Friday, November 24, 2006


Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Celta Vigo

* OK, so it would have been more so had Steven Taylor's first first-team goal for his hometown club come against the Mackems. But let's not let the truth get in the way of a good headline, eh?

Taylor it was who proved the matchwinner, as we continued our good form in the UEFA Cup, overturning a one goal deficit to march on into the knockout stages.

Unsurprisingly, Glenn Roeder rang the changes. Two were enforced, owing to the injuries sustained by Damien Duff and Craig Moore at the Emirates Stadium. That meant Taylor moving inside to partner Titus Bramble, and Nobby Solano dropping back to right-back. In midfield only anchorman Nicky Butt retained his place; Emre returned from suspension, Charles N'Zogbia replaced the rested Scott Parker, and James Milner and Albert Luque were drafted in on the flanks. Neither Kieron Dyer nor Obafemi Martins were risked, with Antoine Sibierski handed the challenge of leading the line on his own.

We nearly got off to a spectacular start after just twenty seconds when Milner's cross-field ball was missed by the defender, letting in Luque at the left side of the area. The Spaniard should at least have hit the target, but instead showed all the hallmarks of a man low on confidence, dragging it wide of the far post.

That early promise soon evaporated, and by the tenth minute the visitors had taken the lead. A flighted long ball into the area induced a bad mix-up between Taylor and Shay Given, and when the ball ended up at the feet of Fabian Canobbio, the Uruguayan midfielder evaded Emre's weak challenge and curled the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the area.

Given our recent record of recovering after going behind, it was an early blow we really didn't want. Celta Vigo soon had control of the match, their passing slick and tidy and Brazilian forward Baiano in particular showing some neat touches. We, on the other hand, looked devoid of ideas going forwards and nervy in defence, as encapsulated in a dreadful miskick by Bramble which fortunately looped up into Given's grateful arms.

But then, around the half hour mark, something changed. We stepped up the pace and concentrated on knocking them out of their comfort zone with some good old-fashioned English hustle and harry. That said, our equaliser still came out of the blue. Milner did well to get the better of Vigo's excellent Argentianian left-back Diego Placente, before delivering a cross every bit as good as the one with which he supplied Luque in Sicily which left Sibierski with the relatively simple task of heading the ball beyond Esteban.

It could have been even better by the break. It took some strong defending from Yao Yago to prevent Sibierski getting on the end of a delicious Luque ball from the left, and with referee Dick van Egmond poised to blow the whistle Bramble should have done better with a free header from a well-flighted Emre free kick.

The goal had eased the nerves, and we continued to shade it in the second period. Emre had an early snapshot on the volley that would have been spectacular had it not flown wide. We also had occasional bursts forward from N'Zogbia and more good wingplay from Milner to cheer, as well as a quick dart into the box from substitute Captain Scott, but there wasn't any real urgency about our attacks because we knew that a point would be good enough to see us through.

But a point became all three four minutes from time, when Taylor made amends for his costly error of judgement earlier and showed his central defensive partner how to do it. Luque swung a corner into the six-yard danger zone and Taylor flung himself at it to power a header past Esteban.

Over to Jonathan of Crinklybee, by way of a taster for what you can expect when he joins the B&W&RAO team as a guest blogger over the festive period: "Steven Taylor's goal celebration was a joy to behold - he reacted like me or you would do if by some miracle we found ourselves heading home the winning goal in a St James' European tie - sprinting the length of the West Stand touchline lost in bulging-eyeballed wonderment (I think he was looking for his mam up in the stand or some other proof that he wasn't dreaming the whole thing)... I think if Roeder hadn't managed to catch him on the half-way line he'd have ended up in Fenham - moment of the season so far (although Lord knows there haven't been many...)". Too true, too true.

So, 2-1 it was at the final whistle. Three wins out of three in the group stage, and a visit to Frankfurt to look forward to next week with qualification already assured.

Sibierski got the man of the match award, and probably deservedly so - he scored a crucial goal, was battered around by uncompromising defenders while giving them significant problems, and held the ball up well. But a quick word about Solano: he may not have got forwards as much as we'd have anticipated, but he did an excellent job in nullifying the threat of Vigo's danger man Nene. His performance was a real plus, and should have highlighted to Roeder a useful option given our shortage of defenders and surfeit of midfielders.

Dare I say that we seem to be witnessing the first shoots of spring? It may only be November, but it's not before time...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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