Sunday, October 04, 2009

Robbin' Robins

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Bristol City

So, a second disappointing home draw in the space of four days, and one in which we failed to preserve our record of having scored in every league game so far this season - though, in fairness to the players, it wasn't for want of trying.

Like QPR before them, our visitors Bristol City came into the game on the back of a good result, having comfortably defeated in-form Blackpool 2-0 at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night - but their away form was another matter, and they arrived at St James' without a win on the road to their name.

Chris Hughton - once again named as the division's Manager Of The Month (perhaps a tad harsh on the likes of Alan Irvine and Ian Holloway, but that's not for us to worry about) - responded to Wednesday's flat performance by making four changes, only one of which was enforced. Jose Enrique's late injury meant Danny Simpson switching flanks to left back and fit-again Ryan Taylor slotting in on the right.

There were also starts for Spiderman and Peter Lovenkrands, but most surprising was the demotion to the bench of both Nile Ranger and Bigger Lad. Fair enough Homer looked lively when he came on against Ipswich and went one better against QPR, grabbing the equaliser (albeit with a point-blank-range prod), so perhaps deserved a start - but the lanky duo terrorised the Tractor Boys' defence a week ago and so it was strange for Hughton to leave them both out in favour of a 4-5-1 formation for a game we could have done with winning.

Nevertheless, we started off very much on the front foot, and with seven minutes on the clock Homer was played in on goal by Lovenkrands but, with only 'keeper Dean Gerken to beat, the striker hit the post and Kevin Nolan was unable to dispatch the follow-up.

But that initial impetus gradually ebbed away as City familiarised themselves with their surroundings, and their defence - which included old boy Bradley Orr - managed to keep us at arm's length, to such an extent that our few shots were coming from Alan Smith. At the other end, Lee Johnson nearly capitalised on a mistake by Zurab Kizanishvili, while Nicky Maynard had a few efforts of his own but thankfully remembered that he only scores at home, so Steve Harper was relatively untroubled.

Hughton evidently demanded that the pace should be upped after the break, and the team responded with a number of chances in the second period. In one frantic attack the crossbar denied both Nolan and Steven Taylor, and the Robins were grateful to stand-in Gerken - a late, late replacement for Adriano Basso, injured during the warm-up - for a pair of superb saves from Nolan and Danny Guthrie.

As if the City goal leading a charmed life wasn't enough, the officials were also conspiring against us, referee Graham Salisbury dismissing strenuous appeals for a penalty when Homer was flattened by substitute Jamie McCombe.

We finished the game with a three-pronged strikeforce, Bigger Lad being introduced for the off-colour Spiderman on 65 minutes and Ranger brought on for Guthrie though given only five minutes to make an impact - but it was just one of those days and the breakthrough wouldn't come.

So, off the City fans toddled, no doubt seeing a point and a clean sheet gained at St James' as "gert lush", leaving us to bemoan wasted opportunities and bad luck.

As always, though, perspective is all. This result, coupled with the draw against QPR, suggests that the demolition of Ipswich owed more to their failings than our qualities, and that there's plenty of work for Hughton to do during the international break. But on another day we would have won and, in any case, West Brom and Preston restricting each other to a point at Deepdale means our lead at the top is still three points. Put it this way: we could have won both matches and yet been only two points ahead, had the Baggies beaten both Barnsley and Preston.

Looking on the bright side of life? Well, there are worse positions from which to do it than from the summit of the league...

Other reports: BBC


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