Date:Sunday October 3 2010
City of Manchester Stadium
The most expensively assembled side in the world struggled to overturn a combative and determined Utd side but with a little help from their friend in the middle, and a cracking goal from a fellow Mag of all people, the 2-1 result in City's favour is nonetheless what matters most in the headlines.
That Newcastle could be considered a rag-tag team, as was suggested by a neutral observer, is perhaps pushing it, given that several of those on the field were purchased for £5m+ fees. However, the stark reality is that those fees are dwarfed by the money spent on the squad at Roberto Mancini's disposal. Where once Newcastle Utd sat proudly as big spenders at the top table, so those tables have turned. And yet, the gulf in class was not as obvious as one might think. In fact, as it turned out, it took bad officiating to really settle the match.
Referee Martin Atkinson is actually a fairly decent official generally but he had a stinker today. When De Jong literally snapped Hatem Ben Arfa in half in the first few minutes, any discipline may have seemed harsh particularly to a neutral, given that the Dutchman got the ball. But the manner of the tackle and the trailing leg which essentially did the damage, is part and parcel of his game and the reputation that precedes him.
With Newcastle's most potent striking option on his way to hospital, they still took the game to their hosts. But Atkinson was about the drop the first of two clangers which ultimately proved to be the real difference between the sides. Williamson's last ditch tackle was close but the defender clearly got the ball first. Atkinson may have been badly sighted but chose not to confer with his assistant and awarded a penalty, which Tevez converted to make it 1-0.
But that scoreline changed quickly when good work from Gutierrez saw the Argentine drive powerfully into the box before picking up a loose ball from his own pass, before smashing the equaliser off the underside of the bar.
Newcastle were then forced into a change at the back with Coloccini picking up a groin injury. Sol Campbell came on as his replacement and acquitted himself well in his first league start as a Magpie of the North Easterly variety.
The second half saw a swing in dominance from visitors to hosts and Manicini mixed things up by bringing on Adebayor who proved to be a handful. But it was the next substitution which saw Newcastle supporter, Adam Johnson arrive in timely fashion to glide between two defenders and slot the ball into the bottom of Krul's net to seal the victory.
Having started with his top scorer on the bench and Shola Ameobi in replacement, Hughton threw on Andy Carroll in place of the struggling Nolan. But it was Ameobi who was to be denied a stonewall penalty when he turned cutely in the box, only to be clearly tripped by the backtracking Lescott. Atkinson's decision to wave play on summed up his contribution for the afternoon.
With both sides playing a 4-5-1, it was probably not surprising to see the midfield dominate, and yet it was an entertaining game. Hughton will have been disappointed that more clear cut chances weren't created and the possession wasn't turned into more goals in the first half. But that is an implication of the more compact formation he has preferred so far.
A narrow defeat to genuine title-contenders is something that most fans may have accepted more readily at the start of the season. But despite disappointing results against Blackpool and Stoke there has been much promise of better things than dared be expected going into the game. But the manner of the defeat is what will cut deepest, even given the valiant and admirable approach to the game. Though several players can take heart from impressive displays, not least those in the engine room, Joey Barton and Cheik Tiote, who both put in good shifts and showed an improved understanding.
However, Hughton must ponder the future without potentially his most potent attacking force and the fans without an exciting player that had really caught the imagination and promised much more to come. Perhaps also the near future without a success story of last year, Coloccini, who has brought his good form into the Premiership. While three points are important, the injuries sustained in defeat could well prove to be the biggest cost of the day.
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Date:Sunday October 3 2010
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