Thursday, August 29, 2013

Brothers pair decider

Morecambe 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Well, we're through. It was hardly the morale-boosting romp we needed, and at times in the opening half-hour we looked in mortal danger of keeping Sky happy and coming a cropper in a banana skin of a tie. Thankfully, though, a late salvo saved the day and we can look forward to the prospect of the next round with relief.

The Silver Fox's teamsheet will have been the subject of much debate. Only three players from Saturday's draw with West Ham took to the field - French trio Mathieu Debuchy, Sylvain Marveaux and MYM - while Curtis Good and Master T, both last spotted by me a fortnight ago in the U21s' defeat at Reading, joined them. Rob Elliot, Paul Dummett, Dan Gosling, Goofy, Haris Vuckic and Little Big Lad made up the numbers. OK, so it might be considered wise not to have risked injuries to first-teamers - but a handsome win could have worked wonders for the likes of Cisse and Moussa Sissoko, and when the major domestic trophies can be claimed by clubs like Swansea and Wigan, there's certainly an argument for opting for a significantly stronger side than the one the Silver Fox chose to field.

One of his changes, Little Big Lad, was to make his mark before the night was out, but it was Gosling who came to the rescue in a frantic opening period. Twice he cleared Morecambe efforts off the line, the first time with his feet and the second with a combination of chest and post (and possibly forearm). Hearts were in mouths on the second occasion but referee Mark Haywood was unmoved by claims the ball had crossed the line - rightly so in my view, as replays were inconclusive.

Striker Padraig Amond was causing us particular problems, with Elliot called upon to bail us out on a couple of other occasions. You might have expected Good and Dummett, both making their full debuts, to be jittery but actually it was captain-for-the-day MYM who looked most flustered. Jim Bentley's side had set about making the most of both their physicality and height advantage, Debuchy in particular on the receiving end of some unsettling whacks early on and our tallest players Dummett and Little Big Lad out on the left rather than in central areas.

As the half wore on, we gradually got to grips with the game and started having efforts on goal ourselves, Master T stinging Barry Roche's palms with a Ronaldo-style up-and-down free kick. But too many of our forward players were either wasteful and ineffectual in possession (Marveaux, Little Big Lad) or utterly anonymous (Goofy, Vuckic).

It was the Slovenian international who paid the price at the break, the Silver Fox turning to a well-stocked bench that represented a wise insurance policy. On came Big Lad, assuming the captain's armband and Goofy's previous position, with the Frenchman dropping deeper. It wasn't pretty, but suddenly we had a physical presence of our own and could start to dominate proceedings for the first time.

Even then, it was hardly exhibition stuff, with most of our efforts failing to trouble Roche. Big Lad wasted the best one, blazing over when played in, but Marveaux and Dummett also tried their luck without success. It's testament to the Shrimps' tenacity that the Silver Fox had to resort to playing his trump card, HBA entering the fray with 20 minutes of normal time left in place of Goofy.

The substitute made an immediate impact, drifting away past tackles as if they weren't there, and it was no surprise that he had a hand in the goal that belatedly set us on the path to victory. HBA's precision pass was smartly controlled by Big Lad, who took a couple of touches before firing a heavily deflected shot past Roche in front of the visiting supporters in what was a record Globe Arena crowd.

Morecambe attempted to rally, Kevin Ellison acting the wind-up merchant and Roche, up for a corner, giving Elliot work to do, but our passage into the next round and a home tie against Leeds was sealed with a breakaway goal. HBA picked out Little Big Lad galloping forwards in stoppage time and he teased his way past two men before neatly slotting home right-footed.

That euphoria shouldn't detract from the fact that there were too many lifeless, listless, error-strewn performances from players who (in their own minds, at least) have claims on a first-team place, or from the fact that the victory came very late and was over the side third favourites for relegation out of the Football League. Contrary to the Silver Fox's post-match comments, it'll take more than that to get our season properly up and running. But I suppose it's a start.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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