Monday, December 24, 2012

Big Lad, big goal

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 QPR

So it seems Big Lad doesn't just save up his priceless goals for the Mackems after all. After an instantly forgettable 81 minutes on Saturday, the second-half substitute struck to secure a precious three points that were greeted with relief as much as elation in the stands. An equally relieved Silver Fox declared: "He's a big man and this was a big occasion and he likes big occasions."

The manager had selected the same starting XI defeated by Man City, meaning that Spidermag was once again part of the front three ahead of a very defensive-looking midfield of Mr T, Perchinho and Vurnon Anita. However, the key to our chances of success arguably lay in how the visitors responded to gaining their very first win of the Premier League season last weekend - would QPR be buoyed by getting that particular monkey off their backs or would they turn in the sort of listless, lacklustre display that had seen them go sixteen matches without a victory? The former scenario seemed more likely (and more typical of our luck this season), but thankfully it was the latter scenario that played itself out - and we took advantage, just.

The first half probably had both sets of fans ruing the fact that, despite the incessant downpour and sodden pitch, the game had been declared playable. What few genuine attempts there were to play football came from those in black and white, but even then we barely mustered an effort on goal of note. Perchinho and Mike Williamson both tried their luck, while Demba Ba ballooned a couple of free kicks hopelessly high into the stands. I wonder if he could forgive the direct tactics on this occasion on account of the conditions, at least?

The second half surely promised better - but we were almost caught cold early on, Adel Taarabt pulling a few tricks out of his sleeve to set up Djibril Cisse, but to our relief the ex-Mackem couldn't hit the target. Even more frustrated was his namesake in black and white, Papiss, who, after missing a headed chance on the hour mark, was withdrawn and made his displeasure at the decision abundantly obvious by refusing to shake the Silver Fox's hand and throwing a bit of a touchline tantrum. Whither the permasmiling, permascoring striker of last season?

His replacement was Big Lad, but it was the fit-again Obertan Kenobi, on for Spidermag, who made the most immediate impact, injecting a bit of pace and spark into our attack. When the vital goal arrived, it was created by a third substitute, Sylvain Marveaux, who had only been on the pitch for four minutes before slipping in Big Lad on the right. One neat turn to befuddle Taarabt later, our occasional talisman curled a delicious left-footer past Robert Green that was totally out of keeping with the rest of the match. The Silver Fox's substitutions had been greeted with incomprehension and booing, but here, indisputably, was vindication.

It could have been more comfortable thereafter had Marveaux scored with either a shot that Green saved or a free kick that skidded wide - though it could also have been much grimmer had Taarabt's own effort from a dead ball situation, deep into stoppage time, not been kept out by the otherwise underemployed Tim Krul.

Post-match, while 'Appy 'Arry enviously commented that we had useful options on the bench (yes, for the first time in ages) and bemoaned the fact that many of the players he's inherited are overpaid and underperforming (can't argue there), the Silver Fox took to the pitch to thank the fans, rather than dwelling on the reaction his substitutions received. "I feel sorry for our fans", he admitted. "We have put them through the rack, really, over this last period. They have watched some football that hasn't been our best." Not exactly a revelation, but nevertheless respect due for acknowledging it - and on this occasion it was the win and not the performance that was critical, especially given that we've played better of late to no reward.

There are negatives, of course: the fifth yellow card of the season that rules Mr T out of the Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford - one which is followed by another daunting away day at the Emirates; the fact that, of our three senior strikers, both Ba and Cisse are now mightily disgruntled and match-winner Big Lad may well be jetting off to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

But, for the moment, let's just savour those three points, and the five-point cushion we now have insulating us from the drop zone. Happy Christmas? No. Happier Christmas? Yes.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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