Monday, February 20, 2006

Back in black (& white)

Newcastle 1 - 0 Southampton

A goal by one Mr K Dyer, making his first start for the club since August, was enough to carry us in to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup on Saturday in front of the watching BBC audience.

Apparently Dyer was only told of his inclusion in the starting line up at about 2pm on Saturday, when the club finally admitted that Alan Shearer wasn't fit enough to feature in the game due to a calf injury. With Dyer coming into the starting lineup to partner Shola Ameobi up front, his place on the bench was filled by Albert Luque, with Glenn Roeder demonstrating his stated position of seeking to keep Luque in the fold despite his airing grievances in the Spanish press in recent days.

Dyer himself had previously observed that his only disappointment with his comeback so far was that he had been unable to link up with Nobby Solano, having replaced the Peruvian in his two games so far.

Within minutes of the kick-off it was clear that Dyer had a point, as he and Nobby exchanged quick-fire passes, and carved their way through the visitors' five man midfield at will. With Emre and Scott Parker also using the ball well, and N'Zogbia driving forward down the left, the first half was a storming performance by Newcastle. That we went in at half time still goalless was testament to some slightly weak finishing, and a couple of stirring saves by the visiting keeper. As it was, both Boumsong and Ameobi hit the woodwork, and Shola also had a strong shot brilliantly deflected over the bar following an Emre corner. The only threat to our goal coming from a hurried Boumsong clearance, which allowed Kenwyne Jones to burst into the penalty area, only for Titus to cut across and clear the danger.

Frustratingly, with George Burley's side reverting to a 4-4-2 formation at half-time, we allowed the visitors back into the game. Having played at a good tempo in the first half, the pace noticeably slowed in the second, and things were starting to get a bit nervous as our early superiority gave way and we allowed Southampton to force a couple of good saves from Shay Given.

Thankfully though the breakthrough eventually came our way, as N'Zogbia strode forward through the centre of midfield, evading a couple of challenges before playing a cracking through ball into the path of the just onside Dyer. He took the ball into the penalty area and crashed it into the bottom corner, before leaping jubilantly into the Gallowgate end (and picking up a booking for his troubles). Having clearly been wilting due to his lack of match fitness, it was hardly a surprise to see Glenn Roeder opt to change things around, and he brought on Bowyer for Dyer, and Luque for Ameobi as we looked to see out the game.

With Saints using up their final substitution to bring on young striker Dexter Blackstock they were unlucky to see their keeper stretchered off with ten minutes to go having jarred his knee. After much discussion it was Blackstock who was given the gloves and goalkeeping shirt (both of which were much too big for him).

With an untested outfield player in goal, Southampton were always likely to spend the remainder of the game trying to hold on, and so it proved, with the young keeper making a couple of good saves. One from a quickly taken free kick by Luque was well judged - and the Spaniard must wonder what he has to do to finally break his duck.

Ultimately though, it was a case of job well done, with a particularly strong first half performance showing what a bit of confidence and the return of Dyer's pace and movement does for the side. Hopefully he'll be able to remain fit for the rest of the season, and if so we'll be looking to move up the league and battle onwards in the Cup.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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