The Diary

29 October 2008: All Tooned Out!

And now for the long-term prospects: cold, dark and stormy, with only intermittent patches of sunshine to punctuate the omnipresent gloom?. That?s everything you need to know on the Albion front, then, so now for the weather forecast!

Seriously, though, after last night?s lacklustre showing, there?s got to be growing concern about what the next three or four games will mean for our prospects of staying in this exalted sphere. Given that we?re due to play Liverpool, Chelsea and bloody Stoke after Paul Ince?s Blackburn Rovers ? they?re at Villa Park tonight, by the way - hit the Hawthorns trail this Saturday, we needed last night?s defeat about as much as an account in an Icelandic bank. Something has to change, and quick.

They always say that after a really traumatic experience, it?s better in the long run for the victim to talk it through with someone, and the sooner the better ? so, back to last night we go, then. One of those times when I was mighty glad I was watching Albion in the comfort of our living-room rather than tough it out in the stands, the prime reason, of course, being a somewhat precipitous drop in the outside temperature over the course of the preceding twelve hours or so.

In fact, not long after I?d penned yesterday?s offering, a pretty impressive amount of snow began to flutter down from the heavens, dusting our garden in a manner evoking memories of icing sugar on cakes: really lovely to look at, of course, but an absolute bitch to be caught outside when it happens. The first time this area?s seen snow at this particular time of year since the thirties, so I?m given to believe ? and it didn?t half show. Poor ?Im Indoors was late arriving home from work, the reason being rush-hour traffic taking things exceedingly slowly along a slush-carpeted Hagley Road.

Given that weather conditions were deteriorating so rapidly here, later that evening, on tuning into Sky, it came as absolutely no surprise whatsoever to see Magpies-lovers innumerable cocooned in swathes of multi-layered clothing sufficient to make even the average Eskimo reach for the air-conditioner switch.

This, mark you, from a group of supporters that thinks nothing of strolling around the town centre, right in the middle of winter, wearing naught but the skimpiest of outer-garments. Conclusion? Newcastle temperatures last night must have been on a par with those experienced in Leningrad, at the very least: no wonder I ended up shivering, and largely out of sympathy with their frigid plight, it has to be said.

Had this fixture taken place around 14 days ago, I strongly suspect we might well have ended up taking something home to display on our mantelpiece, but Joe Kinnear?s managerial style has since had plenty of time to bed in, meaning that last night, our Tyneside prospects no longer looked quite as rosy as they might have done back then.

Team news indicated Mogga had ditched the second striker, preferring instead to stick with Bednar up front on his own, with Valero providing backing as and when. Chris Brunt came back in from the cold, literally and metaphorically. The remainder of the side were ?as you were? from Saturday. As for the opposition, Joe Barton made his anticipated return to first-team duty, along with Jonas Gutierez, and Jose Enrique. The injured Nicky Butt had to sit this one out as did benched duo Geremi and Bassong.

Daft as it might seem, given the distinctly hostile nature of the ambient temperature outside, I?d only just finished procuring some vanilla-flavoured ice-cream from the freezer for both myself and ?Im Indoors when the game kicked off ? and, within minutes, nearly choked on the stuff! You don?t need the forensic expertise of Sherlock Holmes to figure out why; clearly, Joe Kinnear?s instructions to his merry men had been to go at us right from the ?off?, which is precisely what they did, getting right behind the back of our defence on more than one occasion, thereby exposing poor Carson to all manner of unwelcome intrusions upon his peace of mind.

As for our lot, their immediate response to those early incursions had very strong elements of Clive Dunn?s Lance Corporal Jones character about it, i.e.: ?DON?T PANIC, DON?T PANIC!....? ? which they did, of course. You might want to ask Robbo about it when you get a minute: within less than a minute of the start, he found himself frantically belting the ball right out of the box and deep into nearby Gateshead, after a lethal Duff and Ameobi co-operative effort had left the rest for dead, making my other half almost explode, so heated were his subsequent expressions of complete and utter disbelief at what he?d just witnessed.

Not long after that, it was Scott Carson?s turn to save the situation with a truly marvellous stop: well done also Robbo, for putting Martins off sufficiently to turn what had been an unstoppable effort into one within our keeper?s ability to repel.

You would have hoped that the home side?s early attacking efforts simply constituted an effective means of testing our mettle early on, but nope ? with every passing minute, the pressure piled on, still. More importantly, we still hadn?t found an effective solution to the pressing problem of our laxity on the left, never mind give the Mags some grief of their own at the other end of the pitch.

As the home side continued in their unrelenting efforts to open their account, we both scented wind of a goal, and not in the visiting side?s favour, either. No surprise, then, at what happened in the 12th minute, when we somehow contrived to give away a daft penalty. The blame for this has to lie at the somewhat tardy feet of Donk,? no sooner had the ref pointed his finger at the spot, my weary comment to His Nibs was: ?Perhaps we should be thinking of changing the letter ?N? on the back of his shirt to an ?R??? ? for upending Ameobi just as he was about to pull the trigger. With Barton being the taker, and given the lad?s pressing need to get on the right side of the home crowd after all the unwelcome publicity he?d accreted around himself, the outcome wasn?t in question: a pause of several seconds, then ?bang?, one-nil. Totally repellent was Barton?s oh-so-ostentatious kissing of the badge on his shirt, shrill were the multitudinous lamentation from hubby, squatting on his bean-bag like a gnome on a toadstool, and swift was our cats? departure from the scene of the crime!

Given Mogga?s strong attacking instincts, and given the fact we were now chasing the game, you would have thought we?d be right in their faces after that, wouldn?t you? Yes, all the fancy footwork in midfield was nice, and all that possession too, but the bottom line was that we weren?t hurting them at all. Few and far between were our incursions into their box: as for genuine goal attempts, our travelling contingent might just as well tried spotting a UFO high in the nighttime sky, so few were the genuine attempts on offer that night. United? Every single time they worked that vulnerable right flank of ours, we looked as though trouble would surely follow in their wake.

It was only with around ten minutes of the half remaining that our so-called attack finally gave our followers good reason to restore adequate circulation to numbed fingers and toes. For about the first time that evening, our intricate midfield passing finally paid off, Koren putting Morrison through with a brilliant ball, and right into their penalty area, too. With hearts wedged firmly in our mouths, we watched the lad approach Given at a rate of knots before firing ? only to see the latter shift it well out of harm?s way. Dearie, dearie me.

That Morrison effort acted as a sharp reminder to the home side that there remained some life in the corpse, still, so they tried to negate the danger in the best possible way, by hitting us at the other end. And they should have scored there and then, given that Ameobi?s cross was to the unmarked Beye, who instead of burying it past Carson, somehow contrived to land the shot in Row Z instead.

But that ghastly miss simply served to postpone the inevitable: a mere two minutes later, the lad Martins, in a similar scenario to their earlier miss, managed to double their goal tally. He also demonstrated his mastery of gymnastic skills a la Zoltan Gera to the crowd, courtesy of a somersault or three, right on the touchline. Hardly surprising, given it was the lad?s birthday,. I suppose.

The second half is where it begins to get a tad puzzling for me. Having gone in at half-time two down, I would have thought that was the optimum moment to throw all caution to the wind, and bring on Ish Miller. Unpredictable, it?s true, but I?d argue that such a capricious mindset meant that not only would we not know what he was about to do next, the opposition certainly wouldn?t! But given that our lot emerged from the tunnel unchanged, that meant we were stuck with what we had out there. Until the penny finally dropped that something had to change, of course.

?Tis true that Brunt gave the opposition something to think about during those opening minutes, but the crux of the problem, a serious lack of fire-power, still remained. No surprise that a somewhat ironic cheer erupted from the Wright household around ten minutes after the restart when the subbing that should have taken place ten minutes before (and before that, even, you might want to contend) finally happened. Off went Brunt, on came Miller, and with it came a reversion to that 4-4-2 thingy once more. (I would also question the withdrawal of Brunt, personally, given he?s about the only decent crosser of a ball we have, but that?s football for you.)

The change, albeit a highly belated one in my opinion, certainly injected a modicum of much-needed pazazz into our play. Morrison could certainly count himself unlucky to see his effort unintentionally thwarted by the nearby Miller?s deflection of the ball well away from its intended destination. Another Morrison effort later, and suddenly, we seemed to have given Newcastle something to worry about: better late than never, I suppose.

Even better, shortly afterwards, we actually managed to reduce the deficit with only our second goal on the road, this term. We have Koren to thank, for threading the ball through to Miller in such brilliant fashion: racing onto the proffered ball, our lad then rounded Given with some panache, leaving an empty net before him. ?Oh, God ? please don?t stuff this one up!? was my pained cry as the goal gaped, memories of last Saturday still strong in my mind. Thankfully, Miller wasn?t in wasteful mode that time: a short pause to steady himself, then he flipped the ball into the net as sweet as anything.

Having perforated their defence once, it would have made far more sense to stick with the strikers we?d got out there, wouldn?t it? But this is where I threw my hands up in despair, and ?Im Indoors, exasperated, more than anything, practically snarled the astringent comment: ?So you don?t want to equalise, then??

Think about it: a good attacking spell involving twin strikers leading to a partial recovery, good grounds indeed for hoping the Newcastle defence, not one of the best in the world, as recent events have amply demonstrated, would yield to the onrush of attacking Baggie bodies over the course of the minutes still remaining. So why in tarnation did Mogga take off one of that potentially-productive striking combo, then ? much worse in my opinion ? replace him with the biggest goalscoring disaster to hit the Baggies since the days of George Reilly, Colin West, and Paul Williams? No, and I haven?t the foggiest either.

Unsurprisingly, with that change went any residual hopes we harboured of extracting at least one point from the St. James?s Park mire. True, we did land a free-kick right on the edge of their box with about 20 to go, and yes, Miler almost managed to break Newcastle hearts with the equaliser, but Given managed to deflect that one away as well.

After that, it was virtually ?game over? when the home side went into heavy defensive mode: try as you might, you can?t get anything past a rearguard that melds into one ginormous mass every time you pass the halfway line. And The Mags could have made it three, courtesy their sole ram-raid into Baggies territory just before the end, Carson being the hero of the hour, yet again. The rest was a formality.

That costly (literally, for those hardy souls who braved the journey up both the M1 and A1) defeat, at the hands of a Newcastle side that were barely competent, has set my personal alarm-bells ringing. What concerns me most of all, though, is our complete and utter inability to both create and take scoring chances. Miller took his well last night, Bednar did as well as could be expected of him, but you can?t say the same about his replacement. Mogga?s still trying to turn him into a footballer, for some reason I?ve yet to fathom out, but to be perfectly honest with you lot, if that?s the best the sub?s bench has to offer, I?d rather see the exhumed remains of Jesse Pennington given a go.

More and more am I regretting the departure of Kevin Phillips to Blues: a tough old bird, one too old to be treated as a broiler fowl, certainly, but although destined for the stew-pot, deadly in front of goal, still. Even now, Premiership defences would find him a whole heap of trouble: with him on board, we?d have been riding in mid table, at the very least. It?s not long to go before the transfer window re-opens for business, but will we have dropped to a point where the situation?s nigh-on irretrievable, by then, won?t it?

Er ? I?m not being too presumptuous by assuming that Mogga has been sending forth his scouts into the wilderness, and they?re dutifully returning with names to be followed up at our leader?s convenience, and our chairman?s assured his manager that ample funds will be forthcoming, am I? Let?s be honest about this. Should the answer to any one of those three points be ?no?, we might as well give up trying here and now.

Oh, well. Back to the drawing board (and me to my OU stuff). My next thrilling instalment comes on Saturday morning. By then, my mood might have improved somewhat ? but don?t bank on it.

 - Glynis Wright

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