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Match Report: Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Newcastle United (Newcastle Fan's Perspective)

Tuesday 27th December 2011
A two minute double salvo courtesy of Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba was enough for Newcastle to take all 3 points back home from the Reebok Stadium.

The first half was one of few clear cut chances but dominated by Newcastle, who looked content to keep the ball and work an opening patiently. Some neat play within the first 2 or 3 minutes saw Best played through by Ba and with the latter, as well as Jonas Gutierrez, surging into the box, Best appeared to take the wrong option and go for goal from the tightest of angles. Had it gone in, it would have been spectacular and, in a way, it's good to see the Ireland international still showing enough confidence to have a try at goal, given that he's failed to find the net since Villa away.
The next chance in the match came about 10 minutes later, and also fell to Newcastle. Bolton, struggling at the foot of the table, seemed just as willing as the away side to try and play their way out from the defence. But with that comes a big risk, as Fabrice Muamba almost discovered. A sloppy one-two attempt with Martin Petrov gave the ball to Yohan Cabaye, who then showed them how it's done properly with Cheick Tiote before firing a shot just wide, only for the referee to award a freekick for a follow through by Muamba. The midfield reunion of Cabaye and Tiote seemed to work well for Newcastle, with Cabaye back from a one match ban, and Tiote looking a lot sharper than the West Brom game. However, the key return was that of Mike Williamson. Last seen at Scunthorpe in the Carling Cup, his no-nonsense defending was much needed for Newcastle, particularly against teams like Bolton, who can cause defenders nightmares as they did to the same Newcastle pairing last season at the Reebok. Fortunately for Newcaste, today was a very different game.

Newcastle threatened again with a free kick about 25 yards out and just right of centre – pretty much the perfect territory for Ryan Taylor to have a go. The wall was poor, and left huge gaps which Taylor obligingly took advantage of.  He curled the ball beautifully, and it looked destined for the bottom corner of the net, only for the consistent Jussi Jaaskalainen to push the ball away from the goal.

Then followed a rather uneventful 20 minutes, before the game sprung back into life. A sense of deja-vu was creeping in for Newcastle fans as Bolton took the ascendency towards half time. First Petrov won a corner from Danny Simpson then, swinging it in, Cahill rose, but was put off enough by Ba's presence to head the ball backwards away from goal, which allowed Cabaye to blast the ball up field. Marc Walton, however, believed he saw a foul in there, and gave a free kick just outside the box to Bolton for a foul on Reo-Coker. In truth, the referee made a number of poor decisions against both sides, and although they probably evened themselves out over the course of the game the quality of officiating at the top level is clearly not up to standard – and that's not just aimed at Walton. Bolton lined up the free kick with a shift to the left, allowing Petrov to curl the ball between Best, who was at the end of the wall, and Tiote, who was closing down the ball as soon as it was played. Similarly to Taylor's free kick earlier, the ball was headed straight for the bottom corner, only for Tim Krul to get across his goal and palm it away with his trusty left hand.

Scare survived, there was still time in the second half for more half chances, with Bolton winning a couple more fruitless corners, and Best with a decent chance also from a corner after making a clever run to get in front of Dedryck Boyata. As it was, both sides went in level at the break and with few chances in it, it was neither surprising nor promising for either side.

The first 15 minutes of the second were very much of a similar fashion to the first half, as Newcastle controlled the possession with little threat. A decent run from the improving Gabriel Obertan, who was clearly told at half time to get at the poor Paul Robinson at left back, saw him jink inside leaving Robinson on his backside before striking an average left footed effort at goal. And with that came the winger's first strike on target since signing for the club. I think it speaks for itself that Newcastle need more of the same from the Frenchman, who has become the new target for the boo boys.

With the deadlock yet to be broken, both teams made substitutions in the hope of opening up the game. Bolton opted to bring off the defensive Muamba for positive winger Chris Eagles, while Alan Pardew repeated his substitution from the West Brom game and brought on playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa for Best with just over an hour played. Both substitutions turned out to play a part in the opening goal of the game. Bolton looked to exploit Newcastle's makeshift left back Taylor, but Eagles' touch was too heavy as he ran straight into the path of Taylor, who laid the ball off to Cabaye before marauding forward on the left wing. Gutierrez then ran at the right back, cutting inside to allow the space to play in Taylor, who continued his run pretty much unmarked. Taylor then whipped the ball across into the path of the late run of Ben Arfa, who showed good technique to half-volley the ball into the bottom corner of the net. He then went straight to the 5,000 fans behind that goal to celebrate. Little did we know, he was just warming up the crowd.

As the pandemonium from Ben Arfa's goal was just beginning to die down Demba Ba, with the help of Obertan, managed to raise the roof at the Reebok once again. Paul Robinson, for me one of the worst players in the Premier League, tried to clip a ball over Tiote's head but the Ivorian got his head to it, before playing in Obertan to utilise the gaps with his pace and trickery on the right. The former Man United man got the ball to the byline, before playing a neat ball along the ground for Ba to slot in the top corner. That's now 14 goals in 17 Premier League games and an incredible 23 goals in 25 games since January for West Ham and Newcastle. As for the stand behind the goal, it would be no surprise if it's still shaking now.

And with that, a run of 6 games without a win comes to an end just in time to face 6th placed Liverpool, who are themselves struggling to pick up a win at the minute, on New Year's Eve. A great game for the neutrals, I'm sure, but also a vital one for both sides, with only a point difference between them, as well as former Newcastle players Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll likely to feature for Liverpool.

If you wish to ask any questions or abuse the writer in any way, please feel free to tweet @greglarmouth
Greg Larmouth

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