Tuesday, April 10, 2012

HBA: how bloody awesome?!

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Bolton

Who says lightning doesn't strike twice?

With twenty minutes of January's FA Cup tie against Blackburn remaining, we were in desperate need of a spark of inspiration. It came from HBA, who danced and wriggled his way past defender after defender before finishing with aplomb. It was one of the finest strikes St James' Park will have witnessed in its long history, and acclaimed by a delighted Silver Fox as "technically the greatest goal I've ever seen". Lightning had very definitely struck once.

And yet, with seventeen minutes of yesterday's match left and the danger of a disappointing result starting to loom large, HBA did it again. Fewer opponents were left trailing in his wake, perhaps - but he still turned his man beautifully, ran with pace from inside his own half, kept his footing after being clipped by a lunging tackle from Mark Davies, bisected Bolton's statuesque centre-backs and prodded perfectly past Adam Bogdan. It was another moment of individual brilliance the likes of which precious few other Premier League players could produce. He's found his fitness and form, and we've found his best position - this could be just the start of something very special indeed for us and a player with "magic in his feet".

One thing's for sure: HBA's splendid solo effort certainly wasn't a goal the game deserved. Prior to the Frenchman taking matters into his own hands, we'd struggled to create much of note. In the first half Dreamboat volleyed over when well placed on the edge of the area, but it's telling that one of our only other efforts was a 30-yarder from fit-again skipper Sideshow Bob that Bogdan clutched comfortably and that we actually came closest when Bolton's Hungarian 'keeper punched HBA's curling free-kick into the face of his own defender Sam Ricketts, the ball flying behind for a corner. As was highlighted by Alan Hansen on Match Of The Day (in arguably the first bit of insightful punditry he's managed for years), Papiss Cisse showed excellent movement but nevertheless had little opportunity to enhance his already formidable reputation further.

The Silver Fox made a relatively bold half-time switch, withdrawing Perchinho (less effective in the role of the injured Mr T than he has been in defence) for Shane Ferguson and moving Spidermag inside. Ferguson gave us added thrust down the left side, as well as extra energy, exemplified when he chased the ball the length of the field until it ended up back with Bogdan.

But it was the visitors who, sensing the possibility of a vital win against off-colour hosts in their bid for survival, suddenly created a flurry of opportunities. First Chris Eagles stepped inside a couple of tackles only to be denied by Tim Krul's foot from close range, then Martin Petrov's potentially lethal low cross just evaded Darren Pratley, and finally Mark Davies failed to make a good connection with a cross when Dreamboat found himself unexpectedly in central defence.

It was at that point that HBA thankfully came to the rescue, raising the temperature with a free kick that span narrowly wide before going one better and grabbing us the lead. Indeed, lightning could have struck for a third time soon afterwards had he not, after another mesmerising run (combined with a lucky break of the ball), elected to pass to the offside Cisse rather than take on the shot himself.

The victory was duly sealed, however, courtesy of Big Lad. Demba Ba's replacement outmuscled Tim Ream on the right wing, the American defender throwing himself to the floor in a futile attempt to win a free-kick. When Big Lad crossed, Cisse looked offside but, as against West Brom and Liverpool, the flag stayed down and the Senegalese hotshot celebrated his tenth goal in just nine appearances since joining the club from Freiburg.

There was no way back for Bolton, but just to make sure the Silver Fox removed HBA, rewarded inevitably with a standing ovation, and introduced Raylor for the closing few minutes.

Once again, then, it was hardly vintage stuff, but flashes of sheer class secured a fifth successive win (and with a third consecutive clean sheet too). Coupled with Spurs' unexpected home humbling by Norwich and Clint Dempsey's late equaliser for Fulham against Chelsea (not forgetting the Mackems' 4-0 trouncing at Everton, of course), it was about as satisfying a day's action as could have been hoped for. We've now drawn level on points with Spurs, two ahead of the Blues and two behind Arsenal (although the latter have a game in hand). You know, we might just need those passports after all...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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