Monday, December 27, 2004

No festive cheer

Well, that's Newcastle Utd for you. Just when you're thinking things can't possibly get any worse, they do.

We had a full week to recover from the defensive hari-kari of Anfield, and to reshuffle (Bramble and Bernard were both dropped to the bench) and get reorganised and refocused. And yet at Ewood Park we still endeavoured to concede two of the sloppiest, softest goals you'll ever have the cringing misfortune to see.

The first equaliser was a goal of such horrific simplicity that it beggared belief. Paul Dickov, Blackburn's only in-form striker, was left unmarked from a free-kick whilst three players clustered around his blank-firing strike partner, and when the ball was slid into the Scotsman he finished neatly.

Then, having ratcheted up the pressure on a jittery Newcastle in the early stages of the second half, Blackburn got what they deserved in the form of a second equaliser. Our defenders handed Barry Ferguson a card marked "You are cordially invited to have a shot", he did, Given did his best to parry, and when the ball came back off his body the Newcastle defence was rooted to the spot and there were no less than three Blackburn players waiting to pounce. Andy Todd it was who got the goal, his mishit shot bouncing just inside the post. It's a wonder Given has any hair left.

Why are supposedly "average" teams like Charlton, Portsmouth, Spurs and Birmingham ahead of us in the table? Simple: all four kept clean sheets yesterday. We've achieved that feat in just two league games all season.

But hey, 'tis the season to be merry (allegedly), and there are a few positives to be gleaned from yesterday's debacle. Even more remarkable than Robert's wonderful free-kick (his sole contribution to the game, of course...) was the fact that Dyer actually managed to hit the back of the net rather than fluffing his shot miserably as per usual. The more cynical amongst us might well regard the two goals as increasing our chances of getting the pair of overrated underachievers off the wage bill in January in exchange for a decent amount of money. Myself? Well, despite everything, some small part of me would STILL be sorry to see the back of both of them. Fuck knows why.

Another consolation: at least we didn't lose. Defeat would have increased the pressure on Souness, and also given the Blackburn faithful much to smile about. Even still (and I'm switching back to a negative outlook here), to lead twice at a place where the home team have only been victorious on one occasion all season and not to win is very poor. At times in the first half of the season Blackburn have looked like relegation fodder, and the fact that we struggled to match their desire and drive is very worrying. We're down to 14th - any further and we'll have to start contemplating the possibility of a relegation battle ourselves, rather than striving for the European places.

If there's a good time to be facing Arsenal, then this certainly isn't it.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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