Monday, January 31, 2005

Somersaulting into the Fifth Round

For the best part of 90 minutes, as we put the Sky Blues to the sword, the sky over St James’s Park was, for once, blue. It made a welcome change from Messrs Bellamy, Souness and Fat Freddy turning the air blue every time they open their mouths, to the embarrassment and frustration of every Newcastle fan.

For this FA Cup Fourth Round tie, it goes without saying that Bellamy was nowhere near the pitch, and is unlikely to be ever again. Less controversially, Given was rewarded with a well-deserved rest after his Highbury heroics, whilst Bowyer sat the game out too. Taylor can consider himself unlucky to have been replaced by Carr, returning to the side after a long lay-off – unlike Robert, whose abject display last Sunday fully merited bench-warming duties. The place of the injured Boumsong was taken by O’Brien, and Babayaro, recovered from a knock, came in for Bernard. The other players to come in were Kluivert, making his first start for a while, and Amdy Faye, for his debut.

Right from the off a very poor Coventry side, stumbling along in the basement of the Championship, looked incapable of surviving long with their goal intact against a Newcastle team buzzing with attacking menace.

Numerous chances to take a well-deserved lead were spurned in the opening half-hour before JJ – himself earlier denied by an excellent save from Coventry’s on-loan keeper Luke Steele – found Shearer at the edge of the box, and the skipper took one touch before driving it right-footed into the bottom left hand corner of the goal.

Ameobi grabbed a second soon afterwards, outfoxing the full back out on the right touchline before cutting inside with a sharp turn of pace and finishing with aplomb with his left foot – the sort of contribution you wish he’d make more frequently, suggesting a genuine talent rather than someone who too often has the distinct air of disinterestedness about him.

Of course, we had to at least threaten to undo all the good work of the first half with a moment of madness just before the whistle. New Coventry manager Micky Adams, forced into replacing the injured Andy Morrell with Dele Adebola just three minutes in, had the pleasure of seeing the substitute striker heading home unmarked from a corner whilst our defence watched on statuesque.

Mercifully for the long-suffering fans, the threat of a Coventry fightback lasted only a few minutes of the second half. With a combination of skill and slight good fortune Babayaro escaped the attention of two opponents and strode purposefully into the area. His low hard shot deflected past Steele into the back of the net and he wheeled away to soak up the cheers for his first goal for the club. Reassuring to know that, having sold Lua Lua, we once again have someone enthusiastic about gymnastic goal celebrations.

After that, further chances came and went, Kluivert hitting the bar with a header, but the result was never in doubt. Had we been more clinical in front of goal – a recurrent complaint in recent match reports – we could have notched up a morale-boosting cricket score, but history has taught us not to grumble too much in the wake of comfortable victories, and we booked our place in the Fifth Round draw without unduly exerting ourselves.

We’ll take a nice home game against the winners of the replayed Brentford v Hartlepool tie, please. That, combined with a resolution to the painful Bellamy saga and a steady improvement in results leading to a climb up the table, really would prompt us to turn somersaults.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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