THE TUCKSTER on Saturday’s 4-2 win against Newcastle
After last week`s mauling from Manchester City, the question would be how City would respond against a visiting Newcastle side who`d only been beaten twice in the league all season – against Man City and Chelsea.
Provided there was to be no Eastlands hangover I`d fancy us at home against anyone, no matter who it is, and the visitors had to field a much-changed defence after high profile injuries to Steven Taylor and Coloccini.
Their defence has been the bedrock of their success this season but with only a couple of injuries the thread bare nature of their squad was obvious. Paul Lambert was well aware of this when he was picking his team and decided to play both Holt and Morison against them. Surman also kept his place while Pilkington dropped to the bench with Hoolahan also starting.
The familiar diamond formation was used with a surprise start for Zak Whitbread in place of Leon Barnett and Fox playing in place of Bradley Johnson. Right from the start it was obvious City didn`t have a hangover – they played with purpose and provided the most likely source of a first goal.
The referee was Martin Atkinson, on the Champions League list apparently and he was at the centre of a poor piece of officiating when Kyle Naughton found himself on the right wing midway through the first half. Naughton put a cross into the area and for some reason Davide Santon was standing 10 yards away with his arms outstretched. The ball struck his right arm and was a clear penalty – the only three people in the stadium who didn`t see it were the officials.
The crowd let their feelings known for quite some time as Atkinson struggled with more decisions as the half went on. He didn`t endear himself to the Newcastle fans either when he ruled that Tim Krul had carried the ball over the line when making a regulation catch – TV replays show this was unlikely but they weren`t conclusive.
From the resulting Andrew Surman corner, Crofts won a free header which was blocked on the line and rebounded against Hoolahan and into the net. It was no more than City deserved.
But all the good work was undone when Cabaye chipped the ball forward over the top towards Ba. Whitbread let him go and Martin didn`t respond as Ba found himself one on one with Ruddy who had no chance.
One goal a piece at half time was not reflective of the first half but again our defensive frailties were there for all to see.
The second half started frantically and Newcastle were far better than they had been in the first. Ba could`ve done better at the back post as he shot narrowly over but it was City who struck next.
A quick short corner saw the ball crossed in and Holt met it with a firm header. Krul saved at point blank range but as the ball rebounded off him, Holt responded first to head the ball in off the bar to restore City`s lead on the hour mark.
Just four minutes later it was 3-1 as Cabaye played a loose ball to Andrew Crofts on the right of the area. The ball was crossed in to Steve Morison who buried a great header from 12 yards.
Again, it was no more than we deserved and the Newcastle defence looked as though it had never played together – which it hadn`t.
Newcastle found themselves climbing a mountain moments later when Dan Gosling made a reckless challenge on Russell Martin – the ref ran over reaching for his pocket and produced a straight red card. But things are never simple with City and on 71 minutes Zak Whitbread committed football suicide by losing the ball on the half way line. He had chances to get rid of it but found himself turning round several corners before losing it.
Ameobi quickly found Demba Ba who twisted into a shooting position and scored past Ruddy from 18 yards for a goal back. An unlikely comeback for the ten men suddenly looked possible.
This led to a nervy few minutes before Captain Holt restored the two-goal lead on 82 minutes. Hoolahan was fouled on the left in front of the River End and Bradley Johnson (on moments earlier for Surman) took the free kick into the box. Once again, Holt rose highest and headed into the top corner.
And that`s how it finished. A determined, hard-working City team won a deserved victory here. Newcastle were a wounded animal prior to this visit but Lambert took no notice – in fact he took tactical advantage. By playing the excellent Holt and Morison he decided to go for the jugular, just as we should at home.
The two City strikers terrorised the Newcastle back four all afternoon and they played together very well indeed. With the probing and prompting of Hoolahan they always had the attacking impetus and it`s no coincidence that three of the four goals came from headers – the Newcastle defence were weak in the air and we knew it. Crofts, Fox and Surman were all good in midfield and the whole team just out-worked the visitors.
Alan Pardew won`t be happy about that and moaned in his TV interview about losing three first team centre backs and “any team would struggle with that.” Welcome to Paul Lambert`s team selections – the difference being that Pardew doesn`t have a Russell Martin.
After the Liverpool draw it was said in one paper review that it was City`s best moment since returning to the top flight. I would say that this was now City`s best moment since their return to the Premier League (so far).
Holt was given the man of the match award and it was great to see the big man return to the starting line up and make a real difference. Morison was also excellent but Holt`s two goals will have sealed the award.
I have a bet with two lads at work that Holt will get ten Premier League goals – this was his fifth and sixth – so Craig and Rich if you want to just pay now, you can save yourself the inevitable embarrassment.
A fantastic game of football, a fantastic win and City move up to ninth. If we could just eradicate the defensive errors we`d really be on to something, still as long as we keep outscoring other teams, we`ll be fine – and with Holt and Morison in this sort of form we might just do that.
It was left to Alan Hansen to review the game on match of the day and he was very complimentary (for a change) – I was hoping that Alan Shearer may have more to say but he kept it short and non committal – I`d love to have heard his views on Holt`s performance after his comments that Holt didn`t look like a Premier League player.
The fact is that Holt is a Premiership player and he`s doing the business for City as he has for the last two and a half years and he`s going to win me twenty quid (again)!
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