Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year: same mistakes

Newcastle 2 – 2 Monsters of Smog

After one frustrated attempt to see Newcastle play this holiday it was something of a relief to get to St James Park yesterday and find that the game was due to go ahead. The news that Shay Given was fit to continue in goal was also a much needed boost following the loss of Owen for three months and an injury to Scott Parker ruling our player of the season so far out for good measure.

With Albert Luque coming in, and starting up front, in place of Owen it allowed Shola to keep his place on the left wing, keeping the fit again Charles N'Zogbia out of the starting eleven, whilst Lee Clark took Parker's place in the middle of the park.

With the visitors having also had last Wednesday's fixture postponed it meant that neither side had any benefit from playing one game less than the other over the festive period.

With the game underway, it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with Robbie Elliott looking particularly exposed at left back – not because Shola wasn't working in front of him, but simply because whenever the ball came near him he looked shaky, and whenever Boro attacked he kept being caught out of position.

However, despite early superiority, it was Newcastle who should have opened the scoring, with a quick Solano free kick releasing Luque through on goal. A lunge from Schwarzer saw the Spaniard driven wide, and his shot from a tight angle only hit the side netting when he probably had enough time to steady himself and pick his spot.

The next real chance fell to Boro who again enjoyed plenty of time and space down their right hand side, and a decent cross was somehow spooned over the bar from two yards out by a lunging Mark Viduka. Perhaps he’d have done better if he'd not indulged in so many pies, but as it was his shot sailed high over the bar into the gleeful Leazes crowd.

Almost immediately afterwards, we broke forward, as Shola showed good skill, cutting in from his left wing berth to try and jink his way through the Boro defence only to be felled about 25 yards from goal. With Shearer and Solano standing over the ball it was somewhat surprising to see Alan eventually run over the ball and leave it for Nobby to curl a beautiful ball round the wall and into the net.

With half time following shortly afterwards it was a fairly content home crowd who clapped the team from the pitch, having got the better of a Boro side desperately seeking points.

Perhaps inevitably, our injury jinx struck again, and N'Zogbia came on for Ameobi whilst Babayaro replaced the quite frankly crap Robbie Elliott.

The second half saw Boro continue to huff and puff but in truth we looked relatively comfortable against them. That was until Titus decided to spread a bit of seasonal generosity their way. Having advanced with the ball at his feet, he promptly played a slide rule pass straight to the opposition, leaving himself out of position and our defence depressingly exposed. Needless to say, Boro took swift advantage, and Yakubu was ultimately given acres of time and space to side foot past Given to level the scores.

With a goal to their name, and a point in their grasp Boro again showed what a boring team they are, and lacking any great urgency or invention they didn't really seem to press on for a winner. Instead it was Newcastle who looked the more likely to score a second, with N'Zogbia having a strong impact on the left hand side.

Then disaster struck as we again lost possession in the Boro half, and allowed them to break forward quickly, releasing fat Eddie Murphy Hasselbaink (on as a sub for Yakubu to form what must be the fattest strike pairing in the country with Viduka) clean through to slot the ball under Given as Boumsong trundled in his wake with barely five minutes to go.

With the Smoggies now in full voice, and having the gall to describe their 2-1 advantage as "Easy" it was hardly surprising (if extremely irritating) to see people vote with their feet, and in the case of a sizeable portion of the Leazes to hear calls for "Souness Out".

In the dying minutes of injury time (time incurred due to shameless time wasting by Boro, which had begun in the first half when Schwarzer walked to the "wrong" side every time he had a goal kick to take) we launched one final hopeful ball forward and Southgate miscued his clearance out for a corner. With everyone (including Given) forward in what might have proved the final throw of the die for Souness, the ball was swung across only for Schwarzer to fail to clear his lines with a weak punch, and Lee Clark was able to shoot home from the edge of the box.

2-2 the scoreline, and, with barely time to restart the game before it ended, a draw was a fair reflection of an even match – neither side deserving a win (regardless of the drivel Steve McClaren was spouting on 'Match Of The Day'). The late goal not only silencing the gloating Smoggies but also the chants of "Souness Out" as frustration gave way to delight, as well as hopefully providing another valuable lesson on why you should never leave a football match early.

Taking the last three games as a whole, it's difficult to draw many positives from any of our festive fixtures. One point from three is simply not good enough. Whether it's enough to keep Souness in a job remains to be seen, but anything less than a convincing win at home to Mansfield on Saturday doesn't bear thinking about.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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