Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bloodied but through

Grimsby Town 0 – 1 Newcastle United

Last night saw Newcastle return to the scene of jubilation in 1993, where we confirmed our promotion to the Premiership under Keegan which prompted Lee Clark to don a very fetching afro.

Unlike last time, there was little party atmosphere last night, as Grimsby, and in particular their captain Justin Whittle, took it upon themselves to beat us into a bloodied pulp.

Few assaults in football can have been more blatant than Whittle's forearm smash, delivered with more intent and venom than any shot Grimsby managed on target during the match, and leaving Alan Shearer spitting blood and needing three stitches at half time. What referee Mark Halsey was doing, only he will know. Stood less than 5 yards from the incident he raised his whistle to his lips, only to bottle making a decision, and leaving Shearer bloodied and fuming at Halsey's arrogance and inaction.

Happily for Newcastle and Shearer in particular, his was to prove the only goal in an otherwise tight contest, and secure our passage into the last sixteen.

The game itself had started promisingly, with Newcastle out of the blocks and flying at the home side and managing 5 shots in the first 11 minutes. Significant efforts from N'Zogbia and Shearer boded well, with the Frenchman looking particularly threatening down the left.

Unfortunately, after a storming opening which gave cause to hope it would be a case of how many we'd score rather than whether we'd win, we allowed Grimsby to get into the game. They settled down, and managed to sort their organisation out, and became a much more compact unit, and one which we found much harder to break down.

Then with approximately 30 minutes gone, Whittle decided to impose himself on Shearer, having previously been unable to get near the ball, and having come off worse in an accidental clash of heads with our number 9. On that occasion, there was clearly no intention on Shearer's part to do anything other than win the ball, with Shearer even going over to Whittle to apologise following the clash. This time, Whittle set himself for the jump, checked where our captain was, leapt into the air, and slammed his arm back as hard as he could into Alan's face. With the referee only 5 yards away the very least he should have given was a free kick, although a red card would not have been unjustified. To give nothing, having already raised his whistle to his lips, can only be described as gutless. (Incidentally, if the police are prepared to spend time and money investigating Bowyer and Dyer’s flare up, surely this brazen assault which drew blood and was clearly pre-meditated should surely merit an investigation.)

The following fifty minutes featured very little of merit from either side. Newcastle laboured to break down their well organised opposition, with solid shifts from Parker and even Faye (although to be fair, if he can’t play well against a team three divisions below us I'd have been particularly worried) preventing Grimsby from establishing any sort of control in the midfield.

Then, a moment of quality, to brighten up a pretty grim night: substitute Martin Brittain's quick feet allowed him to play Chopra into space, and with his marker slipping on the turf, Chops was able to cut the ball back perfectly for Shearer to hammer a left foot shot into the corner of the net and give us the lead that our dominance of possession merited.

Happily, we managed to hold out for the final ten minutes, as Grimsby lumped long balls forward towards make shift centre forward Rob Jones who enjoyed a strong game in the air, and probably had the better of both Taylor and Bramble in that department without ever really threatening our goal.

The whistle bought an opportunity for Shearer and Whittle to cap their evening's battle, with Shearer refusal to shake Whittle's hand prompting the Grimsby captain to seemingly offer to carry on the discussion with Shearer in the car park. Never one to shirk such an invitation (just ask Keith Gillespie) Shearer looked to have accepted the challenge, and it was notable that rather than follow Shearer down the tunnel, the Grimsby captain had a change of mind and returned to the relative safety of the pitch.

The bottom line is that a pretty laboured performance was enough to get us into the hat for the last 16, with solid performances by Bramble on his return from injury and Parker as always, another 70 minutes of football for Nobby, a nice cameo from Martin Brittain and Shearer taking another step closer to Milburn's record.

Disappointingly, Chopra failed to seize the chance Shola's hamstring twinge had given him, and apart from his ball to Shearer for the goal he looked off the pace and not up to the standards he needs to meet if he is to have a future at the club. Whether Titus has done enough to replace the currently out of form Boumsong at the heart of our defence for Sunday's game is open to question, but the Frenchman will need to find some form quickly if he isn't to grow accustomed to a place on the bench.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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