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Match Reports
Spurs v Newcastle, 14.03.04

FA BARCLAYCARD PREMIERSHIP
SUNDAY 14TH MARCH, 2004
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0) NEWCASTLE UNITED 0 (0)

Scorer:-
O'Brien (o.g.)

Referee:- Mr. H. Webb

Attendance:- 36,083

Teams:-
Spurs (4-3-1-2):- Keller; Carr (Capt..), Doherty, Gardner, Taricco; Brown, King, Ziege (sub Dalmat, 79); Keane; Kanoute (sub Redknapp, 69), Defoe

Subs not used:- Hirschfeld; Kelly; Postiga

No bookings

Newcastle (4-4-2):- Given; Hughes (sub Ameobi, 88), O'Brien, Woodgate, Bernard; Bowyer (sub Ambrose, 75), Jenas, Speed, Robert; Shearer, Bellamy

Subs not used:- Harper; Elliott, Viana

No Bookings

David Pleat said in his programme notes today - "If individual mistakes continue to be made by the same people then, of course, changes have to be made, that is a fact of life". Nonetheless, it came as a great (but pleasant) surprise to learn that Dean Richards had been dropped in favour of Gary Doherty, who was this week awarded a fresh contract. Richards was not even on the bench, and neither were Anderton or Poyet. At last there are (relatively speaking) riches of players to choose from. The big excitement before the game though, was to hear that Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Fredi Kanoute were all to start. It looked like we would see a 4-3-3, but it turned out to be 4-3-1-2, with Keane having freedom behind the front two.

Christian Ziege was given a welcome start on the left side of the three-man midfield, with Brown and King taking on more defensive duties. What with Newcastle featuring both Shearer and Bellamy in full flow, and Jenas, Robert and Bowyer in the middle, it looked like we would be in for a goal feast. Rarely have I been so excited before a game, once I heard the team news.

Ah, but then I realised the referee was Howard Webb, a relative novice at Premiership level. He has had charge of just 6 top-grade games this season, and the first 5 were goal-less draws! Until Andy O'Brien skewed in Dalmat's low cross in the 86th minute, it looked like the spoils would be shared.

Is it possible that the referee's style can have had an influence over these score-lines? Well, he does tend to blow for everything, and the game rarely flowed as a result. On the other hand he was very lenient, and could have booked a couple of Newcastle players for tough challenges. The "Toon" feel aggrieved that Mr.. Webb did not award a penalty when Hughes went down (very easily, I might say so) under a challenge from Taricco. At the time I thought it was a blatant dive, but TV pundits seem to think it was a "stonewall" spot-kick. Bellamy too irritated the home fans, by running to officials for a decision, instead of playing to the whistle, once especially when challenged in the box by Gardner, who had a great game today.

Somehow, the Spurs (((on!))) man of the match (as voted by those present who can be bothered to text in) was Christian Ziege. I don't understand this, really, as Ziege did not do a great deal, although he had a couple of shots, and of course he was the dead-ball expert today. Whilst the adventurous though of playing such an attacking style was bold, I think the evidence of today showed that Spurs were much more effective when they played with much vigour and style in the latter stages when they reverted to a traditional 4-4-2, with Dalmat having a good 10 minutes, feeding the strikers, and Redknapp taking the Captain's armband off Carr when he came on for the last 20 minutes. Redknapp sparked a few good moves with effective diagonal passes.

The conditions for much of the game were wet and very blustery, with the wind towards the Paxton Road Stand. Such was the strength of the wind that the rain even reached me in the Upper Tier of the North Stand! Spurs won an early free kick for a foul on Carr on the right. It was taken by Ziege but Given stretched high to hold the ball cleanly. After 8 minutes, Robbie Keane carried the ball in from the left side and teed up Ledley King for a low shot which went outside the keeper's right post.

Direct chances were at a premium though, and the next came for Ziege after 17 minutes, when he was in the middle outside the box to receive the ball from the right, taking a swing, which went straight to Given. Newcastle started to give Spurs a little pressure, and whilst the defence held out, they were a little panicky at times. Robert's 32nd minute corner was met by Jenas outside the area. His shot was blocked but then Bernard almost surprised Keller with a low drive from at least 35 yards, which Keller managed to save with his legs. It was during this spell that Hughes claimed a penalty against Taricco, but if there was contact, I think the referee saw it as accidental.

After a corner on the left, Ziege's shot was blocked but the ball ran to Gary Doherty who fired too wide. Four minutes from half-time, Keller raced to the edge of his area and in a mix up with Gardner, Keller dropped the ball, allowing Shearer to move with the ball to the left, only to be deprived of the ball by a great saving tackle from "The Ginger Pele". Ziege had one more low shot to the right corner of goal, again saved by Given, before the interval.

It was a long time before there was any meaningful incident in the second half. Certainly a lot of the play was in the Spurs half, but stout defending was keeping Shearer & Co. at bay. At last, after 67 minutes, Spurs broke out and Keane was away down the left wing, crossing for Defoe, whose shot was deflected for a corner. From Ziege's deep kick, Defoe fired across the goal, and somehow Woodgate hooked the ball away from goal, less than a yard out, and with Keane close at hand.

Once Redknapp replaced Kanoute and Spurs reverted to the 4-4-2, it was almost one-way traffic. Defoe almost beat Bernard, who conceded a throw, from which King had another good effort go just wide. Two minutes after Dalmat's arrival, he led a Spurs break out of defence, feeding Keane who sent a great long ball over the defence for Dalmat on the left side. Dalmat's low shot lacked some strength and was easy for the keeper. Dalmat then tried a 20 yard screamer, after Keane passed to him again, this time on the right, but this shot was a yard over the bar. Then with only 4 minutes to go, Dalmat was round Woodgate, and his low driven cross was heading for Keane, before O'Brien turned it into his own net. Spurs had most of the late possession, not least because of great skill from the battling Defoe holding the ball up superbly.

It was a rousing finish to what had been a surprisingly moderate game of football. For Newcastle, it was only their third away defeat of the season, and it leaves them licking their wounds, still behind Charlton who currently hold the coveted fourth place in the table. As for Spurs, they remain in tenth place. This was their 6th clean sheet of the season, and the first at home since October. I wonder if they can manage another one at Old Trafford next Saturday?

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