Three points for under-par Newcastle

Posted by Marc Duffy

We might not be playing well at the moment, but at least we are picking up points. We were slightly improved today but we couldn't have been worse than we were in the first half at Everton or most of the game against Villa.

Chris Hughton's return to St James' Park was low key. Early in the game the Gallowgate End sang a rendition of "There's only one Chrissy Hughton" but when the ex-Newcastle gaffa failed to acknowledge it, it died out and wasn't repeated. Just as well really - I am very fond of Chris and always will be, but the past is the past.

Norwich had the first chance of the game when a Hoolahan diving header was deflected wide by Williamson. I am often critical of Williamson but he was much improved today in comparison to his showing in Portugal on Thursday night.

Though the early stages were interesting, neither side displayed a great deal of quality until the 20th minute. Hatem Ben Arfa slipped a great ball through to Demba Ba who went clean through on goal and finished easily passed Ruddy. Three goals in 61 minutes of Premier League football for wor Demba.

Moments before that we made our first tactical switch and reverted to something that we should have started with - James Perch moved from right back to centre midfield swapping with Vurnon Anita. Both players looked more comfortable after the swap and the team looked more solid for it.

Our best spell of the game came after the goal. Santon was regularly overlapping on the left and Cabaye had a snap-shot that he didn't strike well which drifted wide of the post. Cabaye was heavily involved during this period but his end product was generally very poor - as well as the miscued shot he failed to take a lofted through ball and also missed a header from an Anita cross. All of these were difficult chances, but I would expect a highly rated international footballer to have made more of at least one of them. He played one superb cross-field ball before another chance fell to him. Cisse miscued a half chance and the ball came to Cabaye who missed the target with a left foot shot. Amongst all of this Williamson cleared a Norwich chance off the line as the game occasionally served up some end-to-end football.

Cisse fired a left foot swinger high into the Gallowgate as he continued to look totally out of sorts. We had quite a few half chances including a through ball from Ben Arfa to Ba which the Senegalese striker failed to read.

Just before half time we were given a penalty for an absolutely ridiculous, needless push on Williamson. Hatem picked up the ball and went to place it on the spot. Demba Ba had a word and then Jonas intervened offering the penalty to Cisse. When these things happen the outcome is inevitable. Cisse blasted a Chris-Waddle-Italia-90 penalty high, wide and into the stands. Cisse visibly wilted (and his body language had been poor enough before that) whilst John Carver went absolutely bezerk on the touchline. There is no room for sentiment at 1 v 0.

Early in the second half a slick Norwich move ended with a great save from Harper who was very quick off his line. It was a very similar chance to the one from which Demba scored. Ben Arfa then struck a great shot that was well saved by Ruddy. Taylor headed the resulting corner wide.

The game dished up more end-to-end football. Perch broke from midfield and played a diagonal ball to Cisse who shot weakly, straight at Ruddy. Cisse's involvement in the game came to an end on 69 after an Anita cross landed on his head only seven yards from goal. His poor header turned out to be his final touch and Obertan came on to replace him. Cisse's form is a concern but he has to be allowed to play himself out of it.

Tiote made a return to action on 75 and was involved in a lovely move that should have wrapped up the game for us. A passage of play that included a Ben Arfa back-heel, Tiote, a Cabaye through ball and Demba Ba going through on goal ended up with an easy save for Ruddy. Tiote was booked too, obviously.

Perch and Williamson were two of our best performers with Neil Swarbrick (the referee) being Norwich's stand out helper. He allowed Michael Turner to do pretty much whatever he wanted to Demba Ba all afternoon.

All in all Norwich were very unlucky to leave with nothing, but I'm not complaining. Rumours have it that Chris Hughton is already under pressure down there. Based on this performance they would be crazy to sack him. If we are collecting points whilst playing poorly then we will have a great base to build on when our form eventually arrives. Steve Harper ordering a ball boy to slow things down late in the game indicates how fine a thread our lead hung by.

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