It’s unforgiving, football. A bright start to the game by the home side saw a glorious chance created, missed, and before you know it the away side scores and smoothly takes control of a game whose outcome was anyone’s guess before kick-off. Ruthless stuff.
We are of course referring to last week’s victory for Hull City AFC at Cardiff. But we could equally have alluded to yesterday’s loss to Newcastle. We cannot grumble too much at the roles being so exactly mirrored just seven days later. We reaped the rewards of taking the first chance of a tight game last week; we were punished for not doing so yesterday. Them’s the breaks…
The mood before the game was a buoyant one. With thirty points already amassed and Wembley just ninety minutes away, why wouldn’t it be? To little surprise, Steve Bruce picked the same side that overpowered Cardiff in Wales last week, deploying his troops thus: McGregor; Elmohamady, Davies, Bruce, Figueroa, Rosenior; Meyler, Huddlestone, Livermore; Long, Jelavić.
On the bench for City were Harper, Chester, Quinn, Koren, Boyd, Sagbo and Aluko – the first of these being a notable former Newcastle player, who was lustily hailed in song throughout.
City began attacking the North Stand, split between City and Newcastle fans, and the game started brightly with both sides evidently prepared to commit men forward in attack. Chances were created regularly in the first half. The first serious attempt on goal came when Yoan Gouffran whacked a shot from the edge of the penalty area narrowly over.
Just nine minutes in, and the game’s defining 30 seconds. A Tom Huddlestone free-kick was bullishly met by Alex Bruce, whose header was too much for Tim Krul to gather. The rebound fell to Bruce, with the keeper on the floor, and already some were clearing their throats for a roar of triumph…
Look, we shan’t be citing ill fortune in this despatch. You make your own luck and it roughly evens out over time. But we may make one exception: why, oh why, couldn’t the rebound have fallen to just about anyone else in black and amber? Alex Bruce, for his various attributes, is not a finisher. Despite having probably 90% of the goal to aim for and only a turf-prone keeper to avoid, he somehow picked out Krul.
Instantly we trailed, in one of those glorious manifestations of TypicalCity we teeth-clenchingly affect to adore. Newcastle sprang forward, Loïc Rémy fed Debuchy on the right, his clever cross cut the ball back to Moussa Sissoko, who finished superbly. From what should have been 1-0 to 0-1 in a galling half-minute.
That badly winded City, who took fully ten minutes to re-enter the game – stronger sides than Newcastle may have ended the game during this period of groggy bewilderment, but to offer credit to our deflated side, they did eventually rouse themselves, and eventually began to enjoy what would be our best period of the game.
It was a period that brought chances too. Nikica Jelavić fastened onto an Elmohamady cross and ought to have scored; the ball went wide. Jelavić then directed a free-kick from about 22 yards onto Krul’s crossbar, then Elmohamady wastefully headed a Long cross wide.
Two great chances and a piece of skill from Jelavić, any of which could (should?) have levelled the game. Nonetheless, with half-time approaching and City looking impressive as an attacking force, there was no reason to suppose the second half couldn’t bring about an improvement in our fortunes.
On 43 minutes, Maynor Figueroa played a horrendously underhit backpass to McGregor from close to the halfway line, allowing Rémy to steal in and coolly beat the City keeper to make it 2-0. And that felt rather like game over. A ghastly self-inflicted blow.
Neither side made any changes at the break, and far from consolidating their lead for a while, Newcastle let City back in almost immediately. Another beastly Huddlestone free-kick (these have just got better and better all season) was met by somehow-not-England’s Curtis Davies, ahead of Krul, and headed in. 1-2, game on.
The mood in the stadium changed – where it was previously resigned, suddenly a point was achievable. To be fair to Newcastle, they sensed this too and halted their previous openness, seeking to slow the game down. And on 55 minutes, the game was once more taken from us.
Or rather, given away. City coughed up possession on the halfway line and, a little exposed at the back, had to deal with a break of ferocious pace from Newcastle. It culminated in Gouffran having a shot that McGregor maybe ought to have held, but Sissoko was on hand to sweep it in. 1-3. Gah.
This brought about probably the most impressive period that either side effected all afternoon, as Newcastle very effectively destroyed the game. The pace was slowed, men were put behind the ball and everything was calculated to deny City the chance to get back into it. The seamier side of the game wasn’t even in evidence, it was just a masterclass in how to deprive your opponents of momentum.
Steve Bruce withdrew Figueroa and Livermore for Aluko and Koren in the 62nd minute, but that failed to make much difference, though Koren did at least look refreshingly energetic. Indeed, the most notable thing to occur midway through the second half was Alan Pardew being sent to the stands by referee Kevin Friend.
At the opposite side of the ground to us, discerning events at the time wasn’t easy; indeed, it looked uncomfortably as though David Meyler had squared up to Pardew, so it was something of a surprise when the Newcastle manager was dismissed.
This being 2014 and City being in the Premier League, you never need to wait long for clarification of events during the game, and quickly we learned that Pardew had attempted to headbutt Meyler. Well, he’s lucky it was David Meyler and not, say Ian Ashbee; and he’s equally fortunate that no sensible judge has ever mistaken Alan Pardew for a man possessing any class, so his reputation ought to be unchanged.
The game lumbered on. The City and Newcastle fans swapped pleasantries, the latter thoughtfully chanting our nickname for us, before pointing out that we’re “not City any more”. Not a statement that stands up to a rigorous factual analysis, but a grisly reminder of the torrent of mockery we shall have to endure next season should our owner’s diabolical plan come to fruition.
In injury time, a fourth goal arrived for Newcastle to make the scoreline look a little unfair. Something familiar about it too, a McGregor save from a Dummett shot falling to a Newcastle player first – Anita this time, and we were to lose 1-4.
A bit harsh. Few could contest that Newcastle were the better side, however. They took their chances throughout the game, reacted to loose balls so much more quickly and took the game away from us in clinical fashion at 1-3.
However, City were at least not short on effort, if a little lacking in execution throughout, and to lose by three goals wasn’t something deserved. However, we shouldn’t be too morose. Safety is very much in our own hands still – and a week from today, we have the biggest game of the season to look forward to.