Monday, October 22, 2007

Bowled over

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

Last year's home fixture against Spurs, which took place on 23rd December, saw us beat them at a canter, giving Geordie fans a warm Christmas glow and sending Jermaine Jenas back down the A1 with chants of "3-1 to the goldfish bowl" ringing in his ears.

Tonight's game wasn't much different: same scoreline, same comfortable victory, another woefully hilarious performance from JJ (though this was arguably worse - he actually made Nicky Butt look good). True, it's not quite Christmas yet, but Spurs were certainly in a festive mood, gifting us all three goals.

Fat Sam decided to include both supersubs from the win over Everton a fortnight ago, Michael Owen replacing Alan Smith and Emre in for, perhaps surprisingly, James Milner. Meanwhile, he persisted with Abdoulaye Faye and Cacapa in central defence, once again leaving David Rozehnal, arguably our best defender so far this season, kicking his heels on the bench. Still, he didn't look as glum about it as Spurs' Dimitar Berbatov did...

Rozehnal's omission did mystify me, but to Allardyce's credit both the Brazilian and the Senegalese turned in superb performances. Faye's bonce, which smacked ball after ball away from the danger zone, came so close to giving us the lead at the other end, powering a header against the post from Charles N'Zogbia's corner with Spurs' reserve 'keeper Radek Cerny flapping about as if to show he really is Paul Robinson's understudy.

He did, though, make a great save to push away Michael Owen's low curling shot, one-time Toon target Michael Dawson having cocked up charitably (and not for the last time, it was to transpire). Geremi was unlucky to see a fizzing free kick deflected past the post, after which referee Steve Bennett, apparently blind to the ball's deviation, bizarrely awarded a goal kick. With Darren Bent once again making a mockery of his £16.5m transfer fee, all Spurs could muster was a couple of efforts from Robbie Keane, the first hacked away from just in front of the goalline by Habib Beye and the other comfortably saved by his compatriot Shay Given.

Obafemi Martins was struggling to get into the game, too often misjudging his leaps for high balls Andy Cole style and tumbling over his own feet, but when a mistake by Younes Kaboul let him in for a close-range shot that Cerny blocked, it proved to be a sign of things to come. With a disappointing 0-0 half-time score looking increasingly likely, Martins capitalised on Dawson's inability to clear a straightforward long ball from Jose Enrique to give us a deserved lead.

All too often we rest on our laurels and fail to build on a lead, so it was pleasing that only six second-half minutes had elapsed when Cacapa escaped Dawson's attentions to double our advantage from an Emre corner with his first goal for the club. The two goal cushion meant we could relax, and relax we did - to the extent that six minutes later Pascal Chimbonda was allowed time and space to cross onto Bent's head, the ball rebounding off the post for Keane to volley into the empty net.

For the best part of an hour we had been by far the better side, even without breaking a sweat, but all of a sudden Spurs sensed the possibility of snatching what would have been their fourth draw in four away matches. Suddenly the possession was all theirs. Thankfully, though, they managed to do a fine impression of the witless, guileless bunch of millionaires we sometimes see on the St James Park turf in black and white.

Joey Barton came on for Emre to make his competitive debut (and, I'm pleased to say, didn't mark the occasion by getting sent off, baring his backside or stubbing a cigar out in anyone's eye), and two minutes later fellow substitute Milner put Spurs out of their misery, miskicking horribly at first but then allowed by JJ to volley left-footed into the corner. With the Londoners slipping back into despondency, more goals were there for the taking, but we showed a degree of mercy.

It might prove to be the final nail in Martin Jol's coffin, and certainly it's hard to believe how bad Spurs were or that we'll come up against a more inept performance this season - but that's not for us to worry about (and certainly there was no sympathy for their plight from Jol's opposite number). Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. Another three points - no higher in the table, but within striking distance of the upper echelons. It all depends on whether we can transfer our good home form into a strong showing away to another demoralised side, Reading, on Saturday. For Michael Dawson read Frank Duberry, perhaps? Sod's law that, after conceding seven to Portsmouth and four to Blackburn, the Royals' defence'll manage to keep us out...

A Spurs fan's perspective: The Shelf

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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