Thursday, August 30, 2007

Little Saint Mick

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Barnsley

Unlike someone who was until recently a team-mate for both club and country, Michael Owen looks to be approaching full fitness.

OK, so his goal in tonight's League Cup win - his first for the club since December 2005, and his first at home since September that year - came against Championship opposition and was the result of a rather scuffed shot that squirmed under Barnsley's German 'keeper Heinz Muller and over the line. But he outpaced the defence when running onto Shola Ameobi's threaded through-ball, continually got himself into dangerous positions and generally looked much more like the player we paid £17m for.

It was Owen's first start of the season in a Newcastle shirt. Also making their first appearances were Ameobi and Emre, with James Milner, Mark Viduka and David Rozehnal all rested, while Cacapa got 90 minutes in central defence, Shay Given was back in goal and Jose Enrique made his debut at left-back.

The latter trio had a comfortable evening, as a combination of Barnsley's complete lack of attacking ambition and our superior ability meant that there was precious little threat to our goal other than a piledriving first-half free-kick from the boot of Dominik Werling.

In the first half the classy Geremi ran the show and Charles N'Zogbia relished a more advanced role than of late. Owen had his chances, on-loan Barnsley defender Lewin Nyatanga got away with what looked like a handball in the penalty area and Nobby Solano probably came closest with a shot that bounced just past the left post. With both Carr and Ramage out injured (the latter for some time), I just hope we can persuade Nobby not to leave before the transfer window shuts - at right-back he's a definite asset. Despite having all the play in our opponents' half, though, we were unable to break the deadlock.

But we came out still believing that patience and quality would tell in the end, and sure enough Owen scored before the hour mark to the delight of himself, his team-mates, his manager, the club's owner (wearing a shirt with Smith's name on the back of it), and a healthy home crowd of over 30,000 (certainly in comparison with some of the pitiful four figure crowds drawn by other Premiership sides). Oh, and Steve McLaren.

Barnsley's gameplan never changed, suggesting they harboured no hopes of a recovery but were instead more keen to limit the damage - which they did, just, despite decent efforts from Nicky Butt (on for Emre) and the impressive Ameobi. Obafemi Martins it was who replaced Owen on 83 minutes and three minutes later made the win safe, swivelling to volley home a shot. Not as spectacular as his opening day strike at Bolton, but acrobatic nonetheless. Please, please, please let us not decide to cash in on him in the next couple of days.

So, the home goals hoodoo is broken, to an extent - but we still haven't scored at St James's in the Premier League since February. With one Titus Bramble being a probable starter in the visiting defence on Saturday, we won't have many better opportunities to break it properly...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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