Monday, May 03, 2004

Desperation plus perspiration defeats aspiration

After last weekend's fantastic victory over Chelsea, Saturday's defeat away to Man City was as disappointing as it was predictable. We'd not lost for seven games, they'd not won for seven games and they'd racked up only three Premiership wins from a total of 17 matches at their new home this season - OF COURSE it was going to be 1-0 to them.

Things started brightly enough for us, though, with Robert in particular scaring the life out of City's brittle defence with some wicked crosses and dangerous set-pieces. Several gilt-edged chances came and went and at half time, when we could have been celebrating a decent lead, we were instead left to rue the fact that, for an England U21 striker, Ameobi still needs to acquire a goalscorer's touch. Nevertheless, the game was there to be won.

It was City who came out believing they could grab all three points, though, and when Anelka evaded Bramble to flight in a cross that O'Brien missed, Wanchope slammed his header past Given and the writing was on the wall. For once, it wasn't a Woodgate-less defence that let us down (the goal aside), though admittedly they looked familiarly fragile at times. The defeat was a matter of passion and desire - quite simply, though we both needed it, they wanted it more than us. Everywhere you looked in the second half there were half-arsed lackadaisical performances - Viana, Ambrose, Robert, Ameobi... Even though we'd had the luxury of a week off between games, we looked tired and drained of energy, and in the end City comfortably outmuscled us, creating all the chances and securing the three points which have since assured their safety and which gave great delight to several Manc friends of mine, who relished the opportunity to pass comment.

Nothing's decided yet, but, when you take into account yesterday's comfortable wins for Liverpool and Villa, I can't help feeling that the sky is starting to fall in on our season. The paper-thinness of our squad is being exposed at the most critical period of the season - Dyer, Bellamy, Jenas, Bowyer, Griffin and arguably our best player Woodgate are all out for the foreseeable future, while against City Robert picked up a knock which threatens his chances of appearing against Marseille and Ameobi has blistered feet and will be rested. We finished Saturday's game with youngster Martin Brittain on the right, making his Premiership debut, and out-of-sorts striker Michael Chopra on the left wing. To say the situation is not ideal going into Thursday's second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final would be a major understatement. My fingers are still crossed, but it could be an unpleasant spectacle.

But, to return to the race for fourth, it seems ridiculous that, up until this weekend, teams like Fulham and Charlton (no offence, Inspector Sands!) could still harbour Champions' League aspirations despite having lost the same number of games that they've won. But then, as a Newcastle fan, I can scoff all I like about the travesty of having such a poor team as Villa ahead of us - the simple truth is that we've won only two games away from home all season, and have failed to score in any of our last four (not incredibly tough games, either - Spurs, Bolton, Villa and now Man City). That is fucking pathetic, and if we miss out on fourth spot then it'll be blindingly obvious where we've gone wrong.

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