FA BARCLAYCARD PREMIERSHIP
SUNDAY 29TH DECEMBER, 2002
NEWCASTLE UNITED 2 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)
Dabizas (o.g), 73
Referee:- Steve Bennett
Newcastle (4-4-2):- Given; Caldwell, O'Brien, Hughes, Bernard; Solano (sub Lualua, 46), Dyer (sub Dabizas, 46), Speed (sub Jenas, 22), Robert; Shearer (Capt), Bellamy
Subs not used:- Harper; Ameobi
Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Keller; Carr, Perry, King, Taricco; Freund, Bunjevcevic; Poyet (Capt) (sub Sheringham, 67), Davies, Iversen (sub Ferdinand, 67); Keane (sub Acimovic, 78)
(Sheringham took over as Captain from Poyet)
Subs not used:- Sullivan; Thatcher
Booked:- Freund, Perry
It was Newcastle, not Spurs, who climbed to fourth in the league with this, their ninth home win in 10 league games this season. Spurs only have themselves to blame, as they had plenty of good possession, particularly in the first half, but they gifted both the goals to the home side, and failed to make hay when getting into good positions in the opposition area. Even Spurs' goal was scored by Newcastle, as substitute Dabizas hit a superb diving header past Given to give Spurs a fighting chance in the latter stages.
I wondered why Glenn Hoddle did not start with the team that finished so well against Charlton, but it turns out that Christian Ziege had to have an emergency operation on Boxing Night on what had initially been perceived as simply a "dead leg". He has a 10 inch wound in his leg which had to be opened up to enable the blood to flow around his leg. I understand he is making a good recovery from what could have been a life-threatening situation, but we will now probably miss him for the rest of the season. So, Taricco returned, and Davies and Iversen also started, but once again, Glenn changed his tactics, playing a 4-2-3-1, with Freund and Bunjee in front of a back four, and Iversen and Poyet left and right beside Simon Davies, playing behind Robbie Keane.
This strategy clearly took the Toon by surprise, and in the early stages, Spurs dominated, with Bunjee getting an early shot just wide. Bellamy's pace was always going to be a threat, and after 5 minutes, he was past Perry, but hit his shot straight to the grateful Keller. Gus Poyet then threaded a neat ball to Robbie Keane on the right of the box. His shot was well saved by Given, and the ball ran for a throw. With Davies playing in the middle, much of the width on the right was provided by Carr. He got to the bye-line, but instead of hitting a low driven cross into the crowded box, which would surely have reaped a reward, he lofted the ball harmlessly out of play.
Spurs had another scare when Ledley King underhit a back header to Bellamy, who shot wide of the goal across Keller. Ledley has looked too shaky at times recently, and currently does not fulfil the fans' "Cos we've got Ledley at the back" boast. Overall, he does show plenty of skill, and we are all allowed the occasional mistake, I suppose. Unfortunately, Ledley made a second mistake when he overhit a pass across his own half, which ran to Robert, whose shot was deflected for a corner. On 17 minutes, somewhat against the run of play, Newcastle took a lead when Bunjee headed out a throw directly to the feet of Speed who happily hit the low shot to Keller's right. Speed had to be replaced soon after, and in fact, at half time, Newcastle lost two other midfielders, Dyer and Solano, yet still took all three points. Solano was injured in a clash of heads with Taricco for which Taricco incurred the wrath of the home crowd, and which cost us a free kick, not converted by Shearer.
Hughes made a clever run into the Spurs area after 19 minutes, chipped over a defender, but shot at Keller. A Shearer shot was cleared off the line in front of the right-hand post. Spurs then frustrated their support by good approach play, getting into the area, but not managing a shot on target. There was a goalmouth scramble, with the best chance falling to Bunjevcevic, but the ball was somehow cleared. Taricco hit a dipping right footer, which Given did well to tip over his bar. Around the half-hour mark, Davies made a good run for Taricco, returned the ball to Tano, whose cross reached Poyet at the back post. Poyet hit the ball goalward with the outside of his foot, but Given was once again equal to the attempt.
After the break, Lualua kept Taricco occupied, and much as Spurs tried to get into the box, Given was not stretched as much as he had been. We went two down in shoddy style on 58 minutes. Perry was caught in possession in his own half on the right, and claimed he was fouled, and then that the ensuing throw should have gone to Spurs. He may have been right on both counts, but Spurs should have played to the whistle instead of watching Bellamy race away with the throw, unattended, finding Shearer at the back post with an easy finish for a two goal lead. Shearer is the top league scorer this season, with 13 to his name, which the home crowd heartily chanted in unison.
It looked like it might turn into a rout as Lualua was sent away by Shearer, left Taricco behind and hit the outside of Keller's left post with his shot. Les Ferdinand received his usual rapturous reception from his former loving fans, but did not make the difference he had against Charlton. The other substitute at this stage can claim some credit for the own goal, as it was his cross which Dabizas spectacularly converted, fearing an imaginary yellow shirt behind him.
Newcastle then attacked with vigour down the left, with space to spare, as Carr was pushed forward and Spurs had reverted to a 3-5-2, with Bunjee falling back to defend. Shearer would normally put away the chance that fell to him, but with time on his hands, he still shot wide. Carr did get into a good position in the box after a 1-2 with Teddy, but uncharacteristically declined to shoot, passing weakly to his left instead, allowing the ball to be cleared. The Spurs pressure that was applied came to nought.
I can confirm that Spurs do have the best away record of any side at St. James' Park. They have won 20 out of the 59 fixtures, with the home side winning just 22. 17 matches have been drawn. The next week will be pivotal for Spurs, as they now head for the South coast and two matches against Southampton, who are unbeaten at St. Mary's Stadium. Which of these two matches would you rather see us win? I fancy they will both be draws.
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