St James' Park
Well it was good while it lasted. But the euphoria after the Villa game and the optimism following a gutsy result at Wolves was well and truly dampened by an opportunist Blackpool side, as Fortress St James' was finally breached. A 2-0 defeat ended a 26 game unbeaten home record, and while you could hardly call it a disaster, not least being on the anniversary of '9/11', there was plenty to ponder for Chris Hughton and the near-50,000 supporters in attendance.
It hardly seems fair to criticise the starting eleven in black and white for showing complacency, because off the back of two decent results, it seemed like most supporters expected victory to be a mere formality and the margin of defeat to be the only uncertainty. Or perhaps also, which of the new recruits would get a nice cameo.
As it was, in reality the game was there for Newcastle Utd to win against a plucky and tidy outfit. And yet, they never got started in the first half. What ensued was a slightly disjointed affair, particularly the home side being guilty of not retaining possession all too often.
Both sides certainly had a couple of chances in the first 45 minutes though and Joey Barton may have felt obliged to buy Steve Harper a pint, after his sloppy pass led to a double chance for DJ Campbell and Brett Ormerod on 12 minutes. Although usually criticised for his laidback approach to closing down the oncoming striker, Harper was more than a match on this occasion and produced two great instinctive saves.
With Smith and especially Barton below par, Newcastle struggled to get into any kind of flow but they did fashion an opportunity on 25 minutes, when Williamson hit the post with a looping header. It was Blackpool who looked the more assured side with the ball though and they had the ball in the back of the net, only to see Campbell's effort ruled offside. Nolan also coming close at the other end but shooting weakly into the onrushing Gilks.
Both teams would undoubtedly have been happy enough to go into the break at 0-0 but Luke Varney danced his way through the box and Smith managed his most noteworthy contribution of the afternoon with a tentative toe at the ball. With Varney already appearing to be veering off balance, it was all the loanee needed and his tumble appeared to be an easy decision for woeful referee Lee Mason. Up stepped Charlie Adam, to add to his sprightly first half performance with a confident conversion to make it 1-0, so crucially close to halftime.
As expected, there were no changes for the second half, and Blackpool set out a predictable stall to see out the 1-0 win, with half an eye on the counter attack. And that inevitably invited Newcastle to pound on the door for most of the second half looking for a way back into the game.
And yet despite two outstanding saved from goalkeeper Gilks, most supporters in the home sections seemed to sense this was just going to be a bad day at the office. Joey Barton came to life for a short spell and arguably his was the best chance of all but his shot was at a good height for the keeper to make a tidy save.
Other chances fell to Andy Carroll and Peter Lovenkrands (on for Alan Smith) and Wayne Routledge but realistically there should have been more chances and far too often the cutting edge was missing and the final ball a poor offering. Even the introduction of Ameobi and new signing Ben Arfa failed to pay dividends, although the Frenchman looked keen and showed some glimpses of what the supporters had hoped for, but despite his good movement and touches on the ball, his options were limited as they had been all game for anyone on the ball.
And as per the script, Blackpool countered with the Newcastle side almost entirely committed to a late dead ball. Charlie Adam did well to find Campbell, who was closed down belatedly but still managed to find space to get off a curling left footer into the far corner to finish the game off.
Criticism will perhaps come the way of Hughton, who had gone public with his conviction that he would be prepared to drop his established players and mix things up, if he thought it was for the good of the team. Which was reassuring to hear but seemed like an empty gesture when he named an unchanged side of 4-5-1. Of course, following two good results, arguably this was logical in some respects, but there is no doubt the home supporters were hoping for some more attacking verve against a team that were eminently beatable with home advantage, with all due respect to Holloway and his side.
And while it's never palatable to single out individuals for too much criticism, Perch was given a torrid time once again, his yellow card a result of obvious frustration at his own game and not just with the mood of the game as a whole.
Alan Smith too, offered very little when not breaking up the game in the manner that is expected of his role. Joey Barton was busy in spells but with the high standards he has set himself so far, was disappointing in a game he could and should have bossed.
Gutierrez and Routledge did not deliver or create in the way wide players are supposed to do, although the latter was certainly less wasteful.
And when wide players are not producing, you can only hope for a forward or someone playing off the lone striker to run into the channels. Kevin Nolan has an ability to be in the right place at the right time. But his lack of pace and urgency was a standout disappointment yesterday. He's not someone who can run those channels and even then, when nonetheless faced with good opportunities he was wasteful.
Even fans' man Jose Enrique had a day to forget. Realistically, as one erudite (and more 'mature') fellow supporter put it while buying me a pint to commiserate, it was a result to take on the chin and move on to the next one. But Hughton, the team and anyone who was not already aware, will now see that chances can't be wasted at this level and mistakes will be capitalised on. Yes, Blackpool were promoted last season but they have upped their game. Newcastle need to remember that and not slip into any form of complacency.
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