Sunday, January 07, 2007

Four goal thriller (yes, another one)!

Birmingham 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

So - two helter-skelter games in a week, each ending two goals apiece. But if the league draw at home to Manchester United felt like a victory, yesterday's identical Cup result at St Andrews has already taken on the aura of a defeat. David Edgar, the rookie full-back for whom these 180 ultimately deadlocked minutes have represented a crash-course induction into top-flight football, may be forgiven for wishing for something more straightforward from his third full outing with the first team - you know, like a two-two draw that actually feels like a two-two draw. Some hope; the youngster will soon learn that life with Newcastle United is rarely so straightforward.

The Canadian Geordie, of course, had proved the hero of the hour on New Year's Day when his late, speculative twenty-five yarder found the bottom corner of Edwin Van der Sar's net to earn a point from a match that had seemed beyond the reach of Glenn Roeder's patched-up eleven. With time approaching yesterday the youngster again found himself at the centre of the action. At the culmination of a passing movement which had seen the ball shifted, somewhat ponderously, across the width of a St Andrews surface turned into a treacherous mudbath by eighty-six minutes of pulsating FA Cup football in the West Midlands drizzle, a hanging home left-wing cross dropped at the visitors' far post, where the lively forward Larsson, facing away from goal with Edgar stuck limpet-like to his right shoulder, seemed to present only marginal danger to Shay Given's goal.

A moment later the home crowd (or at least, those among an unforgivably paltry home turn-out who had not already headed for the exits) were on their feet. Larsson, seemingly taking advantage of Edgar's inexperience, had swivelled fully 270 degrees anti-clockwise as the cross traversed the goalmouth, shielding the ball from the young defender as he did so - and he ended this balletic, Gerd Mulleresque manoevre in perfect position to apply a sublime coup-de-grace; a rising first-time half-volley whose venom was sufficient to leave Given grasping a mid-air at his near post, and to earn the battling Championship high-flyers a replay.

The second meeting between the teams, as Glenn Roeder was quick to acknowledge in the post-match interviews, will be no simple proposition, home advantage for his Premiership charges notwithstanding. Birmingham had been more than a match for their illustrious visitors here - and had seized the initiative when DJ Campbell, who made his name in this very competition when facing Graeme Souness' Newcastle in the colours of non-league Yeading, shot them ahead with an opportunist strike following a corner.

The nature of the early strike raised questions as to the cohesion of the Newcastle rearguard - and these were underlined just moments later when, after Huntington was found wanting for strength in a tussle down the left side of visitors' penalty area, the comparative veteran Taylor was forced into one of his trademark goal-line clearances. At this point in proceedings, as the increasingly treacherous surface played merry havoc with the Premiership visitors' more refined passing instincts, the smart money was on the Championship hosts capturing a notable Cup scalp.

It was left to Taylor to put paid to such fanciful notions, the Gosforth-bred stopper thundering into the goalmouth as half-time approached with the unstoppability of a coastbound Metro train before applying a cute volleyed finish to a near-post corner. As the visitors looked to build on this timely breakthrough, they received a further fillip. The hosts were reduced to ten men after Jaidi's pantheresque lunge at the back of Martins - who was escaping goalwards with the joyous litheness of a young gazelle - left the referee with no option but to impose the ultimate sanction.

The opening exchanges of the second half did nothing to dispel the notion that the balance of play had swung decisively in favour of the Premiership outfit. Milner, looking to reprise his long-range heroics of New Year's Day, had already seen a swerving free-kick rebound down from the underside of the crossbar, off a thoroughly flummoxed goalkeeper, and somehow out behind for a corner, before, with the half not yet ten minutes old, the visitors took a deserved lead. The goal owed much to the persistence of Martins, who, freed from the shackles of the departed Jaidi, advanced daintily and with menace across the rutted St Andrews undergrowth before releasing a diagonal through pass which bobbled handily under the studs of the oafish home centre-back Upson. Dyer was on hand, and the quicksilver if occasionally quixotic makeshift forward made no mistake from the edge of the box - taking a marksman's moment to settle the nerves before shooting low and across the bows of helpless goalkeeper Maik Taylor.

Dyer's strike gave way to a lengthy but largely uneventful denouement, during which the visiting rearuard, watchfully protected by holding midfielder Butt, appeared more than capable of withstanding a limp, toothless and utterly drizzle-drenched home siege. And then came Edgar's moment of hesitation, Larsson's spinning finish- and the final whistle to bring an end to a compelling, but ultimately inconclusive cup-tie. With home advantage secured, Newcastle will enter the replay on Wednesday 17th as favourites, but will have seen enough of these wily opponents to know that progression to the last thirty-two is far from assured. At these rarified levels of competition, glory and ignominy are divided only by the most imperceptible of lines - as a young man named David Edgar may be just beginning to learn.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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