Monday, March 20, 2006

Reds run riot

Newcastle 1 - 3 Liverpool

Red was the colour that swept St James' Park yesterday. It was the colour which adorned the visitor's strip, the colour of the card shown to Jean-Alain Boumsong, and the colour of the rage which stayed with me long after the final whistle.

Arriving on the back of a 5-1 victory, Liverpool's goal-shy strikers had seemingly overcome their recent scoring problems, and so it proved as they scored their first goal inside the opening quarter of an hour. Building from a throw in, Liverpool were given far too much time and space by our midfield (the story of the afternoon) and allowed to cross the ball to the back post, where human beanpole Peter Crouch was easily able to beat Ramage and Boumsong to the ball, and head past a helpless Shay Given.

The initial set back worsened, as the lively N'Zogbia was forced off with a leg injury, to be replaced by Bowyer, with Emre moving out to the left. Sadly the change in personnel bought little improvement, as we continued to allow Liverpool too much time on the ball, and most of our attacking play foundered as Ameobi repeatedly strayed offside.

From one attack, we lost possession (as referee Mike Riley ignored the fact that Shearer was rugby tackled to the ground) and Liverpool swept forward. Good link-up play down our right eventually saw Steven Gerrard play a one-two with Crouch before sweeping home a right-footed shot to give the visitors a two goal cushion.

Two goals down, it was heartening to see some biting tackles in midfield which roused the crowd, and bought an element of spice to our previously lacklustre performance. With five minutes to go before half time, we eventually crafted some space on the right, and Parker's ball to the back post was met firmly by Ameobi who was adjudged marginally onside (for once) and gave us a glimmer of hope, before he headed off to celebrate on his own as his teammates trooped back to half way. Whether this is a sign that the team were keen to get on with matters or a reflection of Ameobi's popularity in the dressing room is uncertain.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, half time came as we were enjoying our best period of the match, with the goal having brought a resurgence in the performance giving hope to all those watching.

Depressingly any hope of the resurgence continuing in the second half was crushed within five minutes of the restart, when Jean-Alain Boumsong completely missed a clearance, and allowed Peter Crouch to get round him, and enjoy a run on goal. No doubt eager to make amends for his glaring error, the Frenchman promptly hauled Crouch to the ground. Unsurprisingly, the striker was sufficiently able to stay on his feet to get into the penalty area before falling, but the lack of protests from the home team told the story of the foul. Mike Riley adjudged that Boumsong was the last man, and promptly sent him off. The defender was last seen walking slowly round the back of the Gallowgate goal before finally jogging along the touchline to the tunnel.

Djibril Cisse stepped up, and calmly slotted the ball past Given who guessed wrongly, before heading off to the celebrate his goal in front of the aggrieved home fans by showing his vest and earned a booking as a result.

With a 3-1 lead now looking unassailable, Liverpool pressed forward and forced a corner shortly after the kick-off. At which point Cisse took it upon himself to rile the crowd, beckoning them to "come on". Despite the obvious reaction of the incensed home fans, Mavis Riley declined to issue the yellow card that antagonising the supporters should have merited at the very least, presumably because it would have meant sending Cisse off, and simply chose to talk to the player.

If Gary Neville is suspended for inciting Scousers, it can only be hoped that the FA take a similarly dim view of Cisse's antics. However, with the game now finished, any subsequent punishment is too little too late. Riley's failure to act left us facing an insurmountable struggle.

Although we briefly looked like we might get a goal back, with some decent endeavour in midfield, we never had possession for long enough spells to force any real pressure.

Dyer replaced Ameobi, but lacked the touch to make use of some good running and positional play - presumably a result of his lack of matches.

Ultimately, it was a frustrating day, with Newcastle too lethargic at times, and Boumsong's error left us with too much to do in the second half. To blame poor refereeing doesn't change the result (although someone really has to question whether Riley is capable of refereeing an under 11's game, let alone a Premiership one), and ultimately the better side won.

Chelsea on Wednesday doesn't provide us with much hope, and Roeder will need to inspire some urgency in his team, and forge a new central defensive partnership quickly if we are to have any hope of progressing to the next round.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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