Monday, February 28, 2011

Quacking but not cracking up

Newcastle 1 - 1 Bolton

Skipper Kevin Nolan marked our return to Premier League action after a weekend off with a goal against his former club - celebrated with what he's christened "the quack" - but Ryan Taylor's red card meant that ultimately we had to be satisfied with a point.

Taylor was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up, ASBO dropping out after picking up a tweak in the warm-up, but that was Alan Pardew's only change from the side that beat the new League Cup winners a week last Tuesday.

We began with all the offensive intent of a team out to avenge that 5-1 savaging at the Reebok in November and had already gone close twice - a Leon Best shot and strike partner Peter Lovenkrands' clever volley - before taking the lead. Cheik Tiote set about repaying us for the new six-and-a-half-year deal he's just been handed by whipping in a right-footed cross from the left that Nolan flicked past Jussi Jaaskelainen and several attendant Bolton defenders.

Best was proving himself a real unsettling force to the Trotters' central defence and ex-Smog lunk David Wheater in particular. He had one effort blocked, headed another over and was also felled in the area by Paul Robinson only to be flagged offside.

Sadly, our inability to capitalise on that dominance was to prove costly. Tiote, so often brilliant for us this season, gave us a flash of his Achilles heel, overplaying on the edge of his own penalty area. Johan Elmander nicked the ball to Daniel Sturridge and the on-loan Chelsea striker needed no invitation to shoot past Steve Harper and continue his impressive goalscoring form.

If the equaliser came harshly against the run of play, the likelihood of our being able to regroup and regain control of the match receded just eight minutes after the break. Taylor lost the ball in midfield, and while Pardew was probably right to suggest afterwards that there was no malice in his lunging tackle on Johan Elmander, referee Chris Foy was entirely justified in curtailing the Scouser's first first-team appearance for some time. Taylor, Coloccini, Williamson: if Bolton's Swedish forward ever does sign for Newcastle, then the line of new team-mates he'll be expecting apologies from will be quite lengthy...

The visitors seized the initiative handed to them, but while the holes that were opening up gave cause for alarm, particularly with Martin Petrov looking dangerous, we didn't buckle. Pardew went for insurance in replacing the out-of-sorts Spidermag with Steven Taylor, while fellow substitute Nile Ranger, afforded the best part of 25 minutes at Lovenkrands' expense, was only denied a first top-flight goal by an unfortunately eagle-eyed linesman. Bolton almost did our job for us, Robinson perilously close to chesting a back-pass beyond Jaaskelainen and Marcos Alonso a bit lucky not to join Ryan Taylor for an early bath.

A home draw against a side who had lost their previous six league games on the road, especially with the chances we created, wouldn't look too clever if it wasn't for the circumstances. As it was, though, deprived of the increasingly talismanic ASBO and having to play for well over half an hour with ten men, a point to nudge us closer to safety was probably welcome.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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