I have to start this blog by saying what a fantastic trip Newcastle away is. They love their football up there and all of the Geordies were great to me all weekend. Great city and the stadium is smack in the middle of it which makes the trip even better. Also I don't know where Freddie Shepherd developed his beer gut in the town because I didn't see one 'dog' the whole time I was there. I wrote last week about the effects of the 5.15 kick-off time but it is a credit to Newcastle as a city and its people that I saw no trouble the whole time I was there and haven't heard of any since.
On the face of it this game looks like a non-descript 0-0 draw; not many chances or saves at either end and long passages where both teams cancelled each other out. From my perch in the gods (I'll put a picture I took up at some point) I saw an interesting game between two developing teams which probably gave both sets of supporters some encouragement, though the Geordies would doubtless claim it was two points dropped for them. Firstly both defences have to take credit for keeping out some talented attacking players. Martin Laursen was immense for us and made Mark Viduka look like the lazy lorry driver he is sometimes prone to be. Equally though Newcastle kept us at bay on the break, bar a few occasions when the final ball and finish was inches away from being perfect. Both teams were fielding midfielders as full-backs - N'Zogbia and Gardner - yet neither were badly exposed in the entire match.
This game had a competitive edge that, I suppose, reflects the characters of both managers and its in this aspect that Sam Allardyce has really made his mark on the club. Last season we played Newcastle at Villa Park on the second weekend of the season and they were abject and spiritless. Yesterday evening they scrapped and fought hard with a Villa team that, especially since Reo-Coker arrived, do not lack mettle themselves. The black and white midfield may not have been the most ambitious, I don't think Smith, Geremi and Butt broke beyond the strikers all day, but they were combative. I suppose this may be an indication of whats to come for Newcastle.
Our star performers this week were Laursen and Reo-Coker, with Gardner getting another special mention. Barry was strangely subdued in a game which, I thought, he would be head and shoulders above most other players on the pitch. This may seem like wishful thinking but he was in this kind of fixture last season. We displayed a lot of naivety as a team at times but, as I mentioned before, this team is a work in progress.
Last week I kicked up a bit of a fuss about some controversial decisions that did not go our way. Here is Steve Gerrard's reaction to them:
"These things happen and some decisions you get, some you don't. I'm sure over the season decisions will even themselves out"
And his take on Chelsea's penalty this week?
"I felt the referee didn't play well today. There was a lot of pressure from the Chelsea players and I thought he eventually cracked"
Can't say I wasn't laughing, Stevie, all we need now is it to come full circle on September 2nd when Chelsea come to Villa Park.