Monday, April 08, 2013

Stoppage-time superstar strikes again

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Fulham

If you score a hat-trick, you get to keep the match ball. So, by an extension of that logic, if - like Papiss Cisse - you manage to score a hat-trick of post-90 minute winners in three consecutive home matches in the space of less than a month, surely you get to keep stoppage time? Though I suppose you'd have to wrestle it from Taggart's grasp first...

First came Stoke, and then Anzhi - and now Fulham. For nearly the entirety of yesterday's game it looked as though it just wouldn't be Cisse's day. He'd tried his luck with foot and head, from distance and from close range, and yet the ball wouldn't go in. But, to his credit, he never gave up hope and, at the death, came up with a goal that was part skill and part instinct to spark wild scenes in the stands and propel us out of the mire.

The Silver Fox made just one change to the team that went down in Portugal on Thursday, the injured Perchinho's place taken by the previously ineligible Goofy. That made for an attacking line-up with no natural defensive midfielder, Spidermag expected to perform in that role.

As fate would have it, we had a defensive midfielder on the pitch soon enough, an injury to Davide Santon continuing the Curse of the Full-Back and resulting in an early introduction for Vurnon Anita and another new role for Spidermag, now at left-back.

By that point, though, in-form Fulham had already shown they would be no pushovers, their mercurial Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov firing a shot just over the angle from distance with a nonchalant stroke off the outside of his right boot. Their best chance of the half fell to Bryan Ruiz, but a tremendous Saylor-esque sliding block from MYM deflected the ball behind without Tim Krul having to make a save. The Dutchman was called into action soon afterwards, though, preventing Stanislav Manolev from finding the net from close range.

For our part, Saylor planted a header over the bar while Cisse squandered a great opportunity when played in by Sylvain Marveaux, ballooning over the bar despite Marveaux being perfectly placed for a return ball. Overall, we looked somewhat jaded after the exertions of Thursday evening, and the 0-0 half-time score did little to ease the tension around the ground - news of the Mackems' 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge only making matters worse.

Thankfully, the players emerged for the second half with more purpose, gradually looking brighter and fresher (Marveaux in particular) when by rights they should have been more fatigued, and set about translating the pressure on them into pressure on their Fulham counterparts.

A shot from Anita that deflected onto the bar with Mark Schwarzer beaten was the first of many close shaves for the visitors' goal. Cisse was at the centre of everything, overrunning one chance into Schwarzer's grateful arms and seeing the Australian tip another shot onto the post. The frame of the goal was struck twice more in very quick succession, first by Goofy's header and then by Cisse's point-blank follow-up. Unfortunately for us, the ball wouldn't go in - and neither did referee Kevin Friend or his assistants spot that Sasha Riether had handled Goofy's initial effort off the line.

The Silver Fox threw caution to the wind, withdrawing Goofy and Danny Simpson and throwing on two strikers, Big Lad and Adam Campbell, and the former soon set about getting on the end of and missing chances. No doubt he'll be more deadly against next Sunday's opponents... From nowhere, Berbatov's header forced Krul into a spectacular tip-over, while at the other end Cisse's header was well clutched by Schwarzer as time ran out.

By this point Dreamboat was limping, but suddenly came alive to thread a ball through for Cisse, who with his back to goal flicked it up, span away from Berbatov and fired into the net. That was the cue for all hell to break loose, the goalscorer and Moussa Sissoko introducing themselves to the lower tiers of the stand and the Silver Fox also losing his cool and launching himself into the fans. He emerged dishevelled and apparently relieved of his keys (wonder if the Mackem supporters will be waving keys in his direction on Sunday?), but with a manic grin that told you all you needed to know about the goal's importance.

Our joy on the final whistle was only magnified by the confirmation of the Mackems' defeat, the results putting us five points clear of the Great Unwashed and up to 13th, above Norwich and Stoke too.

But the final word has to be for Cisse. My first born is due today - as Paul has pointed out to me, if his or her arrival happens to slip into added-on time, then there should be a serious temptation to name him or her after a certain Senegalese striker...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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