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Date: Sat 26th December 2001, 3.00pm.
mins A searching ball from Speed dropped nicely for Shearer, who found
himself on the right side of the Leazes area. A non-challenge from
Queudrue left wor Al with a shooting chance against the advancing Crossley,
and his first time effort bounced back off the goalie. Despite the
attentions of Southgate and Crossley, Shearer was able to poke the
ball back towards the unattended goal with his left boot, and it bounced
in and over the line. 1-0
Half time: Newcastle 1 Middlesbrough
58 mins A corner played in from
the United right found the incoming figure of Speed, although his
goalbound header was touched in by Bellamy. Both players seemed to
have a valid claim but the Welsh captain was later credited with it. 2-0
83 mins The scampering Dyer picked up the ball in midfield and
released Bellamy away down the right, in a position normally taken up by
Solano. The Welshman sent over a low cross that Shearer dummied on the
penalty spot, allowing Bernard to steal in and rifle home with
almost his first touch of the game. 3-0
Full time: Newcastle 3 Middlesbrough
gradually getting better. That's five on the trot, and it's becoming
"But I won't change my stance. I
still think we'll be there or thereabouts - but the teams below us today
who have all won just have that little bit extra depth in quality and
numbers, I think.
"We'll just chip away. There's
too much football for anybody to start talking about winning
"We've got Chelsea at home and
we've got Manchester United away - and we know we've got to go to
Liverpool and Tottenham. There are a lot of big games ahead for us."
"We gave a convincing display
from start to finish.
"We played on Saturday, and they
didn't. But we didn't show any sign of leg tiredness and mental tiredness.
"We were always looking to be
penetrative, and I think we've had a good day.
"The only wrong thing about the
day was that we were hoping that the other results might have gone for us
- and they didn't.
"All the teams - I was going to
say above us, but they're below us and I'm not used to that - have won.
"Dyer has been outstanding for
us. He's given three sterling performances in a very short time after 10
months out. He was all over the park; people couldn't live with him.
"He's a major part of the way the
team is playing. Gary Speed also gave another outstanding, big performance
Steve McClaren said:
"Newcastle were full of
confidence and very sharp, and we looked like we needed that game on
"We looked a little bit rusty to
start with. We were caught on the back foot and stayed that way
"But that's possibly one of the
best performances a team has put in against us. They're full of confidence
at the moment, playing good, flowing football - and I think they'll cause
any team problems.
"We were disappointed not just
with the result but the performance. We're better than that and we've
performed better than that in most games.
"We've been looking quite solid
defensively and today we didn't have that.
"In the Liverpool and Manchester
United games we've competed well, looked organised and have been hard to
beat - but you'll get that in a season.
"We'll get results and
performances where you think 'Heck, we're back to square one'. But it's
how you recover from those, and we have to go to Arsenal on Saturday and
"We're in the middle of what I
call a tough spell. We're in the trenches."
A Boxing Day victory over the smogs at
the 5th time of asking:
1949 Middlesbrough (h) 0-1 Div One
1953 Middlesbrough (h) 2-3 Div One
1961 Middlesbrough (h) 3-4 Div Two
1991 Middlesbrough (h) 0-1 Div Two
2001 Middlesbrough (h) 3-0 Premiership
And a first win when Mark Halsey has been the whistle-blower:
Oct 2000 Everton (h) lost 0-1
4 yellow, 0 red
Jan 2001 Chelsea (a) lost 1-3
3 yellow, 0 red
May 2001 Liverpool (a) lost 0-3
2 yellow, 0 red
Dec 2001 Middlesbrough (h) won 3-0
1 yellow, 0 red
It's That Man Again: Alan Shearer was once again in the thick of
goalscoring action against the smogs:
||(a) 2 goals
||(h) 1 goal
||(h) didn't play
||(a) 0 goals
||(h) 2 goals
||(a) 1 goal
||(h) no goals
goal friendly (a)
|| (a) 0 goals
||(h) no goals
goal league cup (a)
Our actual sequence of league wins now
extends to 5, the first time we've managed this since 1996 in the halcyon
days of Kevin Keegan (7 games from mackems (a) Sep 1996 to losing
in the 8th at Leicester in the October).
Finally, nice to see that our winning run has coincided with an
improvement in discipline (at least for rightly-awarded yellow cards). In
our 7 game unbeaten Premiership streak we've seen just 7 bookings,
compared to 15 in the previous 7 league games.
Another side to our recent revival - as
well as gaining the ability to wrest maximum points from
allegedly-intimidating away trips, we confirmed in this match that we
could emulate another one of the facets of the "entertainers" by
efficiently dispatching rubbish on our own ground.
From an entirely personal point of view, some of the most dispiriting days
in the post Keegan era have been when obviously-inferior sides have come
to toon and taken the points by dint of a superior work ethic. Don't get
me wrong however, this isn't an admission of a Manchester United-like
assumption that appearance at a home game is enough to secure the victory.
You can only become that smug by winning things.
Nobody seriously expects to win every home game, but the days when all the
pieces fitted together and 3-0 wins against Manchester United were
recorded were always followed by cowardly capitulations against the likes
of Manchester City, Everton and Charlton. Occasional inspiration was
replaced by regular outbreaks of mundanity.
Call me conceited, but to see the likes of Graham Stuart and Shaun Goater
cavorting across our turf just hacked me off to the nth degree. I'll stand
and applaud the endeavour of any quality footballers who do the business
on our park, regardless of the size of the reputation (best footballing
team at the toon this season? Troyes). I refuse to give credit to a side
who come to Tyneside, spin their trick and get away with it. Whether we
are lacking in common sense or direction that day, the fact that we're
made to look like chumps is the downer - even more so than being played
off the park by a better team.
For that reason alone then, good victories over the likes of Boro are to
be cherished. After an in and out start to the home Premiership campaign,
we've recently started to grow into our role and thankfully consigned that
last raft of "scared to play at home" stories to chip wrappings.
The lads now look like they enjoy being there, and want to please their
The boot of Boksic and a missed Nobby pen
saw the smogs triumph here last season, and to be frank they were rotten,
so what that made us is open to question.
As we said then about Newcastle:
"the current team on the pitch aren't lacking in application or
resolve, just in talent. We hammered away at the visitors in what was a
deeply dispiriting, unintelligent manner..."
Same team, different season and while Boro are as poor as before, we have taken an almighty leap forward.
It's probably timely to
remind you of the toon team in that game last season who were frankly
Given, Barton (Griffin),
Quinn, S.Caldwell, Hughes, Solano, Lee, Acuna (Cordone), Speed, Ameobi (Gallacher),
Not exactly pedigree best of show at Crufts, more Battersea Dogs home....
The passion and the commitment of the likes of Gallacher were never in
doubt (wish I could say that about Shola) but there was nowt else to write
home about, save a swish of the foot from Cort that briefly raised hopes.
Part of the problem was that injury had deprived us of quality players (Dabizas,
Shearer and Dyer of course) but also that we had no tricks and no spark of
initiative, unless the Peruvian deigned to earn his brass.
The other debilitating factor was that there was no competition for places
- them that weren't on weren't bothered (Marcelino, Glass) and the only
alternatives (LuaLua, Bassedas) were even more unpalatable than what we
had. We also ran around collectively like an asthmatic grandfather in a
school sports race.
Credit to Robson then for taking the good pieces (keeper, anchormen in
midfield) and adding to them with a mixture of the high-profile and the
cannily-acquired. The cash box lid was prized open for the Bellamy and
Robert deals, reputedly after ultimatums from the manager, while bargain
basement buys like O'Brien and the then-farmed out on loan freebie Bernard
also crept in and quietly started cementing their places in the
The key factor in our revival continues to be pace - it simply makes things
happen, both on and off the field. The opposition become unsettled, the
toon are roared on from the sidelines: never mind the sway of the terrace
throng, getting bums off seats is now the name of the game.
have six of the fastest men in the league to call on is an awesome weapon
for Bobby, and the pace of Dyer, Robert, LuaLua, Bellamy, Solano and
Bernard allows for multiple formations and arrangements. It's pleasing to
be able cheer off the likes of Dyer after another display of perpetual
motion, knowing that his replacement is limbering up to wreak havoc on
One definition of luxury is to make substitutions at
ones' leisure rather than the desperate game-chasing dice-throwing we've
resorted to in past times. Another one would be having a £10m winger who
can flit in and out of game when he feels like it, his once-a-half cameos
showing what he's capable of. Am I the only one who thinks wor Laurent is
coasting through games? Understudy Bernard is starting to put the pressure
on, with another cracking finish in this game within moments of his
In terms of prolonging the effective careers of the likes of Speed and
Shearer, our fleet-of-footedness is also a boon. Finally, pace at the back
to clear the danger (Distin) and support the attackers (Hughes) is simply
an added bonus.
So, halfway through the campaign, and so far so good. The intertoto
diversion may come back to haunt us, but I don't quite see how at this
point. We hit the ground running and haven't faltered so far for more than
the odd game, with a tolerable level of injuries for
If there is a cloud on the horizon, it's that the teams round us are
bringing in additional resource to try and secure the Champions League
qualification that is vital to their futures, if not the title. Our only
riposte to that would appear to be securing Distin and Bernard on
long-term permanent deals, and recalling loan players from Nationwide
clubs. The money box is empty apparently and we have to go with what we've
got, at least until Cameron Hall get the money for their shares and
disappear from the scene.
On a purely personal level, the pitch at Gallowgate continues to give
cause for concern, a large section having been relaid in front of the
Milburn stand, which made the equivalent strip in front of the East Stand
look even worse as it cut up. With occasional small areas of sand, it
won't take much poor weather to make this a handicap to our playing style
within a month or two.
Interesting times then, and a mightily encouraging recent series of
results backed by entertaining displays from the side. Heartening also to
see the battling never-say-die qualities coming to the fore in times of
adversity. Two more big games coming up, with some long-overdue punishment
hopefully waiting for Chelsea, and the chance to seriously test the
alleged recovery of Manchester United.
As Bobby says, we'll know a bit more about where our team can take us by
the time we line up against Palace, but the very fact we can treat the FA
Cup as a distraction from the main event rather than a means of salvaging
a season is vastly satisfying.
We may not remain competitive throughout the season in the face of the
other challengers, but while the team are in the groove, keep cheering and
Skill and enthusiasm are vital, but the confidence that players get from
being genuinely competitive is the irreplaceable ingredient in our current
upward progress. Arrogance no, belief yes.
PS - We really must now be starting to
irritate the rest of the league, with yet another goal coming after an
incident that chattering non-believers will point to as being undeserved
and verging on cheating. I refer of course to the opening goal, which the
scorer himself has already admitted handling in a roundabout way.
Coming on top of penalties given in the two away games that had anti-toon
scribes snapping their pens in exasperation, and the Speed winner against
Blackburn that was surely diverted in by the real hand of god (never mind
that phony Argie coke fiend in '86) it's payback time, big
style. Only another 20 years of dodgy decisions against us to put
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