Sunday, August 21, 2011

Atonement - sweet, sweet atonement

Mackems 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

"Ryan Taylor will continue to deputise [at left-back] against 5under1and", I wrote yesterday morning, "Heaven help us." It's games like that which might convince this particular half of Black & White & Read All Over to renounce atheism. Ryan, your general uselessness of past, present and (probably) future is hereby forgiven.

Taylor it was who chose the 62nd minute to perpetuate the fine recent tradition of curling free-kick Toon winners in Tyne-Wear derbies - think Liam O'Brien, think Scott Sellars, think Emre. That solitary strike was enough to win a bad-tempered contest in which one Mackem saw red and should have been beaten to an early bath by two of his team-mates.

Alan Pardew only made one change from the side that frustrated Arsenal, Gabriel Obertan replacing Demba Ba as we switched to a 4-5-1. Steve Harper was named on a bench that also included three strikers (Ba, Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best) and two attacking midfielders (Dan Gosling and Sylvain Marveaux).

5under1and began on the front foot, with Stephane Sessegnon an immediate thorn in our side, forcing an early flying save from Tim Krul and soon following it up with another shot that went wide. But in the 15th minute we were desperately unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Big Lad flicked on a Yohan Cabaye corner and ASBO's header was blocked on the line by the extended arm of one-time Toon target Sebastian Larsson. Not deliberate, you could argue, but the ball would incontrovertibly have ended up in the net without Larsson's intervention. Referee Howard Webb was unsighted but waved away appeals after consulting with his assistant, Larsson remaining on the pitch.

No doubt it was that sense of injustice which led to Cabaye being rightly booked for a crunching challenge on Phil Bardsley by the corner flag, though the Frenchman soon made a more positive impact, coming close to embarrassing the Mackems' 'keeper Simon Mignolet with a fierce swerving drive which demanded and received an acrobatic tip over. Krul couldn't afford to relax either, though, again tested by Sessegnon before the half was out, while lone Mackem striker Asamoah Gyan's lofted curling shot skimmed off the top of the Dutchman's crossbar.

The second period started scrappily with a succession of fouls and free-kicks, before the one that really counted. Spidermag, who had just tested Mignolet with a low shot, was felled on the left edge of the area and up stepped our makeshift left-back Taylor to plant the ball into the far corner, namesake Steven on hand to bundle it in - unnecessarily, as it turned out. A very timely reminder of why exactly we insisted that he be included as a makeweight in the deal that took Charles N'Somnia to Wigan - namely, that he had done the same thing to us on three separate occasions previously...

Professional workie ticket Lee Cattermole, who had floored ASBO in the first half, then cranked up the intensity a little higher with an ugly scything challenge on Spidermag. Webb opted for a yellow card and a stern talking to rather than the red that would arguably have been deserved, also booking ASBO and Bardsley for their roles in the scuffle that followed the foul.

When things had cooled down, Big Lad had a couple of attempts to improve his already impressive derby goalscoring record, while Gyan and substitute Craig Gardner wasted opportunities at the other end, but 1-0 and 11 v 11 it remained until Bardsley's nasty lunge on the impeccable Sideshow Bob. Webb at last produced a red card, though even then it was preceded by a yellow to indicate it was for a second bookable offence - this despite the fact that you can probably tell the manufacturer of Bardsley's boots from the stud imprints on Sideshow Bob's swollen ankle.

There was still time for Cattermole and Gyan to try their luck at goal, to no avail, though Obertan's replacement Gosling could actually have made the margin of victory more comfortable.

In dispassionate terms, we can be delighted that our defence is still yet to be breached this season, and could enjoy the fact that the win sent us top of the table, if only for half an hour. In the context of recent derby history, the result was sweet revenge for last season's cruel injury-time denial of maximum points and meant that once again we didn't get to hear whatever Ol' Cauliflower Face's taunting tune is, just the usual woe-is-me whining. As grating as it is, let's hope for much more come 3rd March.

A Mackem fan's verdict: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (TBW in magnanimous mode)

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