Sunday, December 16, 2007

The late, late show

Fulham 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

The statistics might suggest otherwise (I don't know - you don't seriously expect considered opinion and well-researched articles here, do you?), but it certainly seems as though injury-time winners in games involving Newcastle are nearly always for the opposition. And so for it to have been us celebrating a late, late triumph in our last two games feels very strange.

Yes, yesterday's game at Craven Cottage was absolutely dire, not so much a feast of football as a rancid Scotch egg of football - but we came away with all three points so it could have been much worse, even if we'll never get back the time spent watching/enduring it...

Deprived of the services of Steven Taylor through injury, Sam Allardyce called on the much-maligned Cacapa, and the Brazilian was one of our better performers, standing firm in defence and getting in some vital blocks and interceptions.

We started off like the proverbial train, bombarding Fulham with no fewer than five corners in the first ten minutes. From one, curled in by Geremi, we were unlucky not to take the lead, Simon Davies' header hitting the outside of his own post under pressure from last week's last-gasp hero Habib Beye. David Healy's shot forced Shay Given into a full-length save, although it was probably heading wide, and Antti Niemi made a smart save low at his feet to prevent a Joey Barton header from creeping in at the far post, after James Milner had bamboozled his marker out on the left.

The remainder of the first half was so awful and incident-free that late-night Christmas shopping seemed a much more attractive proposition.

But the second half could have been even worse, in truth. As so often happens at the break, our opponents seemed to waken up to the fact that we were sitting ducks waiting to be shot, and came out more determined to cause us problems. Particularly lively was Hameur Bouazza on the left flank, who thankfully finished about as well as the most amateurish DIYer around and continued to shoot from improbable positions, while American lunk Clint Dempsey put himself about to David Rozehnal's discomfort. Our only real opportunity came when a central free-kick was curled into the area by substitute Emre, but Nicky Butt couldn't head the ball beyond Niemi's reach.

But the lifeline finally came two minutes into stoppage time, when right back and birthday boy Elliot Omozusi showed the inexperience of youth in making a challenge on Alan Smith that was clumsy rather than downright malicious, but worthy of Howard Webb's award of a penalty all the same. With Obafemi Martins already withdrawn and looking frostbitten on the bench, Barton took responsibility and found the bottom right-hand corner, with Niemi guessing right and inches away from getting a hand to it. Such are the margins between moderate success and thudding disappointment.

So, at last, a goal from our Scouse miscreant. Now all we need out of him is a good performance...

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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