Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This barren land

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Swansea City

Despite a stirring pre-match tribute to Gary Speed, we were unable to rouse our attacking instincts to the point where we could breach Swansea's miserly defence on Saturday.

The Silver Fox was able to welcome back his first-choice midfield pairing of Mr T and Dreamboat and also the return of Sideshow Bob as captain and Leon O'Best up front in what was a significantly strengthened side from the one battered into submission by Norwich a week ago. Only the continuing presence of James Perch in our back line looked to be a significant concern. With Raylor absent through injury, it also allowed Davide Santon an opportunity to stake his claim for a regular start at left-back.

The restoration of the Ba/Best combination up front looked to pay dividends, with the two combining regularly to carve out chances which our Senegalese striker was unable to quite convert, either being thwarted by foul play, the woodwork or Tim Krul's compatriot Michel Vorm.

With Dreamboat stroking the ball around beautifully, we dominated the first half, with both Ba and Sideshow Bob hitting the posts, the former after a clever lay-off from the chest of O'Best and the latter from a beautifully flighted free kick.

Goalless at half-time, unfortunately we couldn't press on and snatch victory in the second half. Big Lad almost broke the deadlock within seconds of replacing Best as he latched on to Santon's clever through ball, only to see his shot fail to ripple the net.

At the other end, the return of Sideshow Bob undoubtedly steadied the ship, with only one real scare when Scott Sinclair shot wide when well placed. Otherwise, the clean sheet constituted a welcome return to our defensive miserliness, only for our attack to themselves founder.

To be honest, we'll play far worse this season and win games, albeit our failure to take maximum points against Swansea was frustrating. Of perhaps wider significance was the return of Mike Williamson to the bench after a run-out for the reserves earlier in the week, and a late appearance for Haris Vuckic in place of Mr T, both representing a timely return to the first-team squad with the hectic Christmas schedule arriving.

However, as with our last home game, the stark reality of the importance of matters was put into context by the sight of Gary Speed's family stood on the pitch as the home crowd, led by opera singer Gwyn Hughes Jones, sang 'Bread of Heaven', while the East Stand held up cards to display a black number 11 against a white background. That, not the subsequent frustration, was undoubtedly the overriding memory from the day.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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