Thursday, January 02, 2014

Mon dieu, Mathieu!

West Brom 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Defeat to a managerless side that hadn't won for nine games, plus a red card and an injury: here's very much hoping we haven't started 2014 the way we mean to go on. Yesterday's loss to West Brom was nearly as miserable as the weather - and of course it was just typical that Mathieu Debuchy, a player upon whom I very recently lavished praise, turned out to be very much the villain of the piece.

Dropping Mini V to the bench left the Silver Fox with the same decision he faced before the Stoke match: HBA or Big Lad? This time around he plumped for the latter, but the introduction of the former at half-time (for Goofy) indicated that the tactics weren't going according to plan.

While we had plenty of possession in the first half and carved out one good chance, Dreamboat volleying wide from Iron Mike's knockdown, the Baggies enjoyed the bulk of the opportunities. Stephane Sessegnon was very close to becoming a particularly unwelcome goalscorer, the ex-Mackem just failing to steer home Liam Ridgewell's cross,  while Nicolas Anelka (selected to play despite the FA investigation into his recent goal celebration) somehow contrived to lash over the bar from point-blank range. Meanwhile, Toon fans were being treated to the sight of a midfielder called Amalfitano enjoying a fine game - sadly for us, it was Morgan rather than Romain.

At the break, when the Silver Fox threw on HBA, Baggies caretaker Keith Downing made what proved to be a more telling switch. The injury sustained by full-back Billy Jones in a collision with his 'keeper Ben Foster may have forced Downing's hand, but his decision to replace Jones with a forward, Saido Berahino, was telling. The game was clearly there to be won.

Unfortunately for us, that also meant it was there to be lost - and, after we'd failed to take a clutch of half-chances (including a curled shot from Loic Remy that sailed high and wide), up stepped Debuchy to hand the advantage to our hosts. The fact that he didn't injure Claudio Yacob is immaterial; it was a reckless two-footed lunge committed by a player who'd evidently momentarily taken leave of his senses. The Silver Fox was honest in his assessment, admitting we can't have too many complaints and that "there was no malicious intent, but you can't take off with two feet like that".

A rearguard action lay in prospect, and that called for defensive reinforcements - not least because skipper Sideshow Bob was taken off with an injury. MYM was deemed the man for the job, though Massadio Haidara came on too ten minutes later, replacing Big Lad.

The Baggies were by now on top and fashioning most of the opportunities - none better than when Ridgewell popped up unexpectedly on the edge of the six-yard area but amazingly fired wide. Just when we were starting to think we might have escaped defeat by battening down the hatches, HBA carelessly surrendered possession at a time when we needed to conserve it, Chris Brunt played in substitute Matej Vydra and Tim Krul brought the striker down for a penalty. Again, not a decision we could quibble about, and Krul could do nothing about Berahino's spot-kick.

That left us with just three minutes to snatch an equaliser, but HBA and Dreamboat both failed in that pursuit and we returned home to Tyneside empty-handed.

In the report on the Arsenal match, I urged fellow fans not to be disheartened - it was an undeserved defeat to the table-toppers, after all. Three days on, and the perspective has changed somewhat. Suddenly we've lost two consecutive matches without scoring, have slipped to eighth and, with Man City our next opponents in the Premier League, the immediate future doesn't look particularly rosy.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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