Thursday, October 26, 2006

Past imperfect - present less so?

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Portsmouth

Well, that was a bit of a turn-up for the books - Newcastle comprehensively beating a high-flying Pompey team stuffed full of old boys to march into the last sixteen of the League Cup and an away tie against Watford.

Glenn Roeder opted to make several alterations to the side that lost at Middlesbrough. Steven Taylor started at right back with Craig Moore and Titus Bramble in the middle and the returning Celestine Babayaro at left back. In Emre's absence Charles N'Zogbia started in the middle, with Nobby Solano and James Milner on the flanks. Giuseppe Rossi was the beneficiary of Antoine Sibierski's injury and Shola Ameobi's shortage of fitness, pairing up with Obafemi Martins for the first time.

The most significant change probably came in the Portsmouth ranks, though. Rather than facing Sol Campbell, who has rediscovered his best form this season and contributed to numerous shut-outs, our forwards were faced with Andy O'Brien. And presumably rubbing their hands. Also returning to St James' were Lomano Lua Lua and Andy Cole. The headlines were there written and just waiting to be put on the page - but thankfully our back four held firm and we could breathe a huge sigh of relief with what was in the end a comfortable win.

Pompey started the better of the two teams, though, with Matt Taylor, Niko Krancjar and Sean Davis all trying their luck from distance on the skiddy surface. A sharper and more incisive side might have made us pay, but we survived and gradually came into the game, shading the last twenty minutes of the first half. Martins lofted a shot onto the roof of the net, while Milner also had a decent effort.

It took only two minutes of the second half for us to get our noses in front - and Rossi it was who gave Roeder a selection headache by seizing on a loose ball and finishing neatly into the bottom corner. One start, one goal - will that (and a good overall performance) be enough for him to keep his place for the visit of Charlton on Saturday?

We doubled our lead five minutes later, half-time sub Damien Duff (on for Martins) crossing for Solano to power a header past David James. That was the cue for Roeder to reintroduce Kieron Dyer from the bench, and the Little Waster actually looked quite useful, going close barely two minutes after his arrival. Perhaps we might yet consider his return fortuitous given Emre's injury.

Our defence's clean sheet was not posted without wobbles, the ball being bundled over the line at one point only for Lua Lua to be ruled offside, but it held firm and we even added a third goal in injury time, Solano profiting from some pinball in the six yard area to notch his second following excellent work from Milner.

So, Watford await us in the next round. Winning is far from a certainty, but we have to consider ourselves fortunate to have missed some of the other sides left in the competition and should be eager to capitalise on it.

What this display means for Saturday's crunch Premiership game is unclear. It's always nice to win and win well, but we were unable to take heart and momentum from last Thursday's sound Cup performance, losing to the Smogs - let's hope this time it works out differently. That might put paid to the poor attendances - significantly shy of 26,000 tonight...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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