Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pressure point

Mackems 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Should we be disappointed? Should we be relieved? Two days on and I'm still not entirely sure. On the one hand, Dreamboat handed us a third-minute lead which we held until four minutes from time, and even then we had to help the woeful home side out by scoring their goal for them. But on the other, a first red card in black and white for Mr T left us with backs firmly against the wall for the last 65 minutes, so perhaps a point could be considered a reasonable return in the circumstances.

The Silver Fox faced two selection dilemmas prior to kick-off: whether to include both newly fit-again central defenders Sideshow Bob and Saylor, and whether to hand Big Lad a start in the fixture he seems to relish more than any other. The latter decision was never really in doubt, our derby-day talisman replacing Papiss Cisse, but fellow local lad Saylor was left on the bench - perhaps the Silver Fox, mindful of that provocative pre-match interview, was concerned he might be either a liability or a target. Sideshow Bob, however, did start the game, and in possession of the captain's armband.

It didn't take long for us to set about reasserting a familiar superiority over the Mackems. A fortuitous slip allied with good work from Danny Simpson and HBA down the right saw Demba Ba played in on the edge of the six-yard area. Resisting the temptation to go down when tugged, he fired in a shot that Simon Mignolet could only parry straight into the path of Dreamboat. The faintest of deflections off a defender's toe took his shot past the man on the line and into the bottom corner.

With the Mackems immediately on the back foot, we looked the more confident and fluent side, though it was through a dead ball situation that we came closest to doubling our lead, Mignolet's palms stung in tipping over Dreamboat's free kick. HBA seemed in the mood, a few mesmerising dribbles halted just as he was working a shooting position.

The game's pivotal moment came in the 25th minute, though. Mr T was jostled and jockeyed by Jack Colback - one of two Toon supporters in our opponents' ranks - and, with the free kick already awarded to us, unfortunately took out his frustrations on Steven Fletcher's shin. It was always likely that someone would see red, and with the odious Lee Cattermole suspended the prime candidate for an early bath was Mr T - even though it came as some surprise to realise it's his first dismissal in Toon colours.

We soldiered on for a further ten minutes before the Silver Fox decided a change was necessary, Perchinho thrown on ahead of Vurnon Anita to plug the hole in defensive midfield. The desperately unlucky man to make way was a glum-faced Big Lad, who stomped off down the tunnel in dismay - not how he wanted to mark his 250th first-team appearance. In truth, it proved a prudent move by the manager, working well for the good of the team, but Mr T certainly owes Big Lad a profuse apology.

As half-time approached, the Mackems continued to pose us few problems, and indeed we could have extended our lead if Ba had been able to keep his acrobatic volley from whistling narrowly over the bar from close range.

The pattern for the second period was set almost immediately: our hosts bossing possession and us defending manfully to restrict them to snatches of half-chances at best. Colback was a probing presence in midfield, but it's telling that on-loan left-back Danny Rose was their most effective attacker. Fletcher and alleged strike partner Stephane Sessegnon were anonymous, James McClean attracted attention only through overly aggressive challenges and the usually dangerous winger Adam Johnson, having floated a shot wide in the first half, was double-marked out of the game and eventually hauled off.

The Mackems' inability to create anything of note can be largely attributed to the performances of Mike Williamson and in particular Sideshow Bob, the latter aptly described later by the Silver Fox as "absolutely phenomenal". Perchinho played a vital role too, scything into a series of perfectly executed tackles and at one point launching an attack that almost ended with him reaching Ba's low ball across the six-yard area. Our lone striker was putting in a tremendous shift up front, coming close to adding a second on the break though Mackem captain John Obese - his face a mess after a first-half tangle with Big Lad - did just enough to ensure the Senegalese man fluffed his lines when bearing down on Mignolet.

Sideshow Bob went down with cramp, Perchinho assisting by waggling the Argentinean's foot about (central midfield, centre-back, full-back, physio - is there anything the man can't do?!), but he had to be replaced by Saylor, who entered the field of play to the expected warm reception. That the Mackems equalised seven minutes later was less a reflection on the replacement not being up to speed and more an indictment of a shocking free kick from Dreamboat. Handed the opportunity to swing a ball over and put the home defence under pressure for a change, the Frenchman's dismal effort was booted clear, Williamson caught on his heels and condemned to commit a cynical bodycheck for which he was rightly booked. From the resulting Sebastian Larsson free kick, Obese glanced the ball on and it bounced off Ba's face and past Tim Krul. Our unfortunate striker has now achieved the remarkable feat of being both our top scorer and the Mackems' second top scorer...

The Great Unwashed belatedly woke up and scented victory, but despite a frenzied finish with opportunities at both ends, 1-1 was the final score.

A proud Silver Fox was prepared to concede that Mr T's red card was justified but hailed a "magnificent effort" from the remaining players, while there was praise too from his opposite number Martin O'Neill, who admitted we had "played excellently with the 10 men".

Bring on the home fixture, when hopefully we'll be able to count on a full complement of players for the whole 90 minutes...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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