Monday, March 14, 2005

Bant A Ni I Gaerdydd*

Resolute defending, sublime goalkeeping and sheer bloody mindedness kept Newcastle in the FA Cup yesterday, and allowed us to progress to the semi finals of this year's competition.

We were ahead after a storming start which saw Kieron Dyer giving Spurs left back Thimothee Atouba a torrid time, and which ultimately saw Alan Shearer get to the by-line and cut the ball back for Patrick Kluivert to score a goal almost identical to our third against Olympiakos.

One-nil up and really flying, it looked like being the start of a performance in which we would sweep aside the opposition and really set down a marker to the remaining three teams in the tournament. Shortly afterwards, Kluivert broke through and put the ball into the net, only to be pulled back for an offside flag.

Unfortunately, we slowly went off the boil, and allowed Spurs to regain the initiative. Although they began to enjoy increasing amounts of possession, we still looked solid at the back, with each of our back four looking well set to keep Tottenham out. Unfortunately, Titus was forced to leave the field before the end of the half, hobbling disconsolately down the tunnel.

With no fit senior defenders to have on the bench, Souness sent Jenas to left back and moved Aaron Hughes into the centre to partner Boumsong, and fortunately we survived the final few moments of the half without any serious threat on our goal.

The second forty-five saw Spurs launch everything at our new left back, who looked terribly lost playing out of position on the wrong side of the field. Credit must surely be given to Hughes who found himself covering both centre back and left back as JJ looked increasingly out of his depth in the full blooded atmosphere of the final 45 minutes of an FA Cup Quarter Final.

Simon Davies sent a shot wide of the Leazes goal, as a warning of things to come, and Spurs continued to keep us pressed back. Unable to control the ball and keep hold of it for any period of time, we sat deeper and deeper, and allowed the visitors to come on to us.

With Martin Jol sacrificing defenders for attackers, Robbie Keane entered the fray and first he then Jermaine Defoe produced an outstanding double save from Shay Given in the Newcastle goal.

With the game becoming increasingly frantic, and Kluivert appearing to be carrying a slight injury, Shola Ameobi came on to the pitch. However, despite charging round the field like a rhino, Shola once again failed to impose himself on an opposition side.

Milner replaced Robert, as Souness perhaps looked to give us a bit more of a work ethic down the left to protect JJ, and still Spurs pressed us back. However, having committed so many men forward it was inevitable that the visitors would leave gaps at the back, and so it was that both Dyer and Ameobi found themselves with good chances to score a second, and put the tie safe. Sadly, neither managed it.

Clinging on as the clock ticked down, it was a case of all hands to the pump and Bowyer in particular (who had enjoyed a very quiet game previously) threw himself into the thick of things, flinging his body in the way of a few shots and according to the visitors (although fortunately not referee Rob Styles) his arm in the way of another. Finally, as Spurs looked to have scored the equaliser that on balance they probably deserved, Styles gave us a free kick for what I believe he saw as a push on Shola.

Regardless of the bleating of Spurs, the bottom line is that their "goal" didn't count, and we were able to hang on to secure our first trip to Cardiff, which is something I doubt we would have managed earlier in the season when last minute capitulations appeared to be our forte.

So from that point, we've clearly progressed – whether we go all the way depends on a favourable draw and Lady Luck continuing to give us the benefit of the doubt.

*Cardiff Here We Come

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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