Monday, April 06, 2009

No dream start for Shearer

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Chelsea

Back in 1996, Alan Shearer made one of his first starts for Newcastle Utd at Wembley against Manure in the Charity Shield. That day proved to be a low point in an otherwise eventful and relatively successful season, and we got hammered 4-0.

Fast forward 13 years and Shearer's career as manager of Newcastle Utd began with the visit of Chelsea, a team still in the hunt for the title and a world away from the team Shearer has taken charge of, who are stuck in a relegation dogfight, and depressingly sit the wrong side of the red line on the league table.

Despite a massive rise in pre-match optimism, heralded by the return of our all-time top scorer, this was always going to be a tough ask of a team shorn of confidence and struggling to overcome the problems which have afflicted them all season.

With a degree of new found optimism, Newcastle did reasonably well to contain Chelsea in the first half, with only Anelka looking like breaking the deadlock for the visitors. At the other end, our current number 9 was caught out when an Enrique cross eluded Alex only to strike Martins' knee and rebound the wrong side of the post.

Still, goalless at half time, and looking reasonably solid, and a point looked a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, we then proceeded to highlight to our new boss precisely why we're currently 18th in the league.

Duff, on for the injured Lovenkrands, played the ball back to Coloccini. The Argentine chose not to clear the ball straight away, but transferred the ball to his right foot, and then crashed his clearance against the onrushing Anelka. The ball fell to the Frenchman whose header evaded Harper and Ryan Taylor who'd got back onto the goal line, but rebounded off the bar, and with Coloccini failing to recover sufficiently from his crap clearance to track the run of Lampard, the England midfielder was left to head the ball into the unguarded net unchallenged.

Chelsea's second came shortly afterwards, when Malouda was given too much time and space around the box and from Lampard's pass he duly slotted home, taking the game away beyond our reach.

We should have had a goal allowed towards the end of the match, when Michael Owen's shot was deflected over the line only to then be hooked clear by Ashley Cole. However, the linesman failed to flag (despite replays showing the ball to be well over the line) and the chance for a rip-roaring finish was lost.

To be truthful that would perhaps have flattered us - and even at 2-1 I suspect we wouldn't have been able to add a barely deserved equaliser.

Going forward, it should be clear to Shearer that what he needs to try and get us to do is eliminate the stupid individual errors which have been costing us points since August. If he can get both Taylor and Bassong fit for next Saturday's trip to Stoke then I would anticipate Coloccini's record of starting every game to go, as the Argentine who has continually flattered to deceive needs to be dropped.

Going forward, Owen and Martins should have enough to trouble Stoke's defence, but unless they get some decent service, it won't make any difference. The onus therefore shifts to our midfield, and it is there that Shearer really needs to inspire some creative confidence. If he can do that, we stand a chance. If he can't, then he'll be back in the MOTD studio, while we're reduced to Championship highlights on ITV.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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