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Premier League
Saturday, 10th January 2009

Newcastle United 2
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower


Six hundred-odd miles, one point, a few more pints and some grand company. Yup it was time for another visit to the North East.

Usually on trips to the North East we base ourselves at the Grand Hotel in Hartlepool. However, whilst the usual suspects left for all points North on Friday, work commitments meant a Saturday departure for me and a long-standing friendship meant that my base for the weekend would be Greenside, a village to the west of Gateshead (where sex is in its infancy) where mine hosts for the weekend were to be Kirk and Julie.

A fairly quiet journey was interrupted by a phonecall from Romford who had just seen my train pass him at Hartlepool. My slumber had been interrupted by a request for a spare ticket should any fellow-passengers be in surplus in that direction. The ticket situation was sorted when one such fellow-passenger who had overheard the conversation gave me a ticket to pass on completely on trust saying that he’d pick up payment in the ground. Stupidly, in my haste to locate Kirk at the station I forgot to ask the chap’s name – so if you happen to be reading this mate thanks a lot.

Host and his nephew suitably located we adjourned to the Union Rooms where Romford, Sicknote, Taff and the Boro’ lads were already settled. There then began a complex series of ‘phonecalls through designed to unite tickets with supporters. Given that three pubs in different parts of the city centre were involved, Kirk showed admirable patience in trying to explain exactly where everything was in relation to where we wanted to be. After the 35th ‘phonecall of the day (how the hell did we exist without mobile phones?) we decided that the easiest thing would be to simply decamp to my favourite Toon hostelry, the Bacchus, and pop into the Goose en route to the ground. The Bacchus has been a favourite of mine for many years, ever since I was first taken there by my Geordie pals. Suffering from a severe chest infection at the time, I must have looked like death warmed up which was why the old dear that used to run the place came over and provided me with a large brandy and a plate of sandwiches to keep me going. The old dear has long since moved on and the refurb job done on the place has left it transformed it out of all recognition. Its lack of a TV screen ensures that even on matchdays it doesn’t get rammed and those of us who like decent beer are well served with the locally-brewed Rivet Lifter particularly hitting the spot. Geordie pals Doug, Dale and Mike (the well-known Boris Johnson lookalike) all turned-up for the traditional spot of pre-match pessimism and the ales were going down well-enough for me to wonder yet again if my team were going to spoil another pleasant afternoon for me.

A brisk hobble up the hill to the ground later we arrived to face the ascent to our seats. The state of my left knee meant (torn cartilage since you ask) allowed me access to the lift that gets you to base camp in the away end and I arrived in time to get the team news. As expected, Upson had returned from a bout of ‘flu to replace Tomkins who reverted to the bench. This gave us a starting line-up of Green, Neill, Upson, Collins, Ilunga, Noble, Behrami, Collison, Parker, Cole and Bellamy.

The early exchanges were fairly even as both sides, refreshingly, wanted to give it a go. The home side, however had the better of the early chances and we had a let-off on about twelve minutes. Owen was given far too much space on bursting on to a pass from Guthierrez and drove a shot across goal which clipped the foot of the post. It should have served as a warning but it was a warning that went unheeded. Seven minutes later Enrique played a short pass inside to Owen. Behrami showed, what was for him, an unusual lack of urgency in approaching the striker who stepped toward goal. Crucially, at the vital moment Ginge slipped as he went to close Owen down and the Newcastle skipper hit a low shot inside Green’s right-hand post to give the home side the lead. Green might have been a tad slow in getting down to deal with the shot, though Upson’s positioning may have unsighted him.

Things improved after the early scare. We pushed forward and Given had to be alert to deal with a Collins header from a corner. The only booking of the match then ensued when Guthrie halted a Parker breakout with a cynical effort. It deserved the yellow, if only because it stood out in a match that was played in a decent spirit throughout. We started to turn things round, though we might have gone further behind when youngster Carroll headed wide from a Duff cross - that is a cross from Newcastle midfielder Damian Duff rather than a cross that wasn’t very good if you see what I mean. However we were beginning to dominate in midfield ant the equaliser, when it came, was a peach. We retained possession for an age and Parker was pivotal in the move, the ball coming back and through him time and time again until he manoeuvred himself into enough space from which he played a superb short pass to play Bellamy into space. Bellamy made no mistake with the finish past an exposed Given. The goal must have been quite sweet coming as it did against a club where the Welsh striker didn’t exactly have the happiest of times.

The exchanges were fairly even for the remainder of the half with neither ‘keeper having any major problems – on the occasions when the home side did get the odd corner they seemed intent on either giving Green some catching practice or simply going for distance by playing it out for a throw on the other side.

Shortly before the interval we ought to have taken the lead. Newcastle were trying to play the offside trap with all the skill and nous of a back four who had been introduced to the idea fifteen minutes before kick-off. Noble sprung what passed for a trap and bore down on goal. Given came out to narrow the angle and got enough on Noble’s shot to divert it wide enough to make the angle too tight for Bellamy’s follow-up shot to trouble anything other than the side-netting and the sides went into the interval level-pegging.

The queues for what are euphemistically referred to as “the facilities” at SJP were overwhelming and given that we had “lunched well” it took every one of the 15 minutes – and a few more - for me to get back to my seat. So long in fact that the match had already resumed by time I got there. The missing minutes had not been uneventful though but, in the interest of honesty, I should point out that my description of this period comes from later viewing on Sunday morning’s Match of The Day. Firstly we were denied a good shout for a penalty when Bellamy was hauled over in the box by Bassong. Ref Wiley appeared to have a decent view of it but didn’t give it. Why, we will never know. My plan to improve refereeing standards by sacking the insane Hackett and making referees explain their decisions in front of those of us who effectively pay their wages whilst they are strapped into a seat wearing headphones playing Build Me Up Buttercup at full volume on an endless loop is still being considered by the FA. I expect.

We then came even closer to scoring when a low cross from the right found its way to Collison whose low shot brought a magnificent save out of Given. The shot wouldn’t have counted – Cole had been rightly picked up for a shove on Taylor as the ball came over but Given obviously wasn’t to know that. During this spell (by now I’d got back to my seat) we were playing some fine stuff and kept the ball well. Not that it mattered much when we lost it – the home side were most accommodating and seemed intent on giving the ball back to us at every opportunity.

We took a deserved lead on 55 minutes and, once more, the ill-advised Newcastle offside trap played a part in the proceedings. As an attack broke down the ball only made it as far as Ilunga. Cheri played a ball over the top to Cole who was clearly onside. Cole took one touch to control the ball, turned and buried an unstoppable shot past Given into the roof of the net. It was a fine finish and he seemed to forget some of the stick he’s received of late in actually celebrating the goal with the crowd rather than the muted efforts we’e seen from him of late.

We then did what we always seem to do when we get a lead on the road – we sat back. This didn’t cause too many problems while Newcastle continued to treat the ball as if it were radioactive. However they did start to string together a few passes and about 12 minutes after the goal we had a bit of a let off. Behrami was adjudged to have fouled Duff – it looked a bit theatrical from our vantage point on Moonbase Alpha and doubly so when seen on the box in the morning. We never really cleared the ball and, as a cross came in Neill sliced the ball horribly into his own net. The home support’s celebrations were curtailed, however, with the award of a free-kick. I couldn’t see what had happened from so far away so I was indebted to Upton Girlie for texting me with the information that Collins had been shoved as the ball came over. Having seen it again the decision looked correct – it was identical to the one for which Cole had earlier been punished when Given had blocked Collison’s shot.

With 15 on the clock Boa-Morte replaced Collison but the earlier lesson from Neill’s let-off had not been absorbed. Another cross from the Newcastle left came over and Upson failed to make any meaningful challenge on Carroll who rose to head past a stranded Green.

Five minutes after the goal DiMichele replaced Bellamy who was carrying a knock and Mullins replaced Noble for similar reasons. Both sides went for the win in the closing stages, though the home side had the better chances, the best of which came in stoppage time as Guthierrez found himself in space in the box, only to be thwarted by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Upson and the match ended with honours even.

Kirk had been suffering from flu all week so we elected for a quiet one or two in the Greenside area. This suited me no end, especially as our mate Craggsy hadn’t made the trip. The concept of a quiet pint is one that is alien to Craggsy – unless it is followed by another 10 noisier ones. We started at the Fox and Hounds. Lovely pub with a roaring fire and a superb ale by the name of Tyneside Blonde which comes much recommended as long as you don’t actually accidentally knock a full pint over of the stuff. I spent the next hour or so apologising to the marvellously understanding landlady who dealt with the resulting mopping up exercise and the broken glass with more good humour than my clumsiness really deserved. We ended up at one of those working mens clubs where somebody asks you for a quid as you go in and you find that you’ve somehow ended up entering about a dozen different raffles. I managed to win a score and lose a pool match without knowing anything about either. One takeaway later we were done.

Another pleasant weekend on Tyneside – all agreed that the draw was about right and Craggsy’s absence meant that I was spared the usual ordeal of being stitched up, an ordeal that invariably involves my being accosted by some really dodgy woman. Sadly the search in the Sunday papers for Whitley Bay’s result against Chester Le Street, without which no report from Tyneside is complete, proved fruitless. It transpired that that game had fallen foul of the weather. Ah well you can’t have everything.

Thanks to Kirk and Julie for hospitality well beyond the call of duty – see you next season!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Comfortable enough though I thought he might have done a bit better for their first.


Lucas Neill
Ok though his blushes were spared a bit by a push on Collins in the second half.


Herita Ilunga
Supposedly we have an option to sign permanently. I hope so. Credited with an assist for Cole’s goal.


James Collins
Slipped at the vital moment for their first goal but dealt with anything in the air with ease.


Matthew Upson
Made two slip ups in the match. Unfortunately they both contributed to goals.


Scott Parker
A lot of running and played a big part in Bellamy’s goal.


Mark Noble
Had work a-plenty but faded a bit in the second half. Might have done better when one on one with Given.


Jack Collison
Another fine one from the youngster. Young Hammer of The Year anyone?


Valon Behrami
Not quite as effective as of late and he went to sleep for their first goal.


Carlton Cole
Great goal and caused no end of problems for the home defence.


Craig Bellamy
Superb finish for the goal. Ought to have had a spot-kick too.


Substitutes


Matthew Etherington
(replaced) Brought some width to the match and played a part in the best of the three goals.


Kieron Dyer
(replaced) Good to see him back even if he did appear to be limping a bit at the end of his 20 minutes or so. Nearly scored too.


Diego Tristan
(replaced) Failed to influence matters much in the few moments he was on.


Marek Stech
Did not play.


James Tomkins
Did not play.


Julien Faubert
Did not play.


Diego Tristan
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Alan Wiley.

Attendance: 47,571.

Man of the Match: Scott Parker.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Carlton Cole, Craig Bellamy.

Goals: Craig Bellamy 29 Carlton Cole 55                .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Newcastle United

Given, Taylor, Coloccini, Bassong, Jose Enrique, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Geremi, Duff, Owen, Carroll.

Substitutes: N'Zogbia (Geremi 62).

Subs not used: Harper, Xisco, Kadar, Edgar, LuaLua, Donaldson.

Goals: Owen (19), Carroll (78) .

Booked: Guthrie (23).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Scott Parker