Friday, December 07, 2012

Cheick not our mate

Bordeaux 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Well, we may have been in Bordeaux, but this performance certainly wasn't vintage - more like rancid £2.99 plonk from Asda, insufficiently aged to satisfy or to defend our unbeaten record in Europe this season.

The Silver Fox had already confessed he'd be fielding a weakened and youthful side out of fairness to the supporters - despite the fact that most of the 1200 Toon fans in attendance will have bought their tickets and made their travel arrangements long before his announcement. There were nine changes in all, with only Sylvain Marveaux and Mike Williamson retained from Monday night's win over Wigan. That meant starts for Rob Elliot between the sticks; James Tavernier, Perchinho and Fergie in defence; Master T and full debutant Mehdi Abeid accompanying Marveaux in the middle; and Big Lad supported by his younger brother and the Lone Ranger (who I'm tempted to rechristen Lazarus) in a three-pronged attack.

Of them all, only Elliot and perhaps Master T really advanced their claims to regular first-team football - the former given plenty of opportunity to do so right from the start. A stunning reaction stop from Henri Saivet was followed with another parry from a swerving shot hit by Fahid Ben Khalfallah, the Tunisian quickly emerging as our hosts' most potent weapon.

Elliot's next trick was to dive sharply to stop ex-Mackem David Bellion's angled shot, recovering swiftly enough to gather the ball when Cheick Diabate made a laughable hash of the rebound. We weren't laughing soon afterwards, though, when a curling Khalfallah cross found Diabate in sufficient space between Perchinho and Fergie to nod inside the far post.

Our own efforts were pathetic - we couldn't pass or get control of the ball, we looked dozy defensively, there was precious little threat either from wide areas or up front. The pitch was horrendously bobbly, but we can hardly use that as an excuse when Bordeaux - themselves resting their best players - were knocking the ball about neatly and efficiently.

By the time the whistle blew to bring an interminably awful half to an end, we'd mustered (by my reckoning) just one effort on goal, a mishit Marveaux shot which skewed well wide. The Silver Fox's response was to withdraw Little Big Lad - somewhat harsh, I felt, as he had at least shown some promise with his gallops down the line (Marveaux, Abeid and Ranger all looked like likelier candidates to be hauled off). His replacement was Vurnon Anita - again a bit of a surprise when it seemed like a good opportunity to give Romain Amalfitano some game time. However, the substitution signalled a switch to 4-4-2, with Abeid pushed out to the right, and for a while the change of formation provided us with a solid platform from which to get back into the match.

Our first (and best) chance of the night came when the Lone Ranger flicked on a long ball that Big Lad anticipated, only to see his left-footed shot deflected behind for a corner by 'keeper Kevin Olimpa. Abeid went close too shortly afterwards, curling a right-footed shot just wide of the far post with Olimpa beaten.

We couldn't find an equaliser, though, and Bordeaux served notice that they weren't content to just sit back and soak up pressure when Gregory Sertic's rasping long-ranger flicked the outside of Elliot's right post. We failed to heed the warning, and on 72 minutes they doubled their lead when a routine ball over the top caught Williamson out, Diabate outpacing him to fire home.

From that point on, the writing was on the wall - underlined by the Lone Ranger executing a fine turn before impetuously smashing his shot way over the bar - and the French side could have added to their tally had Elliot not remained vigilant.

Thankfully, though, other than the fact that we wound up finishing second in our group and are therefore not seeded in the knock-out stage (something we could come to rue), the result meant very little. So it was mystifying to see both Sideshow Bob and Papiss Cisse introduced with the scoreline at 2-0 - surely Amalfitano and Adam Campbell would have found a run-out more beneficial? In the grand scheme of things, though, it was just a game we needed to get out of the way - three points at Fulham on Monday and this appalling non-event will be quickly forgotten.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Blogger Paul said...

Given his welcome back into the fold, I'd suggest Ranger's more akin to the Prodigal Son than Lazarus.

1:54 pm  

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