Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baggie blues

A couple of months back, out of the blue, we received an email to the B&W&RAO account from a chap called Adam, an old schoolfriend of mine with whom I'd long lost touch. Turns out that, visiting Run Geordie Run's site, he'd noticed my name immediately above his in the list of sponsors, done a quick Google search and stumbled across this 'ere blog. So it's thanks to the site that we're Newcastle united again. Serendipity I salute you!

Anyway, we've wasted no time in roping Adam into a contributor's role, and below is his first piece, a report on a painful evening on Tyneside...

Newcastle Utd 2 - 3 West Brom

It’s official: the slump has hit. If a recession can be defined as two successive quarters of negative growth, then that seems a fair label for the team’s current plight. Alas, it seems that despite our bright start to the season the Silver Fox is proving no more successful at abolishing boom and bust than Gordon Brown. One point from three matches against the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea is one thing; the same tally from games against Norwich, Swansea and West Brom is quite another. And talking of money, it won’t have escaped many fans’ attention that we now haven’t won a home game since St James’ Park became the Sp**ts Di**ct Ar**a.

To be fair to Roy Hodgson’s side, the Baggies produced an excellent counter-attacking display and despite Newcastle’s superior possession the scoreline could easily have been worse. Meanwhile our makeshift defence, which looked surprisingly competent with Saylor and Sideshow Bob in the middle, last night appeared ponderous and porous as Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long made hay.

With Dreamboat suspended and Dans Guthrie and Gosling out, the big question ahead of kick-off was the identity of Mr T’s partner in central midfield. Speculation about Mehdi Abeid was silenced with the announcement that Haris Vuckic would make his first Premier League start. Aside from this change, the Silver Fox fielded the same side that drew with Swansea on Saturday.

The game started quietly, with Newcastle having most of the play and James Perch looking unusually tidy at the back. However, any delusions of defensive competence were shattered in the 20th minute when a loose pass from Mr T was intercepted and Chris Brunt’s weighted through-ball arced past Sideshow Bob for the pacy Odemwingie to control and finish with a crisp shot which pinged in off the left-hand upright.

Newcastle hit back almost immediately with Ba putting the ball in the Baggies’ net only for the effort to be ruled offside on account of Leon O’Best straying. Only a few minutes later Tim Krul (who had a poor game by his standards, including some woeful kicking) prevented further ignominy by tipping a wayward Brunt cross onto the bar. The pressure was clearly getting to one exasperated if confused punter who urged an ineffective Spidermag to "piss off back to the Falklands".

Shortly after the half-hour nerves were calmed when Newcastle drew level. Obertan Kenobi’s mazy run led to a clumsy challenge by Jerome Thomas on the edge of the West Brom area. With Raylor on the bench, the free-kick mantle fell to Ba who took two steps and powered the ball into the top right corner, Foster’s glove not being enough to prevent a goal. The momentum was now with Newcastle with Obertan Kenobi nearly getting on the end of a deep Spidermag cross.

Just when it felt like we were in charge, however, another defensive howler provided a reality check as once again we demonstrated our aerial vulnerability. Ba conceded a free-kick mid-way inside his own half and Brunt floated the ball over to the far post, where Perch and Tiote somehow allowed Paul Scharner a free header back across goal. This was pounced upon by Gareth McAuley, who nodded past the sprawling Krul. To their credit Newcastle again hit back within a minute, the lively Vuckic rattling the stanchion with a thunderbolt. Unfortunately the rebound proved just too high for Ba, who sent his header looping over.

At the break Raylor came on for Santon and was soon involved when his neat tackle and run set up Ba, who curled a shot just wide. Two minutes later the Senegalese striker went one better and found the net only to have a second attempt chalked off due to a wandering O’Best. In a game that fully merited the description "end-to-end", it was the Baggies who went close next, as the ever-troublesome Long rounded Krul only to skew a shot off the bar.

On the hour the Silver Fox mixed things up with the introduction of HBA, who added a new dimension to the home team’s increasingly stodgy play. Most of Newcastle’s threats in the next period stemmed from his willingness to run at defenders, which caused problems even if it rarely resulted in a clean end product. However with ten minutes to go HBA got his reward, after a neat exchange with Ba on the edge of the West Brom area allowed the latter to drive home for his second of the game and 13th of the season. Newcastle nearly pressed home the advantage shortly afterwards when Vuckic’s 35-yard rasper was tipped over by Foster.

Given the rate at which both sides were creating chances, the scoreline was unlikely to stay level for long. And so it proved with five minutes to go, when Long’s looping cross was headed back across the area by Odemwingie for Scharner to poke home. One can only assume that this attack interrupted a festive game of cribbage between Perch and Simpson, who showed all the defensive awareness of a pair of pensioners nodding off during the Queen’s Speech.

Fortunately things were more animated upfront. Newcastle attacked straight from the kick-off and a repeat of last season’s scoreline looked on the cards when Mr T volleyed HBA’s near-post delivery only for Foster to pull off another good save. Mr T was involved again at the death when his scooped pass was knocked down for Vuckic to shoot but unfortunately a debut goal was not to be for the young Slovenian.

All in all, no shortage of excitement but this result above all others points to the real lack of strength in depth on Barrack Road. If Jabba and Llambiarse didn’t know it before, then arranging defensive cover in the January window is now an absolute, A1 priority. Our continued effervescence in the attacking third offers some consolation but the loss of Ba and Mr T for the African Nations Cup next month threatens to turn the slump into an all-out meltdown. With O’Best looking increasingly out of sorts, some offensive reinforcements would surely be a shrewd move too. Step forward Messrs Long and Odemwingie...

Thanks Adam! At least there was some small comfort in the form of Vuckic's performance, I suppose...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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