Monday, March 05, 2012

Big Lad strikes again*

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Sunderland

Cometh the hour, cometh the Lad. Two minutes into stoppage time and with his team trailing 1-0, Big Lad once again put the boot into the Mackems, scoring an equaliser that felt like a winner. Sweet revenge for 5under1and's supremely spawny leveller down at the Dark Place last February, and certainly nothing less than a tremendous second-half display deserved.

Up until our substitute's timely intervention, it looked as though it would be a tale of two "pelanties" (to quote ESPN's Chris Waddle): one converted in the first half by Nicklas Bendtner, and one squandered in the second by Demba Ba. But instead we were able to enjoy pissing on the Great Unwashed's Level 7 party, and amuse ourselves at the ill discipline that resulted in not one but two red cards.

Mackem captain and professional thug Lee Cattermole should have been heading back to the dressing room after 25 seconds for an appalling two-footed scissor lunge on Mr T, but referee Mike Dean was guilty of disappointing leniency in showing only a yellow. That challenge had the desired effect, unsettling Dreamboat and Ba into making tackles that were punished with bookings, and the animosity between the sides threatened to explode when James McClean launched himself into Danny Simpson on our by-line. Simpson reacted and an almighty melee ensued, following which both players were cautioned.

In amongst all of the aggression and spite, what little football was being played was by the visitors, whose 24th-minute lead - naturally - came courtesy of a foul. The Silver Fox can gripe all he likes that shirt-holding goes on in pelanty boxes up and down the country all the time without punishment, but there's no denying Mike Williamson's manhandling of Mackem lunk Michael Turner was both blatant and extremely foolish. Up stepped masked man Nicklas Bendtner to place his spot-kick wide of Tim Krul's dive - not the first time the on-loan Dane has inflicted damage on Tyneside...

Our response to falling behind was hardly inspiring, and instead the Mackems looked the likelier scorers with Bendtner testing Krul and Craig Gardner's effort deflecting narrowly over the bar. It wasn't until the last few minutes of the half that we properly threatened the enemy's goal, Sideshow Bob's far-post header beaten out by Simon Mignolet and Ba pounding a near-post nod off the crossbar.

Half-time changes were imperative and the Silver Fox elected to remove Davide Santon. The Italian had been no worse than anyone else, but the move allowed dead-ball specialist Raylor to remain on the pitch, switched to the left-back role, while HBA could be introduced with the hope of giving greater penetration on the right wing.

The substitute had an immediate impact, bursting past two players to win a corner within seconds of the restart, and Ba went close twice with a header and a shot before the half was four minutes old. But when Gardner had his name noted by Dean for a late ankle-cruncher on Sideshow Bob, the old pattern was resumed and we had Krul to thank that we weren't two behind when he pulled off splendid saves to deny both Sebastian Larsson and McClean in quick succession.

Given the way the game had started, it was incredible that we got to nearly the hour mark until a red was brandished - and luckily for us it went to Stephane Sessegnon, arguably the Mackems' most effective player, operating in the gap between our midfield and defence. The Frenchman responded to a tackle by swinging an elbow towards Mr T's face and so deserved to walk, but the overreaction of our Ivory Coast international was unsavoury and merits a lecture from the Silver Fox. For his part, Mr T finally picked up his booking in the 66th minute - long overdue according to the Mackems - for fouling almost as persistently as he'd skewed shots unconvincingly from distance all game.

As we sought to ratchet up the pressure on the ten men, the anonymous Papiss Cisse gave way to Big Lad, who immediately won a corner. By this point we had begun stretching play to good effect, Spidermag skipping down the left and HBA terrorising Kieran Richardson on the right, and the latter danced inside a couple of challenges to blast a near-post shot that Mignolet palmed away.

Then, with ten minutes remaining, came our pelanty incident. Big Lad showed some rudimentary skill to outwit Mackem replacement Fraizer Campbell, who obliged by scything him down. The Silver Fox admitted "I didn't cover myself in glory" with his touchline fist-pumping in Martin O'Neill's direction, but we knew how he felt. It was Ba rather than Big Lad who took the spot-kick, and the Senegalese striker was dismayed to see Mignolet - some distance off his line - push the ball wide and away.

Heads could have gone down, but to our credit we mustered up the strength and courage to battle on and turn the screw even tighter. Big Lad, HBA and Dreamboat had all tried their luck before the equaliser finally arrived, Williamson making amends for his earlier error by flicking the ball on for the only Geordie in our squad to knock home his seventh derby goal at the far post. The result was relief and delight at having foiled 5under1and in equal measure.

Even though only three minutes of injury time remained, it could have got even better. Williamson worked himself a great opening but was prevented from pulling the trigger, while Big Lad threw his head and then his foot at the ball in an attempt to force it over the line. The final whistle soon followed, after which Cattermole lived up to his reputation as a brainless oaf by getting himself a straight red for mouthing off to Dean. Anyone who parked their car on Stowell Street has my sympathies...

In some respects, it was a disappointing result - we drew a winnable home fixture for the second successive week (last week's opponents Wolves were this weekend ruthlessly torn apart by Fulham) and thereby failed to capitalise on Saturday's defeats for Chelsea and Liverpool. As lacklustre as we were in the first half, we were ultimately probably worth more than just a solitary point. Still, as late as the 92nd minute it looked as though we'd finish up empty-handed - so perhaps we should just be thankful to Big Lad and savour the stat that we've now been beaten just once in the last fifteen derbies.

A Mackem fan's perspective: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

* With apologies to the Smiths.

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