Lightning strikes twice!
St James' Park
A lightning fast Aaron Lennon ensured that lightning struck twice in under a week as Tottenham took a share of the spoils, and Newcastle again managed to throw away two points in the dying seconds of a pulsating game.
But as with the previous encounter against the unwashed, this was a game full of positives on reflection. The nature of the result inevitably had supporters blinking in disbelief and asking questions as to why we couldn't hold onto a lead until the end. It again felt like a defeat having come so close to victory.
But given the circumstances it could have been a whole lot worse, and many would have gladly taken a point before the start. Especially, as we were forced to start another game without the influential Tiote and the prolific Andy Carroll. Add to that, Dan Gosling having encountered a setback in his recovery, Alan Smith's long term injury and Steven Taylor's new problems, we were really stretched for quality.
And yet despite that adversity, the squad that Pardew put out, more than did themselves proud. Danny Guthrie came in for Alan Smith, as expected and otherwise it was the same side that turned out against the mackems.
As expected, Tottenham played their intelligent and effective possession football and looked dangerous until the final third but as they have suffered all season, couldn't turn that into real clear cut chances. If anything, we looked the more likely to score on the counter attack and Leon Best hit the bar after good work from Gutierrez and a great cross from Enrique. At the other end, Harper did well to save Defoe's shot from point blank range, after a clever flick from Van der Vaart.
The early replacement of Bale to injury, saw Bassong fill in at left back and share the dogs abuse from the home supporters with the returning Jermaine Jenas. And Bale's absence was a notable bonus, restricing the attacking influence of their left side. With Enrique dealing well with Lennon and Coloccini again in superb form, defensively we looked solid but needed to get hold of the ball to doing anything other than frustrate the opposition.
And after coming back out for the second half at 0-0, Pardew's changes gave the home side a different look. Joey Barton tucked inside to help out Noland and Guthrie, while Leon Best did Barton's shift on the right, if slightly more advanced. And that seemed to do the trick, crowding out the midfield and stifling their play.
Despite going to a 4-5-1, the changes didn't really hamper our attacking play. And we reaped the rewards when a deep ball from Guthrie was controlled brilliantly on the chest by Coloccini, the Argentinian stepping inside Hutton and volleying in one movement and watching his powerful shot only parried into the bottom corner by Cudicini to make it 1-0.
Best was replaced by Lovenkrands shortly after, presumably Pardew seeing the Dane as a more versatile option out wide and he should have scored after an almost perfect through ball from Barton. Lovenkrands always seemed too far ahead of it and when finally he struck he had defender and goalkeeper to deal with and his shot came back off the advancing Cudicini.
Guthrie went off with what looked like a knee injury and with limited options on the bench, James Perch was asked to do a job in the middle. With Shola dead on his feet, the ball kept coming back too easily and we began to lose shape and the visitors sensed a chance to get back into it. But despite Harper needing to brilliant deny Lennon from close range, and Modric rattling the bar, the home side defended valiantly.
Shola eventually made way for Nile Ranger, and as in previous home games, his pace and enthusiasm were a balm to supporters. And it was the subsitute who could have put the game beyond doubt, outpacing and manouveruing Dawson and choosing to stand up after being tugged by the centre half, only to then choose the difficult option and shoot across goal and out of play.
With both Kranjcar and Crouch on the pitch, Redknapp had signalled his intentions but to no apparent avail with the home side looking determined to hang on, throwing themselves into challenge after challenge. And so it was the cruel twist of fate, ironically involving a number of otherwise black and white heroes that undid all of their own hard work.
Breaking away in the centre of the park, Barton's instincts told him to go for the jugular while experience no doubt told him to run the ball down in the corner. Nile Ranger's direct run made his mind up for him and his underhit through ball was cut out by Dawson and launched to the other end of the pitch. A flick on from Crouch found Defoe, who in turn found Lennon to his left. And this time the right winger, having cut inside Simpson and Willamson, gave Harper no chance. Cue pandemonium in Level 7 behind the goal and utter despair everywhere else.
Looking back at it, Barton, Simpson and Williamson will all think they could have prevented the goal. But the truth is, they put a bloody good shift in and it was a good goal by a talented player, playing in an in-form side. Being overly-critical in the circumstance doesn't seem fair.
Alan Pardew as well, might reflect on a potentially ill-advised move to ship out a number of players without any additions. Particularly in light of some badly-timed injuries and suspensions. Thus leavig him short of options and forcing him into playing players out of position and in unfamiliar roles. Although it would be interesting to understand why Sol Campbell didn't make an appearance, if he was fit enough to be involved at all. After all, he's made a career out of seeing out a victory.
All in all, we've got to be happy as supporters that we picked up another valuable point against strong opposition but undoubtedly the late equaliser was tough to take. Pardew needs to add some quality to the squad and to ensure that we have the players with the ability and mentality to pick up precious points in a topsy turvy season.