Some 16 months after moving from Colchester to Newcastle, it's fair to say that Lomana Tresor Lua Lua
is only now beginning to adjust to life in the Premiership.
Whether it was the alleged interest of a number of other top-flight clubs in the
talented youngster, or glimpses of his trickery on the late-night Nationwide roundup,
the feeling on Tyneside was that the Magpies had pulled off something of a coup.
However, after a couple of cameo substitute appearances in away games, when tiring
defences allowed Lomana to strut his stuff in a manner that had the travelling
toon fans rubbing their eyes, things went a little quiet for the lad.
When injuries to first-choice forwards Cort and Shearer presented us with a problem
up front it rapidly became clear that expecting Lomana to lead the forward line was
However that's not to undermine his efforts, especially on a deeply
dispiriting day at Arsenal when played as a sole striker in a 0-5 reverse.
Lomana then became a regular fixture in the reserve side only for his initial
second-string strike partner Shola Ameobi to be promoted to the first team, leaving
Lua Lua to carry the goalscoring burden for the reserves.
For those Newcastle fans who regularly watch the reserves at the exposed setting
of the Kingston Park rugby ground, the ability of Lomana was never in doubt, but
his inability to bring colleagues into the game and attempt marathon dribbles continued
to vex and frustrate. Bobby Robson, a perennial attender at these games, took note.
Much-maligned as the Intertoto Cup is, the chance to play a series of competitive
games before our Premiership campaign has provided Newcastle with a great platform
from which to enjoy their most memorable season since the days of Kevin Keegan.
With no pressure on them, but the usual great support from the Tyneside public,
encouraging displays against the Belgians of Lokeren, 1860 Munich and the little-known
but talented Frenchmen of Troyes saw us start the league season in good heart. We
didn't claim a UEFA Cup place, but scored 15 times in 6 games, and crucially Lomana
bagged two of them.
His first strike was an acrobatic bicycle kick to seal a 4-0 victory in Belgium, while to
the great delight of a competition-record crowd of almost 37,000 in St. James' Park,
he converted from a tight angle after robbing a defender on the edge of the Munich area.
From that time on, Lomana seemed to gain in confidence after justifying his place in
the first-team squad, and although he didn't have a starting berth in the side, his
future looked a lot brighter than barely a month before. Having now enjoyed the adulation
of the Tyneside public at first-hand, the penny had dropped.
Two other significant events also occured in on the eve of the season: firstly the
departure of former U's boss Mick Wadsworth from Newcastle, where he had been
first team coach. Opinions vary, but it's beyond doubt that the mood in the camp
was lightened considerably, and Lomana was one of number of players who blossomed
in the following months. Colchester fans may have their own theories to explain this.
Just as importantly was the experiment by Newcastle reserve coach Tommy Craig in
playing LuaLua as a winger in a number of early-season games. Initially suggested by
Robson following his summer purchase of striker Craig Bellamy, this strategy seemed
to bring out the best in Lomana, allowing him to indulge in his penchant for skipping
past defenders while still playing a useful and effective role for the team.
Now having just celebrated his 21st birthday, all rumours of disenchantment at his
career at Newcastle have finally been banished, and Lomana is acknowledged as a
vital piece of Bobby Robson's attack-minded team alongside the expensively-acquired
Bellamy and Robert. He may not be a regular starter, but is earning a reputation as
something of a super sub. No longer totally intent on winning games himself, he's
tempered his attacking instincts with some responsibility and dare one say, maturity.
For those U's fans who take an interest in Premiership matters, the sight of a familiar
diminutive figure playing a defence-splitting pass to set up the goal that sealed victory
at Higbury just before Christmas may have brought a contented smile. It may have taken
some time, but the lad from the Congo via Essex is now making his name in the North-East.
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