NUFC v Swansea - a view from the Gallowgate
Swansea were the visitors expected to roll over and put the Toon back on track. The script had to be rewritten.
Christmas shoppers starting early might have been the reason that the roads into Newcastle were quieter than usual before kick off. Whatever the reason, the ground seemed to be fuller earlier than usual.
It was a heart warming start to see an almost capacity St James` Park in their places to pay due respect to former hero, Gary Speed. The volume from Gwyn Hughes Jones` rendition of the Cwm Rhondda was complemented by the massed crowd but drowned out the hardly subdued snuffles from those who gathered to remember times gone by. Louise Speed seemed equally moved at the tribute as she left the field, flanked by her sons, parents in law and former close colleagues of her husband.
Newcastle got play underway, an early sortie by Ba ending by being unceremoniously dumped, Cabaye going close from the resultant free kick. With Swansea suffering the jitters, evidenced by several misplaced passes, all eyes moved to the Newcastle right flank to see what could occur.
The right wing was the scene for some fantastic movement, perky running along the touchline, not to mention huge potential for mesmerising the Swansea defence. Sadly it came from the controversial linesman Sian Massey, whose pony tail flounced teasingly as she sashayed along the line. All Obertan could do was win a corner as he flattered to deceive.
Bang on 11 minutes, the crowd echoed the pre-match applause for Gary Speed with a medley of chants in accompaniment. Meanwhile, on the pitch the pattern of play continued to develop with the Swans defending deep, the untroubled Perch looking as composed as he ever has. Obertan failed to impress the young lady who he kept close for much of the first half whilst Tiote made some surprising fumbles as he adjusted to match pace.
Cabaye found the means to penetrate the defence mid way through the half with a floated ball for Coloccini to direct a stooping header against the post, Ba repeating the feat a few minutes later. The closing part of the half brought a flurry of activity, including an acrobatic effort from Ba, bringing a fine save followed by Jonas creating space before getting away a wide shot.
The break brought an opportunity, not just to reflect on the play but also a few moments for those who were moved by the recent passing of Steve Thompson, known through the Newcastle United internet community as Bowburn Mag. His recognition by the club was fittingly the last half time announcement, giving us all the chance to remember his hugely positive contribution and personality.
So to the second half which saw the same patterns of play continue. Simpson managed to put in an early cross from the right, showing his winger how it should be done, with Ba just unable to make contact. Jonas laboured down the left but was frequently covered by up to 4 defenders. Santon continued to drive powerfully forward but kept losing vital split seconds as he tried to get the ball onto his right foot.
It might be telling that Coloccini appeared to be the most creative player, with some magical moments and just short of the hour, demonstrating skill, particularly in the Gallowgate East corner where Jonas and Santon had been repeatedly caged.
Sian Massey continued to impress in her control of the offside line. The pertly precise raising of her flag was followed by an elegant lowering in line with the offence, then accompanied by a coy little wriggle as she signalled the reason for her decision.
The start of the last quarter saw Lee Mason infuriate home supporters with the booking of Cabaye, ensuring that he misses the mid week match against West Brom. A succession of niggling and cynical fouls from Swansea had already gone unpunished.
The home side tried fruitlessly to step up the pace as Swansea defended with energy and discipline, even starting to find opportunities to break. Perch showed a moment of sheer determination as he chased back but it was the substitution of Shola for the futile bustling of Best that finally saw the best chance of the 2nd half. Laying off the ball for Jonas, Shola made a subtle run into the left of the box to receive an angled pass from Santon and fire a sharp left footed shot which Vorm did well to save.
The Swans pecked away for a spell, Geordie striker Danny Graham trying hard to set up his colleagues. Tim Krul however remained unthreatened and largely inactive. Sammy Ameobi replaced the frustrating Obertan with Haris Vuckic perhaps giving a hint of a solution to Wednesday`s selection problems as he energetically buzzed around the field after replacing the cramped up Tiote.
For once, the conversations among the dissipating crowd were less about what happened on the pitch than other concerns. Will we get a left footed defender? Why was the genuine quality of Ben Arfa not unleashed? Could Raylor even be the solution to our supply problems on the right?
The immediate concern must surely be to regain the early season form before what is traditionally a poor time of the year for NUFC, the Christmas holiday period as teams like Stoke are finally within touching distance. With 2 points from 15, Pardew must find his metaphorical surf board to rediscover the crest of the wave, a daunting prospect with the sharks of injury, suspension, the African Cup of Nations and the transfer window circling in close attendance.
There were positives, such as Santon showing his potential, if only as right back, and the amiable James Perch demonstrating potential to be a Premier League player under the guidance of Coloccini. Another clean sheet could be the building block for a revival in form.
Although the club have not always produced to expectation, the overriding feeling from the afternoon was that here was something that that was very right. Tributes were made to absent friends with thanks to the club for the opportunity.