Sunday, January 11, 2009

Handy Andy saves the day

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 West Ham

With time fast running out and a third consecutive league defeat fixing us between the eyes, Andy Carroll chose a very good moment to notch his first senior goal for the club. Perfect timing, you might agree - unless, of course, you're a sub-editor who would've loved to use some variant on a "Christmas Carroll" over the festive period. Still, at least the lanky striker gifted the papers another angle with the ridiculous barnet with which he headed Damien Duff's cross home. That he's taken a lot of stick for it should surely come as no surprise - after all, how many white Geordies with cornrows do you know?!

In the continued absence of Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and Shola Ameobi, Carroll kept his starting place, and while Danny Guthrie had recovered sufficiently from flu, Nicky Butt sat the game out through suspension and was replaced by Geremi. In the only other change from the side that escaped from the KC Stadium with a draw Charles N'Zogbia's loose lips saw him benched with Spiderman taking his place.

In the opening exchanges it looked as though it would be Carroll's strike partner Little Saint Mick who would hog the column inches of the Sunday papers. Collecting Spiderman's pass, he shuffled into the space in the box and was unlucky to see his low cross-shot bounce off the foot of the right-hand post. Undeterred, he continued buzzing busily about and reaped the rewards when James Collins generously allowed him the room to advance and plant a skimming shot from the edge of the area inside Rob Green's near post.

Carroll fluffed the first opportunity that came his way, not quite managing to direct his header from Guthrie's cross into the net, and it was a miss he and we soon came to rue. The Little Runt's sole contribution to the visitors' efforts in the first half hour was to be caught offside repeatedly, but inevitably our jeers came back to bite us in the arse when he scampered onto a through ball from who else but Scott Parker to chip past Shay Given.

That we were on equal terms despite our early dominance seemed to unsettle us, and Given was forced into making a decent stop from Mark Noble. Thankfully the Little Runt, following up, could only hit the side netting. Of course, having expressed pre-match bemusement as to why Man City seem prepared to throw money at Parker, I was being forced to watch him put in a masterful performance that only exemplified what we were most lacking: someone to control midfield and protect the back four.

Not for the first time at home this season, we began the second period as though tranquillised and suddenly it was like Liverpool all over again. Given made a stupendous save from Jack Collison, but was powerless to prevent Carlton Cole from giving the Hammers the lead when what should have been an innocuous ball over the top from full-back Herita Ilunga caught our whole defence daydreaming. That 15-minute patch after half-time could only have been more purple for the visitors if referee Alan Wiley hadn't denied them a stonewall penalty for Sebastien Bassong's manhandling of the Little Runt.

And yet we battled on, managed to ride out the storm and, with the Zog booed on in place of Geremi, gradually regained the upper hand. We then had our own reason to question the man in black's parentage when Hammers captain Lucas Neill's spectacular own goal was chalked off because Steven Taylor was alleged to have been a little over-exuberant in his challenge on Collins.

Just as West Ham had been spurred on to score by the injustice of the penalty decision, so that only seemed to harden our resolve to equalise and, with 12 minutes remaining, Carroll got his goal. We finished the game as we began it, pushing forwards and looking eager, and came agonisingly close to getting the win we perhaps just about deserved on the overall balance of play when Spiderman dribbled into the penalty area and hit a shot, only for rumoured target Matthew Upson to deny him.

Another slightly tricky result to gauge. On the one hand, the Hammers arrived in Toon in good form, unbeaten in their previous five trips on the road, and with less than a quarter of an hour to go we were facing up to another defeat. But on the other, it was certainly disappointing we couldn't record a victory in what was our 300th home game in the Premier League, and the visit of West Ham would ordinarily be looked upon as presenting a good chance to get maximum points. The fact that we're in 11th is in danger of giving very false comfort - after all, we're just three points clear of the relegation zone, and five off the bottom of the table. We need to be winning our home games and three of our next four are away, starting with a trip to Ewood Park on Saturday, Fat Sam no doubt relishing the opportunity to continue where he left off and dump us further in the shite.

West Ham fans' perspectives: West Ham Online, Hammered

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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