Sunday, May 08, 2011

Job done

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Birmingham

At the end of a week during which our new home shirt was revealed, an unspectacular St James' Park victory over Birmingham brought confirmation that it's sleeve will carry the official Premier League badge into the 2011/12 season.

Despite the manner of last weekend's defeat to Liverpool, Alan Pardew made only one change to the side, and that was enforced. Mike Williamson broke his arm during the week - supposedly during training, though given his Anfield horror-show I wouldn't be surprised to learn he decided to spare himself further humiliation and sought out an angry swan. It turned out his replacement Steven Taylor was to be at the very centre of the action.

The first half hour was largely a non-event which only threatened to flicker into life when Taylor's elbow connected with Cameron Jerome's mug but went unpunished (so presumably also unseen) by Chris Foy. It wasn't as cut and dried as Match Of The Day's sofa referees claimed, not least because our man seemed to have eyes only for the ball and not the man - but it's not the first incident of this kind and he needs to learn to stop his elbows from flailing. Alex McLeish grumbled afterwards: "If we don't stop that sort of thing players will end up with noses like mine."

Foy did however spot and punish Liam Ridgewell for not one but two goalline handballs. Ben Foster had set the tone for the afternoon, making excellent saves from ASBO and Sideshow Bob, but amidst an almighty scramble the Birmingham defender twice knocked the ball away with his arm. So, an early bath for him and a penalty for us, which Big Lad tucked neatly into the very bottom corner despite Foster guessing right.

The visiting 'keeper did magnificently to deny both Peter Lovenkrands and Kevin Nolan when his defence gave them the freedom of the six yard area, but couldn't do anything when Taylor met ASBO's corner with a firm header. Sebastian Larsson, stationed on the line, could only slice the ball into his own net - good to know that if he does join us this summer he already knows where the Gallowgate goal is... Taylor galloped the length of the pitch in celebration, no doubt a release of pent-up energy and frustration at having been kept sidelined for so long.

So, a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead - or it would have been had Sideshow Bob not switched off, misjudging Foster's punted clearance down the middle. He made amends by tackling Jerome as the striker took the ball past Tim Krul, but then deflected Lee Bowyer's follow-up shot over the Dutchman's dive and into the net. Thankfully injury had spared us the sight of Obafemi Martins doing backflips, but Bowyer - who once scored what turned out to be the winner for us in a 2-1 home win over the Blues - had an irritatingly good game on his return to the club for whom he so often underachieved.

For a side still looking nervously over their shoulders, and especially one reduced to ten men, it's not surprising that Birmingham didn't show a great deal of conviction on the attack - but more urgency might have been expected. As it was, their only real second half opportunity to equalise came when Krul flapped at a cross and Larsson, reacting instinctively, ballooned the ball way over the bar.

At the other end, meanwhile, Foster continued to excel, saving from substitute Nile Ranger. Big Lad was flattened by a defender as he tried to reach the rebound and ASBO was foiled by Foster, but both were offside. When Foster was finally beaten again by a clever lofted shot from Big Lad, Roger Johnson had retreated to head off the line, so 2-1 it remained.

Mr T waited until stoppage time to pick up his 14th yellow card. He's already helped set one Premier League record in his first season on Tyneside, but this saw him matching Lily Savage's markedly less impressive achievement and will probably rule him out of Pardew's plans for the final two games.

The result, which sealed our second and last double of the season, will be greeted with relief rather than jubilation, and certainly it wasn't a vintage performance. But our target was always safety first, and we can sleepwalk into next weekend's shellacking at Chelsea knowing that ultimately our mission has been accomplished with two matches to spare.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the handball by a newcastle player in the first half ? it was a poor game played by 2 poor teams in what is a pretty poor premier league this season

4:08 p.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Ball to hand - nothing doing.

6:43 p.m.  

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