Thursday, March 31, 2005

What a difference seven months makes

On a wet night at St James's Park England claimed the three points, as expected, against Azerbaijan, but the two goal margin of victory was perhaps surprisingly slim considering they'd been thrashed 8-0 by our main group rivals Poland. Indeed, the opposition even came close to scoring themselves on three separate occasions, Paul Robinson forced into two fine second-half saves.

Truth be told, though, the scoreline was less a reflection of the Azerbaijani workrate and defensive resolve and more of some profligate England finishing. David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney all struck the woodwork, while Michael Owen kept getting into excellent positions only to fluff very presentable opportunities. On another night he might have had a hatful, but as it was he couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with a banjo.

From a Newcastle perspective, JJ's arse remained firmly in contact with the bench but it was good to see Kieron Dyer getting a run-out on familiar turf, if only because the contrast of the warm reception he got with the booing of the August friendly with Ukraine should remind him how far he's come and what it would be like to fall from grace yet again.

Dyer only had 13 minutes to impress, but, after nearly setting up a team-mate with almost his first contribution just as he did on Saturday, he spent most of that time trying to take on and beat too many players rather than being satisfied with the easy ball.

It was another hard luck story for Aaron Hughes, whose Northern Ireland side succumbed to a late sucker punch in Poland after holding the hosts 0-0 for nearly the entire match. Craig Bellamy too had another night to forget in the red shirt of Wales - despite tormenting the opposition defence, having several chances and even having a goal disallowed, he ended up on the losing side as Austria claimed a late winner.


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