Monday, January 05, 2004

Thirty years of hurt never stopped us dreaming

Following abysmal displays against Leicester and Blackburn over the festive period, Saturday’s superb FA Cup win over Southampton was as surprising as it was warmly welcome – not least because we hadn’t beaten the Saints on their own ground (both The Dell and St Mary’s) since 1972, having suffered some heartbreaking defeats in that time (in the ‘90s, mostly thanks to that big-nosed bane of our existence Matt Le Tissier). The manner of the victory was impressive, and the contribution of everyone in a black-and-white shirt commendable (the presence of the returning Woodgate, for instance, proved a calming influence on a previously jittery back line), but the post-match plaudits belonged to one player in particular.

Last April, in the build-up to the home league clash against Man Utd, North-East regional daily The Journal ran an article which suggested that Paul Scholes’s status as something of a sacred cow within the England team was laughable, and that Kieron Dyer was far more deserving of his shirt and position. The offending article found its way onto the Man Utd dressing-room wall, and spurred Scholes on to claim a hat-trick as the bastards tore us limb from limb on our own patch, whilst Dyer was as poor as anyone else in the Newcastle side. The difference in quality was plain to see that day. And yet, for all that, Dyer is a player in a very similar mould as Scholes – skillful and quick-thinking on the ball, tenacious in the tackle, bursting with energy to get from box to box. The one thing that really sets the two players apart, though, is finishing. Ferguson knows he can rely on Scholes to weigh in with a decent goalscoring contribution every season, whereas for all his creative promptings and forages into the opposition penalty area Dyer managed just two league goals last season, both of those coming in the 3-0 win away to Leeds. If only he could add regular goalscoring to his game, he’d be an even more valuable asset to the side. On Saturday, playing just behind Shearer, he marked his return to the first team after injury by scoring two excellent goals (the second, in particular, was a gem) and tormenting the normally composed Saints defence all evening. It was as good a display as he’s ever produced for the club. As with Robert, we desperately need him fit and scoring goals to take some of the onus from Shearer.

So, let’s hope he and the team started the year the way they mean to carry on – in fluent and incisive form.

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