Monday, April 14, 2014

Different day, same bullshit

Stoke City 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Defeat to a fluke goal from a defender and one-time Toon target who last scored in 2008. Is there any indignity left for us to suffer? Actually, best not ponder that question and just reflect briefly on the latest miserable Saturday afternoon of a season that has become positively purgatorial - with four games still left to endure.

The fit-again Tim Krul returned for Rob Elliot, who can consider himself somewhat unfortunate to miss out, while outfield the Silver Fox decided to make significant changes in both personnel and formation. Saylor came in to a back three alongside Sideshow Bob and Iron Mike, Paul Dummett was drafted in to play on the left of a midfield five (with Vurnon Anita on the right and Mr T, Dan Gosling and Goofy in the middle) and Big Lad was picked to partner Papiss Cisse up front. Massadio Haidara, Davide Santon and Luuk de Jong all dropped out as a result.

While the changes made us look more solid, we once again offered very little going forwards. The Silver Fox noted afterwards that "we lack creative flair and a bit of ability around the box" - in a nutshell, Dreamboat. How we could have done with someone like man-of-the-match Marko Arnautovic, a constant threat down our right and the supplier of the tenth-minute cross from which Peter Crouch nodded against Krul's right-hand post. The gangly goalgetter later headed another chance high over the bar.

Things could have been different had Gosling not fluffed an excellent opportunity from close range or Mike Jones not waved away legitimate appeals for a penalty following Geoff Cameron's challenge on Cisse. Given Jones' decision to disallow Mr T's long-ranger against Man City, he's far from being our favourite official at present.

With three minutes remaining until the half-time break, the Potters' left-back Erik Pieters secured the headlines by mis-hitting a cross over compatriot Krul's head and in off the far post. It was mightily fortuitous for Stoke, but they say you make your own luck and in our case we've deserved nothing but the worst for the past few weeks.

Having come from behind to snatch points only once so far this season (against the Potters' nine men on Boxing Day), anything other than a defeat looked like a distinctly remote possibility, and the second half continued in much the same lacklustre vein as the first. Substitute Charlie Adam spurned a decent opportunity for our hosts, while it was a measure of our desperation that two of our best efforts came from Iron Mike, both blocked. The real golden chance, though, fell to Anita - the wrong man in the right place to head Big Lad's inviting cross high and wide.

The Silver Fox introduced both HBA and Adam Armstrong (that de Jong remained on the bench was telling), but these popular substitutions were neither enough to change the course of the game nor pacify supporters by now openly calling for the manager's head.

In his post-match interview, the Silver Fox trotted out a series of excuses, ranging from the just-about-acceptable to the downright ridiculous - the quality of the opposition, injuries to ten key players (ten - really?), the actions of the local press: "I actually don’t think the media in the north-east helped us this week. I think they whipped it up, for whatever reason. I know one or two of them are banned from the stadium and they probably used that as a bit of an agenda, which is a shame for us because we want them to support us." Cue a suitably sarcastic retort from the Sunday Sun.

Southampton's shock home defeat to Cardiff means they remain only two points ahead of us in eighth, but the three points pocketed by Stoke have moved them to within a win of us. Relegation-threatened Swansea are up next - we've already given them one timely leg-up this season, and they'll surely fancy their chances of getting another.

 Other reports: BBC, Observer

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