circumstances or bad refereeing. But the simple truth is that the Hertfordshire side showed more determination, desire and - at times - quality to beat us, whereas our mob seemed to think that just turning up would be enough.

Premier League survival is clearly key, and at least the Mackems and Smogs both also slumped to humiliating Cup losses. But this was a deeply damaging defeat that will haunt us for years to come, regardless of our final league position - a punch to the face much like that received by Stevenage left back Scott Laird from one of his own supporters during the post-match pitch invasion. Humble pie tasted sweet on Wednesday evening, but now it's got a decidedly sour, bitter flavour.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not bothered about the Mickey Mouse Cup, concentrating on the push for Europe. Pardew Out. Who are ya????? Tooooooooooooo!!!!
Jarra Mick

11:13 a.m.  
Blogger Michael said...

Why shunt our most effective player out to the left side of midfield to accommodate the ineffective Smith and Routledge? Why bring on Tiote when he's carrying an injury and we're 2-0 down?

Win next weekend and this defeat will be forgotten. What shouldn't be is the fact that too many people in our squad are just not up to the job.

4:47 p.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Take your point to an extent, Michael - we'd prefer to win next weekend than to have won this, if we had to choose. But you just know that footage from this humiliation will be replayed for years to come...

As for Barton, couldn't agree more - playing him completely out of position was baffling. Without Tiote, I suspect we'll go for a 4-5-1 against the Mackems, with a midfield of Gutierrez, Nolan, Barton, Smith and Routledge. That should help us get the best out of Barton - something Pardew utterly failed to do yesterday.

5:10 p.m.  

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