Monday, November 27, 2006

Pompey sunk

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Portsmouth

The sun was shining, the football was (for once) flowing, and the Toon walked away from St James' Park with a home league win. But for the cold chill in the air, it could almost have been August.

Unfortunately, the start of the season has long since passed, and with a third of the league programme already behind us, the table does not look too rosy at present. However, with a few more performances like Sunday, and preferably against teams showing a similar level of ambition as Portsmouth, we should be capable of starting to climb the table in the forthcoming weeks.

With the club finally handing out free scarves to those in attendance (something they had hoped to against Wigan back in August) there was a good atmosphere in St James' Park at the start of the game. Having withstood some early Portsmouth pressure, which saw Solano (again excellent at right back) block a goal bound Kanu shot, Newcastle were able to assert their authority over a lacklustre Pompey side who came for the draw and were time-wasting throughout. Dyer, in particular, started well, and given a free role behind Martins, saw a lot of the ball. It was he who released the Nigerian to finish smartly, chipping over David James, only to be wrongly adjudged off-side.

The only threat to Newcastle seemed to be that we wouldn't be able to complete the game with eleven fit players, as first Parker and then Milner departed before half time with injuries, to be replaced by Butt and Thursday's goal scorer Sibierski. The first half also saw Emre shoot just over, and Portsmouth's defence almost gift us an own goal, only for David James to somehow claw the ball over the bar after it had looped past him.

Half time brought general cheer and applause, rather than the disgruntlement of recent weeks, and the only concern was that our first half dominance hadn't yielded the goal we richly deserved.

The second half saw us reorganise, with Sibierski going up-front alongside Martins, and Dyer coming out on to the right wing. With Kieron, running well with the ball, and passing intelligently, it was a real worry when he (having again beaten his marker) wound up slamming into the advertising hoardings at the Gallowgate end. Thankfully, after treatment for what looked a nasty gash in his thigh, he was able to continue.

Pompey were clearly struggling to deal with the pace of Dyer, Martins and N'Zogbia, and it was clearly going to be through their influence that a goal would come. In the end it was Martins who drove at the heart of the visitors defence, before feeding the ball wide to N'Zogbia. The Zog's low cross being met by the onrushing Sibierski to sidefoot home his first league goal for the club.

Even having fallen behind, Portsmouth failed to offer anything going forward, and it looked like Newcastle who would go on to score several more. Dyer, in particular looked dangerous whenever he had the ball, and with substitute Taylor struggling at left-back, he was regularly skinning his marker, and creating chances, only to find David James in outstanding form. One save from Emre, low to the keeper's right, was brilliant - although again the chance was fashioned following good work down the Newcastle right.

The only concern was that our inability to score a second kept Portsmouth in the game, and when N'Zogbia crumpled in a heap, and Mark Halsey thinking Portsmouth had kicked the ball dead, it was with a great deal of consternation that the visitors continued to bear down on goal. A wayward shot over the bar amounting to their best effort in the second half, although the Newcastle players (and in particular Steven Taylor) were incensed that play had continued, with N'Zogbia clearly prostrate.

With Luque replacing N'Zogbia, Newcastle safely saw out the remainder of the match, and with it picked up a much deserved win.

As a whole, Newcastle played really well - with the pace and vision of Dyer clearly lifting our collective game. If he stays fit (a big if) I expect that the team will really start to fire, and Martins in particular will find himself enjoying plenty of opportunities in front of goal. Also of praise was Solano, who again enjoyed a solid game at right back, and his assured touch and experienced head was clearly of assistance to our back line.

Of concern is the ever growing injury list, and it is a cause for thanks that we don't need to beat Frankfurt on Thursday to ensure progress in Europe, and as such I wouldn't be surprised to see several emerging youngsters given a chance to gain some experience ahead of the forthcoming December schedule.

Highlights: Toongoals

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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