Friday, November 09, 2012

Sloppy and slack but comeback knack is back

Club Bruges 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

The Silver Fox may have declared himself "delighted" overall, and perhaps I should be more grateful for the fact that we fought back from two goals down to earn yet another draw - but, against a managerless side on a five-game losing streak, this felt like a missed opportunity to record a decisive victory.

Mr T and Sideshow Bob both featured in the starting line-up, their domestic bans not extending to European competition, while Tim Krul, Mike Williamson and Big Lad also formed a first-team backbone. Vurnon Anita and James Tavernier filled the full-back positions, with Master T accompanying his mentor in central midfield and Sylvain Marveaux, Obertan Kenobi and Little Big Lad supporting the man Nigeria might want to take to the Africa Cup of Nations. Though the Xisco Kid got to make the trip, he didn't make the matchday squad.

Kenobi's previous two displays in this competition had suggested it was very much his stage on which to perform and, starting out on the left as he did against Bordeaux, he created our first chance, cutting inside his full-back with encouraging ease but pulling his drive wide of the near post. Our second opportunity fell to the Frenchman too, Big Lad's clever flick sending him in on goal but his low shot couldn't evade the solid left palm of Bruges 'keeper Bojan Jorgacevic.

Having dominated the early exchanges and given the impression that a hatful of goals may have been on offer against demoralised opponents, it was a rude surprise when they took the lead. As on Sunday, a relatively routine ball over the top found Sideshow Bob isolated with his man, Ivan Trickovski showing neat control to bamboozle our skipper before finishing clinically past Krul.

And no sooner had we conceded our first goal in the tournament than we'd conceded our second. Tavernier had started well enough, but a poor headed clearance to the edge of the area allied with some unhurried closing-down allowed Dane Jesper Jorgensen to bobble a weak if well-directed shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Krul's net.

Cue much grumbling and headshaking at our apparent complacency and uncharacteristic sloppiness - which was only magnified when Marveaux managed a spectacular miskick when teed up perfectly on the edge of the six-yard area.

In fairness to Marveaux, however, he didn't dwell on the error and instead used it as a prompt to improve dramatically, exhibiting a neat range of tricks and passing and also delivering some dangerous left-footed balls into the box. While he was floating around behind Big Lad, our two other attacking midfielders Little Big Lad and Kenobi switched wings, presumably at the Silver Fox's instruction - an odd move, as Kenobi in particular was rendered far less effective as a result.

Big Lad saw a header tipped behind by Jorgacevic, but we remained permanently at risk of being caught out at the back, with Carlos Bacca a lively nuisance and Sideshow Bob as shaky as he was at Anfield - mystifying after that imperious display down at the Dark Place. Mr T, meanwhile, picked up the yellow card to add a European ban to his domestic one.

Just as we were resigning ourselves to a 2-0 half-time deficit, though, Anita punished slack defending, shaping himself perfectly and lashing a glorious looping volley past Jorgacevic from the right corner of the penalty area.

A goal out of nothing - and it was to get even better before the break. Anita was involved again, his pass finding Kenobi back on the left wing. When the ball was offloaded to Little Big Lad he charged forwards and fed his brother, who held off a defender and toe-poked a shot that might have been heading wide were it not for a deflection off Jorgacevic's leg.

All square at the interval, then - improbably so, and, after the end-to-end incident of the first half, it was equally improbable that the second period would be goalless. But that's the way it panned out.

For much of the first 45 minutes we has been eager to hear the half-time whistle, but, following those two quickfire goals, we soon wished it hadn't come at all, struggling to rediscover our momentum after the break. Big Lad continued to cause Bruges' back line aerial problems and had a shot well saved, but it was Bacca who wasted the best headed chance, knocking it well over the bar having exploited a disjointedness in the centre of our defence following Williamson's departure through injury. With Sideshow Bob suspended and Perchinho already on the treatment table, the Silver Fox will be sincerely hoping it's nothing too serious.

Little Big Lad was gradually having more influence, apparently given increasing licence to drift around, but Marveaux (apart from a curling shot just over) and Kenobi had faded. Nevertheless, the Silver Fox's decision to leave them on and instead remove Master T was the right one, the young apprentice's distribution having been largely appalling even if his work rate couldn't be faulted. His replacement Dreamboat almost had an instant impact, hitting the top corner of the goal frame with a free-kick. Deliberate or overhit cross? Probably the latter, in truth.

That was to be the last time we really threatened the Bruges goal, though - our slackening-off and the Silver Fox's refusal to call upon Cisse baffling given that, with Bordeaux beating Maritimo in France, another goal would have secured the points needed to qualify from the group with two games to spare. We may have clearly been the superior side in terms of quality, yet we still looked vulnerable on the break, Krul making a decent save from dangerous substitute Mohammed Tchite as we sleepwalked towards the full-time whistle.

A flurry of very late corners put the pressure back on Bruges, but we couldn't force the winner that we should have pushed for sooner and didn't really deserve.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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