Monday, November 30, 2009

Jacks hammered

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Swansea

As a child, you're taught that swans are dangerous beasts - stray too close and you may end up with a broken arm. Similarly, ahead of Saturday's match we'd been slightly fearful of the Swans, who were arriving at St James' in top form and with the second meanest defence in the division. But, after this ringing of their necks courtesy of a hat-trick of headers, we could find ourselves in trouble with the Queen for mistreatment of property of the crown...

Chris Hughton - who has modestly claimed to have played only a "small part" of our fine Championship campaign so far - made only one change from the side that beat Preston. Bigger Lad was ruled out through illness, which I expected would mean either Nile Ranger coming in as a direct replacement, or Ryan Taylor slotting in on the right, with Danny Guthrie in his preferred central role and Kevin Nolan in the support striker position. But no, Hughton sprang a surprise, leaving the midfield quartet unchanged and Ranger parked on the bench, instead calling Peter Lovenkrands up for a rare start in an advanced central role - a decision which the Dane went on to vindicate.

Given Swansea's prior rearguard fortitude it was pleasing that it took us just eight minutes to score, and surprising that it came with the assistance of some hapless defending, Homer profiting to nod past Dorus De Vries from close range. The second followed less than a quarter of an hour later. Spiderman produced his one telling contribution of another frustrating afternoon, a dashing run and cross (inch-perfect, for once) which allowed Lovenkrands to head home.

With the visitors looking rather shellshocked, we extended our lead further before the half hour mark. This time Lovenkrands turned provider with a neat turn of pace and clever cross of his own, which his strike partner duly converted. In my report on the Preston game, I queried how much longer Homer could continue to live off his reputation - perhaps I should query that more often...

The game effectively won, we slid from fourth gear down into second and allowed the Swans back into the game. Paulo Sousa's side don't need much of an invitation to play good football and Steve Harper was forced into one tremendous save to deny Cedric Van der Gun and then another from Andrea Orlandi just as half-time approached.

A back problem meant our first-choice custodian didn't reappear after the break, Tim Krul on in his place and called into action within ten minutes of the restart to prevent Nathan Dyer from scoring. The second period, though, was largely uneventful, Swansea continuing to play neat but ineffective football while we gave them encouragement by faffing around trying tricks and Cruyff turns in defence. Danny Simpson did have to clear one attempt off the line, though, Jose Enrique having done likewise in the first half.

Fabrice Pancrate made his debut, given a quarter of an hour of action after replacing Guthrie, while fellow substitute Ranger - on for the clearly disgruntled Homer, desperate for his hat-trick - contrived to head over the bar from six yards following more superb approach play from Lovenkrands. Alan Smith also fluffed a great opportunity to get his first Newcastle goal at the death - this and the efforts he had at Deepdale suggests a new-found desire to get forwards, so the day may yet come.

In his post-match interview Sousa opted for the Fergie Jr defence of his team's defeat - "it's very difficult for anyone to catch them. West Brom have a great squad... but I think Newcastle have more claims on the Championship" - but in his case the sack is unlikely to follow. The Baggies, for their part, trounced Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 at Hillsborough to maintain the pressure on us (and improve their goal difference), and Forest also recorded a hefty win, 4-1 at home to Doncaster. But we enjoyed good fortune in Scunthorpe sneaking an injury-time point against third-placed Leicester and then Ipswich unexpectedly beating Cardiff, so the gap between us and third now stands at a very satisfying eight points, with another home game to come on Saturday against a Watford side fresh from a 3-0 humbling at Palace.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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