Thursday, 3 February 2011

Duff curse - FUL 1-0 NCU

Newcastle United's players looked gigantic compared to Fulham's. Properly huge. And protected the ball with their bodies better (and more often) than any team I'd seen, causing the Fulham midfield to make lots of niggly little fouls which they're not really renowned for. They swarmed around the Fulham players when in possession, robbing them of time in which to ply their craft, which meant the ineffective 'long ball to Johnson' tactic reared its head far too often in the first half.
Newcastle played very much like a team who last season were in the Championship - that's not a criticism though. They were earthy and the right side of line, unlike some other teams currently 'gracing' the Premier League. It made for a crap spectacle though.
It was probably the poor entertainment in the first half which meant the 'Blues Brothers' entertainment at half time was so warmly received. Not by me though. If you're trying to promote the singing and dancing tribute act to the Blues Brothers, you should a) sing and b) have a dance choreographed. And if you can't do a, then at least record yourselves singing and mime to that rather than a 30 year old recording of the original band from the widely seen film. Outrageous.
Fortunately the second half stepped up a gear, with Danny Murphy somehow finding the energy reserves to fashion a little space in the middle of the pitch, ably assisted by a workman-like Sidwell and the eventual exhaustion of the Newcastle players.
Fulham had started to get on top, but had not made the breakthrough, leaving Sparky with one of those awkward decisions of whether to stick and hope for a goal or twist and potentially accede dominance. Thankfully for him the goal arrived before he had to decide.
It's no exageration to suggest Duff should have already scored twice before finally putting one past Harper from a long Murphy pass. In fact the Newcastle goalie was probably man-of-the-match with some eye catching saves, one from Dempsey was particularly impressive. It appeared particularly cathartic for Duff, who'd been getting quite a bit of stick from the rather impressive turnout of the Toon Army. The goal settled most nerves, simultaneously taking the wind out of the Toon's sails, and both the fans and Hughes relaxed.
While the fans baited their north eastern counterparts, Sparky chucked on Gael Kakuta for a surprisingly effective debut. He was fast, direct and incisive and maybe should have finished the game with a goal and an assist, but his performance in the hole (I think - it was hard to tell who actually was leading the line when Johnson came off) was very promising for the remainder of the season. He offered a definite glimpse on why it was worth the 'neighbours' breaking all manner of rules to get him.

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