Thursday, July 28, 2005

Down but not out

Deportivo La Coruna 2 - 1 Newcastle

Newcastle left Spain battered, bloodied and beaten last night, but by no means out of the Intertoto Semi-Final following a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Deportivo La Coruna.

The game began fairly slowly with it quickly becoming obvious that the Spanish side were happy to knock the ball about with precision, while we were left chasing shadows and lacking any creative spark. Sure enough, after ten minutes, Deportivo carved us open down our left, with N'Zogbia and Babayaro seemingly missing in action, before pulling the ball back into the middle for the waiting Ruben Castro (the only player in the Deportivo side without a full cap) to side-foot the ball home and give the home side a one-nil lead.

The remainder of the half saw the Spaniards continually on the attack, although thankfully mostly shooting from distance, and Newcastle chasing the game, before aimlessly hoofing the ball forward in the odd times when they obtained possession, thereby giving the ball straight back to Deportivo. James Milner appeared to be a marked man, as he was firstly whacked in the face, and left bloodied and black-eyed, and then caught firmly on the side of his ankle, and perhaps lucky to escape with nothing more than a bit of soreness, when a broken ankle looked a distinct possibility.

Still, through a combination of Deportivo's profligacy, and our own dogged rather than well organised defending we reached half time only one goal down – although the prospect of us mounting a comeback looked remote.

Emerging for the second half, Newcastle set about Deportivo with renewed purpose, upping the tempo, and forcing Deportivo to defend, and concede a corner. Stephen Carr's ball in was deflected away, but only as far as Lee Bowyer, who cracked a stunning left foot volley in to the corner of the goal, and give us a much needed but probably undeserved away goal, and drag us level.

This upsurge in our performance prompted Deportivo to go up a gear, and attempt to force the pace. Fortunately, we appeared to have been able to reorganise at half time, and as a result presented a much more organised defensive unit, although the Belgian referee's determination to whistle every time a Newcastle player made a sliding tackle which made even the slightest contact with a Deportivo player (regardless of whether the ball was played first) left us defending numerous free kicks, and resulted in bookings for several players.

Unfortunately we couldn't manage to hold on to the draw, and one time target, Jorge Andrade picked up the ball in his own half, before being able to run forward unchallenged (with Shearer seeming to admit defeat in the chase to tackle the centre-half) and curl a beautiful left foot goal into the corner of Given's net.

We then spent the last fifteen minutes of the game defending resolutely, with one save from Given showing our number one has lost none of his sharpness over the summer, and with Steven Taylor thankfully on hand to mop up, together with Deportivo slamming several potentially dangerous free kicks into the wall, we were able to hold on to a 2-1 defeat.

Strange as it may seem to be reasonably pleased with a defeat, taking an away goal back to St James' is far from the worst result we could have got (just ask Celtic), and provided we can get a few more bodies off the treatment table and on to the pitch we can go into next week's game with a fair degree of hope.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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