Malcolm Dawson writes………the fact that those supporters in black and white were euphoric at the end, whilst those in red and white (or their free green) appeared dejected said it all really. Both sides picked up a point in the chase to catch Norwich but while we saw it as two points dropped, they celebrated like they had won the Cup. Not for the first time we started off much the better side but once again after a bright start, where we pressed high up the pitch and restricted our opponents to a few ineffective attacks, a combination of tiring legs and a nervous desire to cling on to the lead saw us drop much deeper and allow a side we had dominated to get back into the game. Van Aanholt might have had a good effort saved but don’t forget M’Vila’s goal line clearance. We could just as easily have lost this one. Pete Sixsmith was there and reports on events in his customary style.
At half time, I was considering which photograph to put on my Facebook page. Would it be Messrs. Brynner, Vaughn (Robert not David), Coburn, Bronson, Dexter (Brad, not Ted), McQueen and Bucholz? Would it be those forerunners of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – The Temperance Seven with their wonderful singer “Whispering Paul McDowell” or would it be the cover of the Enid Blyton book, “Well Done Secret Seven”?
As it happened, Aleksander Mitrovic, with a little help from Gini Wijnaldum, Dame N’Doye and De Andre Yedlin (fine English names there), made the choice unnecessary as he headed home his first goal since Tito led Yugoslavia, to give the Mags a point that they probably just about deserved but which we should never have allowed them. Forget the errors leading up to their equaliser (although it will be a long time before I can cast Yedlin’s abysmal foul throw that led to them moving forward to the memory banks) and think about the amount of play that we had in the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second. For all that control and possession, we only scored once and as we all know, that is not enough for a team who cannot keep the proverbial clean sheet.
The first half was a non-contest as we played some crisp, clear and convincing football. The defenders never looked threatened by a feeble Newcastle attack and we controlled the midfield with consummate ease. Kirchhoff turned in another outstanding 70 minutes, breaking up the opposition attacks and moving the ball on to Rodwell, M’Vila, Khazri and Borini, who used it very effectively.
Rodwell had another quietly efficient game and looked a far, far better player than Shelvey. Where Shelvey tried to boom the ball around the pitch, occasionally hitting a black and white shirt, Rodwell looked for the simple pass and made sure that it went to a Sunderland player. He could have scored early on, but Elliott made a fine save from a header that, had it been placed a yard either side of the keeper, would have put us ahead. Borini was another who had an excellent first half and tortured Colback, who was very fortunate to stay on the field. Both he and Janmaat were booked for crashing tackles on our wide players as they skipped past them almost at will.
The goal came from poor defending as Elliott pushed out a shot from Borini and Mbemba (also booked – 3 out of 4 in the defence saw yellow which tells you how much we were in control) headed it to Defoe who volleyed it in. Cue for great celebrations on Level 7 as we went in for the break. The feeling was that one more goal would see the home crowd turn on their team and we could pick them off at will.
We nearly got it when Van Aanholt forced an excellent save from Elliott, who was by far the busier keeper, but it seemed to stir the black and whites and they dragged themselves into the game. They pushed us back, Shelvey sat deeper and tried to pick us off and they took both full backs off and replaced them with midfielders.
Unfortunately, we were pushed back too far and it began to look as if we were under pressure.
The equaliser came when Yeltsin produced a throw in that Brandon and Byshottles Under 8s would have been ashamed of and from the Newcastle throw, they moved forward. The hitherto anonymous Wijnaldum skipped past a static N’Doye and produced an exquisite chip that Mitrovic headed in at the far post. He then made an arse of himself by ripping off his shirt and tripping over the obligatory portly pitch invader as the home crowd stopped thinking about how they were going to explain this one away and made a noise for the first time in the game.
So, why did we fail to win this one? Some on the bus home pointed the finger at the manager for his substitutions. Kaboul, who had had an excellent game alongside Kone, had taken a knock and seeing he is as robust as Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, he was replaced by O’Shea, who did not bring the same authority to the game. Maybe Kaboul would have challenged Mitrovic for the header and not Yedlin, a player not noted for his heading ability. Cattermole came on for an exhausted Kirchhoff, which also made sense, but the contentious one was N’Doye on for Khazri.
Khazri is another player who has found the mental intensity of the Premier League difficult. Every game is played at a ferocious pace and there is little time to think. Ligue 1 is not at all like that and that is why some French players struggle. By all means replace him but by someone with pace, not a rather lumbering centre forward. Lens might have been a better swap here or even Toivonen. But Sam likes N’Doye and on he went. He should/could have tackled Wijnaldum but didn’t and the rest, as they say, is history. The former Hull man did carry the ball out well a couple of times after that, but the damage had been done.
The result makes a Wear-Tyne derby in the Championship more, rather than less likely. Norwich winning at West Brom was not a good thing and although Palace continue to be in free fall, they will still take a lot of catching. We have the players to do it and for much of this game we looked organised and played well. But our inability to go through 90+ minutes without conceding is going to drag us down. The next two games (West Brom at home, Norwich away) are vital and a minimum of 4 points is required from them. We need to either score six in the first half or the only goal of the game in the 97th minute and even then I would be worrying that it could all go wrong.
We have a free week again next week and then the real stuff starts as the ever popular Tony Pulis brings Messrs Gardner, Sessegnon and McClean back to the Stadium of Light. That’ll be two respectful rounds of applause and a Colback like reception for one of them then.