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Match Report: Newcastle 2-3 West Brom (Newcastle Fan's Perspective)

Thursday 22nd December 2011
There are some big questions currently being asked of the Newcastle United camp. Key amongst them is ‘Where is a win going to come from?'. It's a tough question to answer as well, but if you delve beyond the results, it's quick and easy to see why the current run we are discussing is the polar opposite to the one we discussed at the beginning of the season. Success in the early parts of the season came about through hard work, team spirit, and consistency. While the former two are still there (as evidenced in the past 2 defeats to Norwich and West Brom this evening), the consistent team lineup from the opening 12 games has been torn apart. Injuries to Tiote, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Guthrie, Ryan Taylor, Best, suspensions for Jonas, Gosling and Cabaye, as well as fitness issues for Williamson, Santon and Ben Arfa – all within the space of these past 6 games – have taken a huge chunk out of the side, with at least 7 of those players likely to be part of Pardew's best 11.
On to tonight's game now then. The previous 2 games between these two at St. James' Park have ended in score draws, and goals were always going to be easy to come by between these two sides, with both teams looking to play an attractive style of football. Roy Hodgson has his side well organised, good on the break, with pacey strikers, and an off-the-ball work ethic not too dissimilar to Newcastle. Alleged former Newcastle target Shane Long has been a particularly impressive signing for the club, and has looked well worth his £6million price tag. But if he's been a bargain at £6million, then Demba Ba has surely been a steal as a free transfer. The Senegalese striker has become integral to Newcastle, with an excellent return of 13 Premier League goals in 16 games this season.

The opening 15 or so minutes were uneventful, with half chances falling to Newcastle, who began well, and looked to dominate early on. However, as the half wore on, West Brom's plans became clearer, as they looked to soak up pressure and hit Newcastle swiftly on the counter attack. On 20 minutes, they managed to do exactly that, as Odemwingie latched onto a sublime, defence-splitting pass from Chris Brunt, before matching the pass with a wonderful finish past Tim Krul. An immediate response was what Newcastle wanted, and they got it too. Best scrapping away in the box, knocks the ball into the path of Demba Ba, who buried it in the back of the net, only for the goal to be disallowed. Pardew was fuming down on the touchline, but unfortunately Best was offside as Ba headed the ball to him. From here on, West Brom appeared to grow into the game, and for the first time, dominated Newcastle, who looked shaken after conceding the goal.

A positive run from Obertan, cutting in from the right side, won Newcastle a free kick inside the D. With Ryan Taylor sat on the bench, and Cabaye suspended, it was hard to know who would step up to take the free kick duties. Ba, being in great scoring form, stepped up to place the ball, and fired in a shot of unbelievable power, so much so I didn't actually know if the ball had hit the net or Level 7 of the Sir John Hall stand. As it happened, the ball had flown straight into the back of the net, with Ben Foster helpless in his attempts to stop Ba's missile shot. A stunning strike from the big man, it was reminiscent of a certain Alan Shearer, as he powered the ball home from the edge of the box. From here, Newcastle once again looked to capitalise on the growing momentum, as teenager Haris Vuckic, making his first league start for the club, worked the ball onto his left foot, before firing his shot off a West Brom defender, and as half time loomed, it looked like the teams would head in level. However, with 44 minutes gone, West Brom won a free kick halfway inside the Newcastle half. The ball was whipped in by the impressive Brunt towards the back post, where Scharner was able to nod the ball back across goal for the unmarked McAuley to hit the ball home. It was shoddy defending from Newcastle, as Santon and Coloccini failed to follow their men into the six yard area, Perch was caught ball watching, and Krul looked like he was playing a game of chicken. In truth, it could have been any of the four to blame for the goal, but it doesn't change the facts, as West Brom regained the lead just before half time.

Once again, Newcastle looked for an immediate response from going down. This time it was the impressive teen, Haris Vuckic, who managed to work the ball onto his left foot again, and this time was able to get his shot on goal away. The lad has probably never struck a ball so sweet, as it flew about 30 yards, past Ben Foster, before striking the underside of the bar, and then the post, then bouncing away from goal. A magnificent show of confidence from the youngster, who was clearly not overawed by the occasion.

At half time, Newcastle were forced into a change as Ryan Taylor, returning from a minor knock, replaced Davide Santon at left back, who came off with as a precautionary measure due to a knee injury. The second half, much like the first, was something of a slow-burner, with no shots on target until the 52nd minute, as Demba Ba once again had a goal ruled out (rightfully) for offside. A minute later, and it was Shane Long who was through on goal. The striker was one on one with Tim Krul, and having rounded the Dutchman, looked sure to score as he blasted the ball off the bar –a terrible miss from the talented striker.

With just over 60 minutes gone, playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa came on in place of Best, much to the delight of some of the home fans who had chanted the Frenchman's name for large parts of the second half. Best was looking tired, having only made his return from injury this week, and the substitution was a much-needed one. Ben Arfa looked to make an immediate impact as he twisted and turned with the ball in the box before winning a corner. The next 10-15 minutes were filled with relentless attacking from Newcastle, as they won corner after corner, but failed to find the breakthrough they needed. Seemingly tired, or just sick of trying, Newcastle then resort back to long ball football, as they blast the ball up towards Ba from half way. Amazingly, though, it pays off, as Ba and Ben Arfa link up superbly to find a way through what was a solid Albion backline. Ba knocks it down to Ben Arfa on his chest, who instantly plays the return to the right of Ba, who turns and gets the shot away and past both Olsson and Foster.

With the wind in their sails, Newcastle then continued to push in search of the equaliser with just under 10 minutes left to play, and another long range effort from Vuckic had Foster scrambling to tip the ball over the bar. With Newcastle trying to force the winner, they left gaps at the back, and it was inevitable that they would be made to punish, as Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie worked well together to set up Paul Scharner to score what would eventually be the winner with only 4 minutes of normal time left to play. That isn't to say it was over just yet though, as Tiote, who struggled to keep up with the pace for most of the game, had his near post effort somehow turned away by Foster for a corner as he volleyed it low. And still it wasn't over yet, as Newcastle pumped the ball into the box from the right, Shola was up to challenge Foster, who fumbled the ball as it eventually fell to Vuckic. The Slovenian brought the ball down, before striking it past two defenders and into the side netting, although it did look to have been blocked. This time, sadly, it was over, and the game finished 3-2 to West Brom. It was always going to be full of goals.

Back to the question posed at the beginning of this report then, and it's clear where our next win is going to come from – the goalscoring prowess of a certain free transfer is irreplaceable for Newcastle United at the moment. Hopefully it comes sooner, rather than later though, with the African Cup of Nations looming large.

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Greg Larmouth

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