Monday, January 30, 2006

Chop saves Souey from the chop

Cheltenham Town 0 - 2 Newcastle

It may have been a case of job done, but it was hardly convincing. Thanks to Michael Chopra and Scott Parker, Souness lives to fight another day - but the performance of the defence did little to suggest any desire to see the Scot remain in charge.

Souness was able to welcome Parker and Ameobi back from injury, the latter lining up on the left side of midfield in place of Luque, perhaps wisely left out given the nature of the contest. Chopra started up front alongside Shearer.

For forty minutes, the first half was something of a snoozefest. Shearer's overhead kick flew over the bar, the sprightly Chopra saw a shot brilliantly blocked and Ramage was denied a clear penalty when felled clumsily in the area. Lawrenson: never mind whether or not he'd lost control of the ball, it was a foul. At the other end, Bramble and particularly Boumsong were being given the run around by Cheltenham's muscular and pacy forward Kayode Odejayi, who could himself have won a spot kick when hauled turfwards by the clumsy Frenchman.

The game at last exploded into life four minutes before the break. Chopra it was who, scenting blood Shearer-like, nipped in ahead of a defender to nod the ball into an empty net after Babayaro's cross shot had looped off 'keeper Shane Higgs's legs - a classic poacher's goal.

Two minutes later it was two when the ball deflected off the onrushing Parker six yards out and bounced into the corner of the net. He may not have known much about his first strike for the club, but there's no Toon player who's more richly deserved to get on the scoresheet this season.

We knew there would be a concerted effort from Cheltenham to get back into the game at the beginning of the second half, and so it proved - though the way we allowed the League 2 side to dominate us was alarming to say the least. Stephen Guinan turned Bramble superbly but couldn't quite hit the target.

In a rare moment of respite, substitute N'Zogbia put in a low cross that went right across the mouth of the goal. Having equalled Jackie Milburn's record in the 3rd Round victory over Mansfield, Shearer was uncharacteristically slow in reacting to the cross, but had he got a touch it would have been the easiest goal of his Newcastle career. Perhaps he wants goal number 201 to be a 30 yard screamer.

Cheltenham then fashioned their best chance, Odejayi outmuscling Boumsong again and taking the ball round Given but blasting wide when it looked easier to score. That brought an end to the Cheltenham challenge, and we controlled the game relatively comfortably until the final whistle.

"Comfortable" wasn't really the word for the game as a whole, though, and the overall performance doesn't bode well for an upturn in our Premiership fortunes. We're through to the next round, though, and I guess that's ultimately what matters most - to us and to Souness.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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