Less than 24 hours after our Champions League exit and I had the chance to re-visit a recent nightmare. Our reserves were playing at St James’ Park and seeing as I work in Newcastle City Centre it would have been foolish to pass up such an opportunity.
I set off from work just after 6 o’clock (7pm Kickoff) in hunt for a space somewhere near to the ground. I ended up parking right outside of the East Stand just before 6:30 and thanks to Newcastle Councils promotion, I parked for free. Nice start to the evening given most premiership away days can carry a charge of up to £10 to park. So I had time to grab a cheeky pint before the game with a couple of the lads and obviosuly they wanted to talk about Barcelona, that conversation didn't last too long. We decided to leave the bar 2 minutes before kickoff and we made it to our seats just as the game got underway. No level 7 nonsense today, I was larging it in a seat where I could see every players shirt number, hear them speak and most of all not get distracted by aeroplanes.
Newcastle lined up with 3 members of the 1st team squad in their line up. Tim Krul, Danny Guthrie (Captain) and Shefki Kuqi. For Arsenal I had half hoped Aaron Ramsey would play, given his lack of match practice but it wasn’t to be. Instead Conor Henderson and Ignasi Miquel who had played at The Emirates 7 days earlier were the most notable of names in our side. Newcastle started well and had us on the back foot from the off and their efforts were rewarded when they got a dubious penalty for a foul on Kuqi. A ball was floated into the box and both Boateng and Kuqi went for it and the ref spotted a foul and pointed to the spot, a major case of deja vu. Kuqi imposed his seniority on the side and placed the ball 12 yards from goal. He took a slow run up and nonchalantly tried to place the ball along the floor to Sean McDermotts right. Unfortunately for Kuqi, McDermott guessed right and made him look like a bit of a fool. Newcastle weren’t to be denied though, as our defence were at 6’s and 7’s moments later and Greg McDermott received the ball in tons of space in the box and neatly finished giving the keeper no chance. 1-0 Newcastle. At this moment a fan approx. 10 rows in front of me, decided to take his jacket off and reveal the Arsenal shirt. To say he was given some abuse doesn’t do it justice. Constant choruses of 4-0 and you fucked it up aired regularly from there on in. Apparently there’s a DVD of it on sale somewhere. Thankfully our players bucked their ideas up, probably fearing the hairdryer treatment from Neil Banfield. Rhys Murphy raced clear but the angle worked against him and Krul saved well with his feet. Miquel then had a chance from a corner, Newcastle failed to clear and Miquel flicked the ball over his head (Pele Esq.) and struck a volley straight at Krul from 6 yards. This was beginning to feel like watching the 1st team. HT 1-0.
We restarted the game extremely poorly, McDermott came to claim a cross only for Kuqi to beat him to it, his header looped high in the air and thankfully bounced 3 yards wide of the goal. A huge let off. We then began to impose ourselves on the game again. We were starting to find space but frequently chose the wrong option until Tom Cruise whipped in a ball from the byline and Josh Rees scrambled home from close range. 1-1. Soon after Luke Freeman weaved his way into the box and with options galore in terms of team mates queuing up to tap in, he lashed the ball well wide. Then the save of the game, Rhys Murphy was through and this time he had a more favourable angle. He opted to go for the top corner and as he hit it across Krul, he spectacularly tipped the ball over the bar. We had another couple of half chances but failed to turn possession into goals. Newcastle then got a sight of goal again, Richardson rounded the advancing McDermott and with the goal gapping he shot at goal only for Miquel to race back and clear off the line. Then disaster, a huge mix up at right back saw Rees and Hajrovic collide deep inside our own half, Richardson whipped in a brilliant ball right across the 6 yard line and Philip Airey headed home in the 91st minute winner. 2-1 FT. How on earth had we managed to lose this game?
I was hugely impressed with Miquel. Not only was he first class on the night, he showed leadership qualities and the team responded to them. Another note is that he had played in both 1st team games versus Leyton Orient, it would be quite easy to think that you are above reserve fixtures but he applied himself well and he was our MOTM by a mile. It’s no surprise AW doesn’t want to dive into the transfer market because this kid might be the real deal. We could soon see a Bartley and Miquel partnership.
I was looking forward to seeing Henderson play. He was steady against Orient but he played within himself due to the occasion and where Miquel excelled, Conor lacked. He never influenced the game as much he would have liked. Maybe the instant reintroduction to the reserves had hindered his confidence. He tried difficult passes which often went astray and he was lucky not to get subbed.
Not only was he our goal scorer but he was a constant threat throughout. His finishing seemed assured and but for Krul making a couple of good saves he would have had more. I think our midfielders need to have an eye for goal and this lad seems to have it.
According to the local papers the following day he wants to compete for a 1st team place. Well I think Newcastle might want to let this one go. He was dreadful. Aneke had him constantly chasing shadows and Guthrie seemed intent on taking every set piece, corner and throw in. Newcastle improved dramatically when he left the field.
All in all this was a quality night out. 2500 attended the game, thanks to the free admission. There were no ego pumped officials or overpaid players, it was just a good honest match. It felt a bit like I hadn’t seen a real game of football in a while. Where were the rants towards players calling questioning their commitment and ability. Where were the demands that wenger buys immediately and most of all where the fans fleeing for the exits with 5 minutes to go? Usually things like that annoy me at the game but they weren’t evident today. However, one thing that couldn't be denied, we had lacked the killer instinct again. It seems like the 1st team mentality may have filtered throughout the club.