Monday, April 04, 2005

Beating ourselves up

Villa came to Newcastle on Saturday, and left with all three points after an abysmal performance by referee Barry Knight made certain that we got nothing out of the game. Behind after sloppy defensive work had allowed Angel free to fire a shot past Shay Given after only five minutes, Newcastle worked their way back into the game only for poor finishing by Jenas preventing us from pulling a goal back.

However, it was the events of the second half that will live longer in the memory, and may well have irreparably damaged our chances of finishing the season with anything other than crushing feelings of regret and dreams of what might have been.

Firstly, the referee turned down our claims for a blatant penalty following a handball by Jlloyd Samuel. Then, Nicky Butt, who has certainly had better games in his life, gave the ball away inside our half and set Darius Vassell away to run on goal. He duly rounded Shay and shot at the goal, only to be denied by the outstretched arm of covering defender Steven Taylor. Taylor had to be dismissed, although his attempt to show that the ball had in fact hit him in the ribs, resulted in the best dive I've seen all season. Inevitably a red card was shown, and Gareth Barry fired the resulting penalty past Shay Given.

Two minutes later and a shoulder to shoulder challenge by Stephen Carr, outside of the box, resulted in another penalty to the visitors with the referee showing what can only be described as a strong West Midlands bias. Barry again fired past Shay to make it 3-0.

That was bad enough, with a pretty poor home performance allowing the side who were below us going into the game to leapfrog into the top half. However, much worse was to follow.

Dyer got the ball on the right, and rather than lay it off to Bowyer, elected to try and beat his man before passing infield. For whatever reason, Bowyer treated this as though he'd caught Kieron in bed with his mum, and squared up to Dyer. Dyer stood his ground, and Bowyer head-butted him, before throwing a couple of punches for good measure.

At this point players managed to intervene and pull them apart, although not before Dyer had thrown a retaliatory blow of his own. The referee was left with little option but to dismiss the pair of them and with only eight men on the pitch and seven minutes to go any chance of launching a miraculous comeback was long gone.

Both Dyer and Bowyer continued to argue down the tunnel, and were hauled in front of the press to apologise in the aftermath of the game. Sadly neither expressed their guilt (not the first time for Bowyer…), nor did they apologise to each other.

Where this leaves them is hard to say, although it's doubtful that both will be around next season – with Bowyer in particular unlikely to be well received in the dressing room. For Dyer, I have a certain degree of sympathy, as it looks like Bowyer went for him, and any punches he did throw were in self-defence. Whether that sees him avoid censure appears unlikely, and both look certain to miss the FA Cup Semi-Final, and probably take with them our best chance of overcoming Manchester United.

Quite how the players react on Thursday against Sporting Lisbon will speak volumes for their character as a team and also for the abilities of the coaching staff. We need a strong display of unity on the pitch, coupled with a good performance, to overcome a decent side. Whether either player will be involved remains to be seen, but if anyone is prepared to offer us money for Bowyer in the summer, I expect him to be heading out the door with Souness, Shearer and Shepherd all having firmly planted their bootmarks on his backside to help him on his way.

For Dyer the path forward is slightly less clear, as he appears to have been the victim of an assault by a colleague than the instigator. Of course, I don't know what was said in the build-up to the brawl – but it's hard to think of anything that would merit the reaction of Bowyer.

The frustrating thing is that having spent much of the season rebuilding the club's damaged reputation we see it dragged back into the gutter because of the senseless actions of two midfielders. Hitting people is never an acceptable way to settle an argument. Hitting a co-worker is never an acceptable way to do anything other than hand in your resignation. Whether we can afford to take such a step remains to be seen – but the prospect of Souness keeping hold of his highly valued pool of midfielders is long gone, and seemingly taking with it any hopes we had for silverware this season.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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