Sunday, December 19, 2004

Suicidal tendencies

Another pathetic excuse for a Newcastle performance, and you just can’t argue with the statistics.

Liverpool’s comeback against us, and their ultimate 3-1 triumph, means that we’ve now thrown away a lead twelve times this season, more than any other Premiership side. Quite incredible, when you recall how many times we came back from deficits to draw or win games only a couple of seasons ago. Where’s all that resilience gone?

It also speaks volumes about our defence that a side with our undoubted attacking prowess and goalscoring power can still find itself with a goal difference of minus six.

The pre-kick-off omens weren’t good: Shearer still out injured along with Carr and Butt, Hughes and Taylor (the latter one of the only bright spots in recent games) laid low with a bug, our one sharpshooter Bellamy injured in the warm-up – and all for a game at a ground where we hadn’t won in the league in the previous ten attempts.

As has been the case in recent weeks, though, it all started very promisingly. For the first half hour we had the measure of Liverpool, restricting them to a smattering of half-chances and containing the lively Milan Baros to good effect. Bowyer and JJ were working hard in midfield to close players down and deny them space, whilst also prompting and probing well when in possession.

And then Kluivert scored – a tap-in from a Bowyer cross after an excellent ball from Dyer which bisected the Liverpool central defence – and everything fell to pieces.

Liverpool hit back within two minutes, Bramble losing Hyypia and heading a wicked corner into his own net – Titus gets even more charitable than usual nearer Christmas, it seems. Shortly afterwards Baros turned Elliott with ease and fed his strike partner, fat Gerrard lookalike Neil Mellor, who finished with aplomb.

Benitez got his tactics spot on – play his strongest attacking side and they’d knock the stuffing out of us. That meant selecting two strikers as well as two very attack-minded midfielders in Luis Garcia and Harry Kewell, and giving Gerrard licence to maraud all over the pitch. It was always going to be far too much for our rag doll defence to cope with.

There could and should have been many more for Liverpool in the second half, but poor finishing rather than robust defending saw them limited to just the one, Kewell’s turn and through-ball allowing Baros in to round Given and notch the goal his all-action performance deserved.

If the rumours are to be believed, our Irish custodian wants out and who can blame him? He’s currently forced to watch farcical scenes unfold before his eyes every single game. Against an on-form Liverpool side frothing with confidence and attacking verve, his task was akin to trying to catch a wrecking ball protected only by a glass shield. I’m now very much of the opinion that it’s not just organisation that we lack, but defenders with any real semblance of talent and ability.

At no point did we even look like getting back on terms, even before Bowyer was sent for an early bath following a stupid challenge and a second yellow card. Kluivert, ineffective aside from his goal, was replaced by Robert, who came on, almost immediately stung Jerzy Dudek’s fingertips with a devilish free-kick and then contributed nothing else whatsoever. Souness’s decision to remove Milner, who he’d just moved up front, and switch to a 4-5-1 formation was at very least curious, given that we desperately needed a goal to get back on terms. With Ameobi alone up front, and a man down, any hopes of a comeback were dashed and the continuation of our miserable record at Anfield was ensured.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, January can’t come soon enough. At the moment, though, it’s not just a few new faces we need but a fucking miracle. Are Souness and Shepherd miracle workers? I – like most other Newcastle fans wondering what the fuck we’re doing in 13th – have my doubts.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


Post a Comment

<< Home