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Sunday, March 10, 2013
Timing everything again for Toon

Kristan Heneage, St James' Park

As snow blown in over the North Sea pounded Tyneside, a fiery match ensued at St James' Park, with Newcastle coming from behind to win for the third home game in succession. The new-found spirit is something the home fans are clearly enjoying after what had been a turgid opening half to the season. It first showed itself when Rafa Benitez brought his Chelsea side up north - a game Alan Pardew struggled to find words for. While some may argue that improved confidence is the key, investing in three France internationals would improve many sides. "You get mixed up sometimes," the Newcastle boss said, stroking his recently-acquired stubble. "You talk about the spirit of a side, how you must have fantastic spirit to come from a goal down, but you need to have world class players." It was one of those world class players who helped get Newcastle back into the game. Yohan Cabaye is the fulcrum of the Toon midfield, and has the kind of precision that makes him such a danger from a dead ball. His goal wasn't without some help, though - Steven Taylor opting to mimic and stare down Asmir Begovic as he attempted to organise his wall. Prior to that, the game had been disjointed and fractious, something that favoured the visitors and their direct style of play. As the polarised tactics of both teams saw both struggle to win a significant advantage, on-field disagreements took centre stage. Papiss Cisse was chief antagonist for the home side, the Senegal frontman taking consistent umbrage with the way he was being handled by the opposition. First Geoff Cameron and then Mark Wilson felt his ire before Ryan Shawcross appeared to be slapped. Afterwards, Tony Pulis questioned just how the forward had been able to remain on the pitch. The bad feeling even spilled into the technical areas just prior to Cabaye's equaliser. The angst had been bubbling under for much of the second half. Among the verbals, football eventually broke out as Cheick Tiote naively brought down Jon Walters for a penalty. Consistently compared to Mr T for his menacing demeanour, the midfielder is testing patience with his bullish play. With Sissoko proving power does not have to be come at the cost of composure, Ivorian Tiote has struggled to live up to the first season form that saw the likes of Chelsea show a firm interest. A visibly disappointed Tiote would eventually be substituted in favour of the more creative Sylvain Marveaux. As Newcastle struggled to find a gap in the walls of red and white shirts, it fell to him to show the kind of invention Stoke are lacking. While Cisse celebrated his injury-time goal, Marveaux was congratulated by Cabaye and other team-mates, all of whom appreciated his flair. For the third home game in a row the stadium was raucous during injury time. With the fans having previously registered their dismay at the physical nature of events, Pardew had taken the opportunity to whip them up into a frenzy. As if Newcastle's supporters hadn't found enough reasons to boo their opponents, the late introductions of former Sunderland pair Kenwyne Jones and Dean Whitehead provided further opportunities. Not even registering a reaction for the returning Michael Owen, their attentions instead focused on Newcastle's North Shields-born teenager Adam Campbell - the Geordie's Premier League debut met with a cheer that is likely to stay with him for life. Pardew was delighted with the atmosphere the fans had created. "They don't know how special it is," he enthused. It's something he's keen to recreate when the Magpies host Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala in midweek - a game he was quick to turn his focus on. Having seen his side edge nine points clear of the bottom three, he said he saw them as safe. Meanwhile Stoke, with just one win in their last 12, sit in the bottom three of the league's form table. Tony Pulis felt his side lacked luck rather than quality, but they were short on the sort of diversity and craft in attack that is vital in the Premier League. With no real creativity through the centre, it was left to the team's defence to initiate attacks, with little else in the way of a Plan B. Meanwhile for Newcastle, yet more late-game heroics show what a difference indulging in the January sales can make. MAN OF THE MATCH: Mapou Yanga Mbiwa. A France international with a Ligue 1 winners' medal, the defender's class shone through. Despite not speaking English and relying on hand signals for the majority of the game, his composure and willingness to bring the ball forward suggested Newcastle have a genuine replacement for Fabricio Coloccini. NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Another home win edged the club closer to the top 10, an acceptable achievement given their poor first half of the year. With Massadio Haidara introduced late on, a battle could ensue at left-back as, once again, Davide Santon looked lacking from a defensive perspective. The club will also be keen to supplement their strikers in the summer, as relying on young Campbell cannot be a long-term strategy. STOKE VERDICT:Although Pullis has his side well drilled, a lack of tactical flexibility is a concern. Both full-backs clearly have good technical ability, but neither was encouraged to attack - meaning Stoke were bereft of numbers in the final third. Lacking in any real pace, their opportunities to break on the counter were inhibited - something the manager may wish to remedy in the summer.


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