Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No happy return for Chris

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Norwich City

Chris Hughton was welcomed back to St James’ Park by fans and players alike on Sunday for his first return visit as an away team manager, but it was thankfully the Silver Fox who was left smiling at the result after a scrappy win against a solid if unspectacular Norwich side.

Following our Thursday night European adventure, the team was again heavily reshuffled, with only the back four remaining in place and Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse restored to the starting line-up. Pleasingly, we were also able to welcome Mr T back on the bench, while interestingly Sylvain Marveaux dropped out of the squad altogether, with Little Big Lad seemingly taking his place on the bench.

In addition to the returning Hughton, one old boy less warmly received was Sebastien Bassong, whose return only lasted eight minutes before he departed nursing a hamstring problem, to be replaced by ex-Mackem Michael Turner.

While Norwich started brightly, it was Newcastle who drew first blood when Steve Harper threw the ball out to HBA and he cut infield, accelerated away from his marker and then threaded a beautiful ball past seven Norwich players and into the path of Ba. Our in-form striker controlled the ball with his first touch and then rolled it under the on-rushing John Ruddy and into the Gallowgate goal to give us the lead.

With both sides struggling for fluency, and Norwich struggling in front of goal this season, chances were relatively limited, although Ba and HBA nearly repeated their first goal trick later in the half, only for ball to just evade our number 19.

Unfortunately, his Senegalese compatriot’s woes in front of goal continue, with one miskick from a fine Davide Santon cross appearing to rebound off his own leg, before Dreamboat blazed over. With half-time almost upon us, Mike Williamson was clumsily fouled in the box by Steve Morison which saw us awarded a penalty. With Ba or HBA the likely takers, it appears captain Spidermag had other ideas and convinced the team that Cisse should take the kick in a bid to get off the mark for the season. Sadly the plan backfired as the penalty went sailing high and wide of the goal.

In the second half, we looked to back off a bit, although chances for Saylor, Obertan Kenobi (on as a substitute for Cisse) and Ba could have made the game safe.  At the other end, Harper produced a fine save, getting off his line quickly to close down Andrew Surman when he managed to get through on goal.

Hearteningly, Mr T was introduced with about 15 minutes to go and immediately demonstrated what we’d missed, both in terms of his competitive ability and also his solid passing and confidence on the ball (even if it didn’t take him too long to pick up our only booking of the match!).

At the end of the day, we’re still lacking fluency but managing to grind out results. If we can carry the run going past Wednesday night’s League Cup jaunt to Old Trafford (a handy five miles from the home of the game’s appointed referee Anthony Taylor) then we’ll be doing well. With Mr T now returning to fitness and Sideshow Bob also expected to return, it could be an interesting blend of youth and experience from both sides which could make for a fairly even contest.

For now, though, it’s a case of saying thank you to Hughton and wishing him well for the rest of the season (apart from our excursion to Carrow Road, obviously) and focusing with the job in hand. Cisse’s goal will come, but at the same time by trying to force it we may just have made the problem worse.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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