Newcastle 1-0 Latics
Saturday 1st September 2007

It’s been a strange old weekend.  For starters, the shoddily planned weekend in Newcastle didn’t come off leaving me, with only a, street cred destroying, Hugh Cornwell gig (thanks Jon) to distract me from the Big Brother final and the closing of the transfer window.  It also left me with a free Saturday afternoon and a dilemma over how to keep in touch with Latics efforts in the North East. 

 

Then, to top it all off, I was left to deal with the news I never thought I’d hear, that Latics had an England striker in the ranks and the increasing likelihood that Heskey was in the squad to play rather than make the numbers up.

If it finished on a high note, the rest of the weekend was a let down.  There’s not that much to share from the night out.  Then I again, I wasn’t expecting much from Hugh and the nightlife in Earlestown was never going to live up to the bright lights of Newcastle.  My thoughts on the deadline day deals are elsewhere which leaves us with just the game to go through. 

The loss of Wish FM commentary, most pubs’ inability or unwillingness to be prepared for the new season and a general distaste for Soccer Saturday saw me falling back on the internet as my link with St James’ Park. 

If I hadn’t neglected my emails, where a much more attractive offer lay in wait, it could have all been different but in the end I managed to get my X-box connected to some kind Antipodean with a badly aligned dish.  It was a bit (well a lot) like watching the game in a dirty fish tank, but I could see what was going on and the soundtrack was in English.

If the picture was satisfactory then the viewing was less so. The next to last thing you’d want to see the day after an unproductive deadline day is a tepid attacking performance.  The last thing you’d want to see is a game where you lose an influential midfielder and see your only (makeshift) left back sent off.

Latics got both.

To put the overall performance down to Latics’ failings would do an injustice to Newcastle.  They may have had an unspectacular start to the season, but they were unbeaten coming into this game and Allardyce’s influence is being to show.  The Geordies look more solid than they have in recent years and with Owen fit and in dangerous form Latics struggled to even relieve the pressure on their defence, let alone apply some of their own.

The result could have been more resounding, but thanks to some good goalkeeping, strong defending, wasteful finishing and flag-happy officialling Latics managed to hold out until the last five minutes of normal time.  Owen in particular missed several chances and by the time he finally finished one, Latics’ position had gone from being lucky if they held out to being unlucky if they didn’t get the draw.

We can only guess how different things might have been if Kilbane hadn’t received his marching orders just after the break.  Exactly why he was sent off isn’t clear, his second yellow card following a clash of heads that left Alan Smith prone.  Obviously the referee saw something no one else did, but his reluctance to explain doesn’t help.

With Latics down to ten men, it was left to Bramble and Granqvist to shine.  Ably assisted by Brown and Scharner they managed to get in the way of most of what Newcastle threw at them.

On the occasions Newcastle broke through, they found Kirkland in fine fettle and, with Robinson and James having hardly the best of weekends, Chris will be hoping that the watch Maclaren will have taken note.

The word from Newcastle is that the home team weren’t exactly anything to write home about and a bit more of an attacking bent (no not Marcus) may have seen a different result, but with Landzaat joining Valencia on the sidelines early in the piece much of the game was spent with the, let’s ay, workman like partnership of Skoko and Scharner in the engine room.  With four central midfielders on the pitch, and the better options isolated out wide we were never going to do much.

Still, there were positives to take from the game.  The good form of our defence continued and Brown built on his mid-week display to be our best midfielder.  It would have been better not to go into the international break on the back of two defeats, but the seven point tally is better than I had expected a month ago.

The fortnight’s break brings us time to refresh some legs and build up some fitness for the Fulham game and hopefully a switch of emphasis.  Two away games against teams with European ambitions require a different approach to a visit from a team who should be competing at the same level as ours.

There’s much talk these days about winning your ‘mini-league’ in the Premiership and as last season showed Fulham are right there with us in the group hoping to avoid the relegation scrap.  It’s not quite a must win game, but three points will get things rolling again.  Lose and we may well be warding off the all too familiar air of despondency that followed us through last season.

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