Monday, January 07, 2013

No respite - and no excuses either

Brighton 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

First of all, I'd like to apologise to ITV on behalf of my team for the failure to pull off the FA Cup upset they were so clearly hoping would take place, given the game had been selected for live lunchtime transmission. What can I say - we were the plucky Premier League underdogs, after all, up against the might of a fair to middling Championship side. There's always next year, though - why not come and watch us have another futile stab at a giant-killing at Barnet next January?

Afraid I can't couch this whole report in sarcasm. So here goes... The defeat may have been predictable, given our form and injury list, but it's worth noting that our conquerors didn't win a single game in December so weren't exactly in great shape either. Quite frankly, our performance was appalling - an utter embarrassment, outclassed from first minute to last. Brighton might as well have been handed a bye into the Fourth Round.

The starting XI showed five changes from the side that played well enough but lost at home to Everton on Wednesday. Sylvain Marveaux and Tim Krul dropped to the bench, Papiss Cisse and Sideshow Bob were left on Tyneside to nurse strains and Mr T had already jetted off to join up with the Ivory Coast squad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations. Into the team came Rob Elliot and the callow quartet of James Tavernier, Master T, Mehdi Abeid and Little Big Lad.

Our hosts made much the brighter start, zipping the ball about as we chased shadows. Perchinho headed away an effort from Gary Dicker, though it's not certain it was going in, while David Lopez - a winger operating at right-back - was giving us some headaches out wide.

Gradually we started to retain a bit of possession, but hoofball seemed to be our primary tactic from the outset, Big Lad tussling repeatedly with his marker Adam El Abd. Master T blasted a shot straight at Casper Ankergren which the 'keeper could only parry out, though no one was following in, and Obertan Kenobi embarked on the odd reasonable dash down the right.

However, it was our French winger who was then largely at fault for the opening goal. Gordon Greer's raking diagonal pass was hooked back on the by-line by evergreen left-back Wayne Bridge, who had been untracked by Kenobi. Andrea Orlandi touched the ball around a bamboozled Mike Williamson and improvised a smart volleyed finish into the bottom corner.

This appeared to deflate rather than sting the visitors in black and white, who only had a wayward Vurnon Anita drive to show for the rest of the half. The game was particularly being lost in midfield, where Dean Hammond and Liam Bridcutt were bossing the show and Abeid was utterly useless.

That changes were needed at the break was obvious. We've excused the Silver Fox from much criticism this season (rightly, I think), but on this occasion his decision-making deserves comment. The removal of Abeid was inevitable, though Perchinho's withdrawal with a knock was forced. However, it's the choice of replacements that is contentious: the Lone Ranger, to partner Big Lad up front, and debutant Paul Dummett at left-back, with Davide Santon's offensive threat neutralised by shifting him to the right. Meanwhile, Sylvain Marveaux and Shane Ferguson - both crafty and capable of creating chances - kicked their heels on the bench.

The two substitutions duly had negligible impact and shortly after the hour an already grim afternoon got grimmer. Big Lad was already on one very soft booking when he made contact with Lopez, the Spaniard's disgraceful amateur dramatics earning our skipper for the day another undeserved caution from referee Lee Probert and an early bath and prompting ASBO to take to Twitter to express his incredulity.

Down to ten men and with the Lone Ranger now the focal point of our attack - things certainly didn't look good. But, with Marveaux belatedly introduced to immediate effect, we raised our game slightly. He had a venomous half-volley well blocked by Bridcutt, while the Lone Ranger headed over under pressure, Little Big Lad had a deflected shot clawed away by Ankergren and a Dummett cross just eluded our forwards.

But then, just as we were starting to believe in the possibility of an equaliser, came the killer blow. Slick-haired substitute Will Hoskins benefited from yet another defensive error from Williamson and, latching onto an easy through-ball, slid a shot under Elliot.

It could have been worse had substitute Kazenga Lua Lua, who had seemingly made it his mission to crucify Santon at every opportunity, not shot into the side netting. The Lone Ranger did have a shot smothered from close range and Williamson another blocked by a sliding defender, but for our pathetic effort and shapelessness we thoroughly deserved to end the game goalless. Brighton won without regularly extending Elliot, and Craig Mackail-Smith had a poor game and yet still our central defence looked like it could get blown apart by a one-year-old blowing out the candle on their birthday cake.

So, our fourth FA Cup tie against the Seagulls, and our fourth defeat. Any positives? Some will say a cup run would have been a dangerous distraction from our Premier League troubles - not me, though. Why should we be glad to be out of the only competition we still had a vague chance of winning? And if defeat was actually a desirable outcome, then where does that leave the fans who left Tyneside at an ungodly hour to make the lunchtime kick-off and applauded the team despite the crap they'd just served up? Deserving of refunds, perhaps. Nobby was among those who sympathised with our plight. But sympathy is all fine and well - what we need is investment and results.

(Of course, Saturday afternoon then just kept on giving: along the south coast, a debut brace for Demba Ba as his new side, holders Chelsea, swept aside Southampton; a two-goal fightback from the Mackems just when we were hoping they'd be making their own ignominious exit from the competition at the hands of Championship opposition...)

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you

This article is the only thing that has raised a smile since watching the whole awful display on Saturday.

9:47 am  

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