Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh we do like to be at the Riverside

Middlesbrough 1 - 2 Newcastle

When it comes to pre-match predictions I'm not often as unerringly close to the mark as I was with this game. It seems that fate was - for once - not tempted.

The 2-1 victory confirmed the Riverside as our favourite Premiership hunting ground, the foam-handed ones having witnessed only one win in ten attempts against us on their own turf.

After Boro's exertions against Basle on Thursday night, it was always likely they'd be tired, leggy and hungover, and so it proved. We could have been well out of sight by the time we took the lead, Ameobi having spurned two decent opportunities by firing wide and then high into the stand.

When the opening goal came, though, Ameobi made amends for his misses by sending a looping header goalwards from Solano's corner. George Boateng, under pressure from a couple of Toon players as well as being jostled by some of his own number, applied the vital touch, glancing the ball into his own net.

We were firmly in control, and at the other end our back four - in which Bramble had returned for Ramage, Boumsong omitted from the squad altogether - was utterly untroubled. Admittedly, they were helped by Steve McLaren's curious but welcome decision to opt for a five man midfield with Yakubu alone up front, with the Fat Eddie Murphy unfit and the Fat Mark Viduka resting his ample posterior on the bench.

It came as little surprise when we doubled our advantage shortly before the break, Ameobi ramming the Smoggies' jeers further down their throats. After good interplay between Solano and Carr on the right, the ball broke kindly to the striker and he swept it expertly across Mark Schwarzer and into the bottom left hand corner.

The appearance of the Fat Mark Viduka at half-time was never likely to inspire a Boro side who were already lethargic in the extreme, and we should have added to our two goal haul. Bowyer had a decent effort, while free-kicks from Solano and Emre went very close.

Roeder then rather bafflingly replaced the dangerous Solano with Dyer when a slightly off-colour Emre looked like a more likely candidate for substitution, and Boro worked their way back into the game. Boateng fired a deflected shot past Given on 78 minutes, and suddenly we were reminded that we never do things the easy way.

For the first time in the game, Boro were putting us under some pressure. Moore could conceivably have been penalised for a handball in the penalty area, but it would have been harsh, and in any case Ameobi had had a very good shout for a spot-kick dismissed in the first half. Given was forced into producing a superb save from Fabio Rochemback's free-kick, while Yakubu squandered a late chance by shooting into the side netting.

But, unlike last season, the Fat Eddie Murphy wasn't on hand to punch in a last minute equaliser, and we held on for our fifth away win of the campaign, the three points elevating us into the top half of the table for the first time in quite a while. Wigan, the next visitors to St James' Park, have built up a reputation for upsetting their hosts this season, but we have to feel confident of consolidating that position on Saturday.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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