Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Sho goes on

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Norwich City

After the tremendous wins over Chelsea and Spurs, Chris Hughton's Norwich were a blatant banana skin, and came to St James' Park on Saturday dressed for the occasion. However, a splendid display from Big Lad (amongst others) was instrumental in ensuring we recorded three successive victories for the first time in more than a year and a half.

We might have feared the international break would have knocked us out of our stride - but as it turned out Big Lad's goal for Nigeria appeared to have reinvigorated him, while our opener was conjured up by two players who had been away on duty with France, as les Bleus squeezed to World Cup qualification ahead of Ukraine.

The only change from the side that frustrated Spurs (or, more precisely, watched Tim Krul frustrate them) was enforced, with Mathieu Debuchy sitting out through suspension. While some of us would have liked to see Vurnon Anita replace him, especially taking into account the opposition and the fact that we were at home, the Silver Fox went for a more defensive option, switching MYM out wide so captain Sideshow Bob, fresh from apparently reiterating his desire to leave the club, could be reinstated in the centre.

Norwich had been left shell-shocked by their last away trip, a 7-0 rout at Man City for which we could have some sympathy, having been on the wrong end of a Etihad Stadium beating ourselves this season. So it was our good fortune that the Canaries started as they left off, having apparently learned nothing from that chastening experience. It's a measure of how lax their defending was that, with less than two minutes on the clock, they gifted us the lead from a corner. Dreamboat's ball, albeit aimed into the danger zone, was nothing particularly special, but it was allowed to bounce inside the six-yard area for the switched-on Loic Remy to dart in front of the switched-off Bradley Johnson at the back post and head into the roof of the net.

That soon established our dominance and control over proceedings, though the visitors, to their credit, did threaten us on occasion, particularly through the lively Nathan Redmond, who should have done better than blaze over when sent free. Anthony Pilkington too caused momentary panic in our defence, a looping header beating Tim Krul but hoofed to safety by Mike Williamson.

There was no doubt over the identity of the star of the first half. Big Lad was proving far too much for the Norwich defence to handle, and he started and very nearly finished the move that led to our second goal. A clever spin away from Johnson gave him the time to play in Remy wide on the right. He laid the ball back to compatriot Moussa Sissoko, whose cross was headed powerfully goalwards by Big Lad and, when John Ruddy could only parry it, Goofy was on hand to feast on the crumbs.

2-0 at the break, then, and our advantage could have been greater had Sissoko not shot wide following another perfectly weighted Big Lad pass or had the latter not seen his 20-yard blockbuster repelled by Ruddy.

Remy and Big Lad tried their luck early in the second period, but it soon became a familiar story as we opted to sit back and soak up what pressure Norwich could muster rather than play to our strengths and continue to regard attack as the best form of defence. Thankfully, Hughton's side - significantly shorn of both Robert Snodgrass and Ricky van Wolfswinkel - troubled us very little until, with ten minutes remaining, one-time Toon target Leroy Fer profited from Sideshow Bob's doziness, heading a Redmond corner in off the post.

That meant an unnecessarily nervy climax to the match - though, in truth, the fault wasn't all with the Silver Fox's tactics or the fatigue he later claimed our players were suffering. TV replays proved that substitute Papiss Cisse was onside when he found the back of Ruddy's net on the break, but Mike Dean's whistle denied us the restoration of the two-goal cushion and Cisse an urgently needed confidence boost.

We held out, though, and while the result was less eyecatching than the preceding victories over the two London sides, it was nevertheless hugely satisfying - after all, it was only two months ago that we contrived to follow up decent back-to-back wins against Fulham and Villa with a bewildering 3-2 home loss to Hull. Next weekend sees the return of another former denizen of the St James' Park dugout, Steve Clarke, and we have every reason to feel confident we can give him and his West Brom side the same treatment as was dished out to Hughton's Norwich.

Other report: BBC, Guardian

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