Sunday, January 08, 2012

Good goal? Not Arf

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

For the most part yesterday afternoon's match was a classic case of after the lord mayor's show. But in the end a sensational goal by HBA and another from Spidermag - the latter in the fifth minute of stoppage time - were enough to ensure we avoided the ignominy of a second cup exit of the season at the hands of the Premier League's crisis club.

With Demba Ba and Mr T en route for Africa, the Silver Fox was always going to be forced into making changes, but he also took the opportunity to drop/rest Big Lad and Raylor. HBA was Leon O'Best's nominal partner up front, Obertan Kenobi returned on the right and there was another cup start for Mehdi Abeid in central midfield. While our manager could hardly have been accused of fielding a weakened side, the same wasn't true of his under-fire opposite number, Steve Kean opting to leave out both Chris Samba and surprise goal machine Yakubu.

As would have been expected with Wednesday's tremendous victory still fresh in the memory, we began at a blistering pace, threatening to blow Blackburn away within the first ten minutes. Mark Bunn had to save from Dreamboat, Spidermag and O'Best, while efforts from Dreamboat, Abeid and Mike Williamson all flew high or wide of the target.

When the early breakthrough didn't come, we lost a bit of impetus and allowed the visitors back into the game. Ruben Rochina fired a couple of warning shots at goal before his side took the lead through David Goodwillie. Tim Krul made a fine save to claw away Grant Hanley's header from a corner, but the diminutive Scot was on hand to bundle the loose ball in.

For the remaining ten minutes of the half we looked at a bit of a loss as to how to get back onto level terms, and the Silver Fox's half-time pep talk didn't do much to change that. What did, though, was his introduction of Big Lad for Obertan Kenobi ten minutes into the second period. Not that Big Lad himself was key, missing a decent opportunity shortly after coming on - more the fact that it meant HBA switching to the right wing. An unfamiliar role, but one which to which he adapted with great aplomb.

With twenty minutes left on the clock, the Frenchman embarked upon a slaloming run that mesmerised and bamboozled at least six defenders (I, the rest of the stadium and viewers of ITV's highlights show lost count) before smacking a shot past Bunn. "Technically the greatest goal I've ever seen" was the Silver Fox's assessment. Perhaps he'll be revising his opinion that HBA "can't play out wide", particularly in light of the player's apparent disgruntlement with recent bench-warming duties and Obertan Kenobi's frustrating inconsistency in that position.

A strike of such quality naturally roused spirits and raised the noise level from a poor crowd of just over 30,000, and we pressed eagerly for the winner that would mean we wouldn't have to visit Ewood Park twice in a fortnight. Our prime threat came from an unexpected source, Williamson, who clipped the bar with a header and saw another pushed away by Blackburn's busy Bunn.

And just when it looked as though a second Wednesday evening excursion to Lancashire was inevitable, Spidermag motored determinedly down the left, played a neat one-two with O'Best and dinked a shot over Bunn - a second moment of inspiration from a wide player. The Argentinian had hardly had time to remove his mask when the full-time whistle blew.

The win meant we were in the hat for the Fourth Round draw - and second out, handed an away tie at either Brighton or Wrexham, Kazenga LuaLua's Championship side having been held to a draw at home by the Welsh non-leaguers. It could have been worse, certainly (Man Utd's reward for beating Man City on their own patch being a trip to Liverpool, for instance), but progress is far from a foregone conclusion.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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