Thursday, September 25, 2008

"The delay of the inevitable"

Newcastle Utd 1 – 2 Spurs

Yesterday morning I stumbled, slipped and went arse over tit on the walk to work, in full view of the drivers of several stationary cars and the passengers of a couple of buses. Once in the office I lurched from minor irritation to major irritation to crisis. And then in the evening I found myself trapped in my jacket thanks to a faulty zip. With hindsight, the result of our League Cup Third Round tie against Spurs was really never in doubt, was it?

Paul’s half-time text message: “Turgid shit so far. But at least we aren’t losing!

My full-time response: “Right, time for a pact. Let us never, ever tempt fate by half-time text message again.

His reply: “Yeah OK. Although to be fair it wasn’t tempting fate, it was celebrating the delay of the inevitable.

And yet, to some extent, the outcome WASN’T inevitable.

In a first half which was indeed “turgid shit”, both sides were as dispirited, disjointed, dejected and stupendously awful as each other – that much WAS a certainty given our respective league positions. The only man in black and white to show any real desire, Nicky Butt, was quickly rewarded for his honest efforts with a yellow card by referee Chris Foy, as Spurs players demonstrated a keen interest in examining the St James’s Park turf at close quarters at every possible opportunity with the sort of tumbles that put mine to shame. The only chance worthy of the name fell to an unmarked Roman Pavlyuchenko, who headed wide – his other contribution being to respond to a couple of hefty reducers from Fabricio Coloccini by delivering a forearm smash to the Argentinian’s nose.

But within three minutes of the restart we could have been ahead, one-time Spurs target Damien Duff slipping the ball past Heurelho Gomes only for Jonathan Woodgate (who else?) to slide in and deflect it wide of the post for a corner. Soon afterwards our old boy again came to his side’s rescue, pressuring Michael Owen into snapping his shot too close to Gomes when bearing down on goal. Could it be that we might muster enough self-belief and determination to win the game?


Those two incidents, it turned out, was all the inspiration the visitors needed to do so themselves, and shortly after the hour mark Pavlyuchenko drifted free of Coloccini to nod Aaron Lennon's cross wide of Shay Given’s reach from close range. Fair play to Steven Taylor, though, who considerately decided to deflect the heat away from his central defensive partner by gifting Jamie O’Hara a second with a mistake so bad it would have made even Titus Bramble cringe. If he’d gone down like he’d been shot then, it would have been far more plausible than in that game against Aston Villa.

There was to be no way back, and we plodded on producing football of the calibre that had me yearning for the glory days of Allardyce’s reign. Spurs brought multi-million pound talent on from the bench, while Chris Hughton had to resort to Xisco and David Edgar; I’m not sure either of them touched the ball once. Little Saint Mick’s 89th minute strike, an unerring finish into the top corner from six yards after Gomes could only push a low cross out to his feet, was witnessed by significantly fewer than the pitiful official attendance of 20,577 (our lowest since 1992) and was only a consolation in the sense that having clean pants on when you get hit by a double-decker bus is a consolation.

So, no disgrace going out of the League Cup at the hands of the holders, you might think – but you’d be wrong. Our current crisis really is worthy of the name when we can’t even beat the one team over whom we’ve seemed to have the Indian sign.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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