Sunday, April 16, 2006

No substitute for class

Newcastle 3 - 1 Wigan

Revenge for two contrasting but equally miserable 1-0 defeats earlier in the season was sweet - and it could prove to be so much more than just that.

Our third successive win and the two goal winning margin took us above the Premiership's surprise package and into ninth place. Is that the scent of a UEFA Cup spot I can smell? More performances like this and we'll be in with a real chance of nicking it at the death. We had to do it the hard way, though, coming from behind to win for the first time since April 2004.

With Emre joining Parker on the sidelines, Roeder selected one-time sparring partners Bowyer and Dyer in central midfield, but only eight minutes had elapsed when the former had to depart with a hamstring strain. By that point, Wigan were already in front courtesy of a superb Jimmy Bullard free-kick that left Given flat-footed.

Ameobi missed a glorious chance to equalise but headed N'Zogbia's cross down and wide from barely a couple of yards, before having to depart himself with a mouth injury following a collision with Latics 'keeper John Filan. Whether he's fit for tomorrow's game remains to be seen, but whenever he does come back it'd be nice if his dental rearrangement means he plays a bit more like Ronaldinho.

Wigan had problems of their own to contend with, though, both central defenders Arjan de Zeeuw and Matt Jackson having to be substituted due to injury by the 20th minute. Their replacements Paul Scharner and Pascal Chimbonda, who had started off at right-back, never looked comfortable, while makeshift right-back Leighton Baines was subjected to a torrid afternoon by N'Zogbia.

It was the Frenchman's cross that caused concern in the Wigan penalty area, left-back Reto Ziegler clumsily bringing down Ameobi's replacement Chopra. Shearer duly dispatched the penalty into the top corner, sending Filan the wrong way.

Eight minutes later we took the lead, the patched-up Latics defence going AWOL and allowing Bramble a completely free header from Solano's corner for his first goal of the season. It's not often he's the beneficiary of lax marking - more often the culprit...

There was still time for an incredible fifth injury-forced substitution before half-time, Wigan's Lee McCulloch replaced by Henri Camara. Shearer must have felt like he'd already hung up his boots and landed himself a special guest appearance on 'Casualty'. (Though no-one fell off any cliffs.)

The break didn't interrupt our rhythm - we continued to dominate in the second period, Dyer's influence growing and N'Zogbia a constant threat.

Solano was denied by a great Filan save and (I think) the post, but we extended our lead soon afterwards, Chopra playing in Shearer and the skipper rounding Filan to finish neatly. Clearly he wasn't going to allow the presence on the pitch of his nemesis Uriah Rennie to ruin his day, despite the referee continuing his personal vendetta against our retiring captain by penalising him every time he so much as brushed against his marker.

Aside from the odd free-kick, Bullard trying to repeat his trick of the first five minutes, Wigan rarely threatened. Neither Jason Roberts nor Camara caused Moore and Bramble any problems, and what started out badly ended up as a very comfortable win. Dyer departed on 75 minutes - but mercifully his substitution was not necessitated by injury.

So, the Latics' fortunes wane and ours wax. Can we keep this good run going? Well, the first hurdle is a trip to the Dark Place tomorrow. Shame Man Utd deprived us of the opportunity to relegate the Mackems, eh?

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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