Monday, August 27, 2007

Zog smites Smogs but Arca proves point

Smogs 2 - 2 Newcastle

A curious game, this. For the most part the sort of game which gives the lie to the oft-parrotted view that the Premier League is the best in the world - but illuminated by four quality goals, the best two coming from the boots of Newcastle players. Our new defensive fortitude eluded us as twice we took the lead only to squander it soon afterwards, and to add injuries to insult both Stephen Carr and Peter Ramage were forced off prematurely.

Fat Sam kept faith with the side which drew yet another blank at home to Villa, which meant no start for Michael Owen despite his 57 minutes for England on Wednesday night, but we set about our task with a similar relish as we did at the Reebok on the opening day. Carr lasted just five minutes before being replaced by Ramage, but Obafemi Martins went close and Alan Smith, who chose to join us over Boro amongst others in the summer, was denied by arguably the Smogs' best player on the day, workhorse captain George Boateng.

When we deservedly broke the deadlock, it was with a brilliant goal. Charles N'Zogbia received the ball wide on the left, cut inside past two defenders and curled a shot high into the top corner from 25 yards out. And we all thought his right leg was just for standing on. That makes the Frenchman our joint top scorer this season, and while he's still fragile defensively and is unlikely to hold onto the left-back position once Jose Enrique is fully fit, he's certainly giving us some attacking thrust from the flank and is worthy of a place in the side in a more advanced position. Damien Duff, who can count himself lucky that N'Zogbia was off-form last season, should be worried.

We didn't have long to savour the goal, though, with defensive sloppiness allowing Mido the opportunity to collect Fabio Rochemback's through-ball, round Steve Harper and bag his second goal in two games since his move from Spurs. The Egyptian celebrated by holding a finger to his lips in front of the travelling supporters but, it has to be said, he was subjected to some pretty unsavoury chants by an idiotic minority of Toon fans.

The Smogs dominated the remainder of the half, with Rochemback in particular getting the better of Geremi and Nicky Butt and prompting and probing in central midfield. Harper was forced into making decent saves from both the Brazilian and Argentinian ex-Mackem Julio Arca before the half-time whistle blew.

We made a sluggish start to the second period, and our problems seemed to be worsening when Butt was booked for a rash challenge and then just before the hour mark Ramage went down in agony with what looked to be a knee ligament problem. It's doubtful we'll see him again for some time. But, with Steven Taylor shunted out to right-back, the position he filled when he first broke into the side, Cacapa came on and looked assuringly composed - good news, as it may well be that we're dependent upon he and David Rozehnal forming an instant partnership.

Gradually things improved, with James Milner making half-fit Smoggie debutant Luke Young rue the fact that he hadn't ruled himself out for another week and the out-of-sorts Martins trudging off to be replaced by Owen.

We regained the lead with a goal which couldn't have been better scripted. Ex-Smoggie loanee Geremi flighted the ball into Mark Viduka, who had his back to goal but who managed - with a combination of strength and extraordinary close control - to turn our old boy Jonathan Woodgate, tee himself up and volley low into the bottom corner. Viduka was mobbed but noticeably didn't celebrate in front of fans who had booed him all afternoon. Perhaps someone should have pointed out that the booing would have been better directed at the chairman and board who faffed around so long without offering him a new deal? If they can't make their club's best player feel wanted, then he's perfectly entitled to decide to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately for us, though, the scriptwriters had another plot twist up their sleeve. This time it took Boro only three minutes to hit back, a weak clearing header from a corner seized upon by Arca, who with no one around him had time to pick his spot with Harper a helpless spectator.

It was deeply disappointing, as we'd manoeuvred ourselves into a position of dominance only to throw it away. Even then, Owen could have grabbed a vital winner when he sneaked unnoticed into the six yard box - as it was, though, he made no connection and the ball sailed straight into Mark Schwarzer's hands.

Inevitably, we were left to rue having conceded the advantage twice, not to mention the injuries to two different right-backs, but this is a ground on which we've lost in the past so a point's better than nothing, even if the win would have had us sitting pretty in third.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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