Saturday, 10 December 2016

Newcastle United 4 v Birmingham City 0 - EFL Championship

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Saturday 10th December 2016
SktBet EFL Championship
at St James' Park
Newcastle United (2) 4
Dwight Gayle 18, 24, 77, Yoan Gouffran 47
Birmingham City (0) 0
Admission £27. Programme £3.
Attendance 52,145 (inc. 3,100 in sold out away section)
Newcastle United:
Karl Darlow, Vurnon Anita, Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, Paul Dummett, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden (Achraf Lazaar 81), Matt Ritchie, Mohamed Diame, Yoan Gouffran (Christian Atsu 71), Dwight Gayle (Aleksandar Mitrovic 78).
Unused subs - Matz Sels, DeAndre Yedlin, Chancel Mbemba, Cheick Tiote.
Birmingham City:
Tomasz Kuszczak, Ryan Shotton, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Michael Morrison, Jonathan Grounds, Robert Tesche (Maikel Kieftenbeld 46), Stephen Gleeson, David Cotterill (Corey O’Keeffe 74), Greg Stewart (Lukas Jutkiewicz 46), Che Adams, Clayton Donaldson.
Unused subs - Adam Legzdins, Paul Robinson, Viv Solomon-Otabor, Reece Brown
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Having driven up to my departure station: Doncaster, I was met by a swarm of people who, despite being old enough to know much better, were swarming around the forecourt, blinded by the compelling urge to overspend, dressed almost to a man in badly fitting Christmas jumpers and Santa hats, while aimlessly crashing and careering around in circles, colliding with anyone and everyone, whilst seemingly bereft of any kind of social etiquette or spatial awareness whatsoever.
Seemingly it was an alien concept to this throng of ill mannered neanderthals, that anybody might actually be heading in the opposite direction, i.e. away from the shops.
There was only one option, if I was to get anywhere near my destination in time for kick off, so I piled in head first, like a salmon swimming against a strong current and fought my way towards the platforms, while the Markham Main Colliery Band tucked into a corner, belted out "God bless ye merry gentlemen".
Tidings of comfort and joy!? Bah, humbug!?
The Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge and Victor Meldrew make up the effing Glee Club compared to me in the run up to Xmas.
Roll on January, I say!
An octogenarian gentleman stood on Platform Four remarked to his friend: "Of course, it's different to back in our day, when we had steam trains. These modern trains are so much faster and if you stand near to the edge of the platform, you're likely to get sucked off!"
I stood near to the edge of the platform in eager anticipation, but nothing exciting happened.
The trainspotters who must live on 'Donny' station, were out and about in good numbers.
What sort of an  existence is theirs? I ask you!
Festooned in rare train badges, taking photos of everything that their hobby encompasses, ticking lists of where they have been, collecting endless railway memorabilia, urgently seeking out timetable brochures and pamphlets, wherever they visit and scribbling fastidiously into their notebooks all of the times, dates, places and train numbers, with meticulous detail.
I put my hand into my anorak pocket and discovered: last night's match programme, a team sheet detailed with the attendance, goal times and scorers names, a  new Collingham FC badge to add to my collection, a notebook full of match details, four pens and a spare battery for my camera. Thankfully there were still a few blank pages in my pad, so I began to jot down a few preamble notes about Newcastle United v Birmingham City for use on this very blog, but quickly put the book back, when I became aware of the disdainful stares that I was attracting.
I wouldn't want anybody to think that my full, eventful and incident packed life could be mistaken for the sad lad existence led by these enthusiasts and cheese rangers, who have let their hobby become an all consuming obsession.
I quickly tweeted about attending my one hundred and second game of the season so far and then joined the scrum of bodies fighting to get near the doors of the Newcastle bound train that was pulling in.
Lord help anyone who needed to alight here.
The northbound train was packed to capacity (standing room only) due to a seriously over the top double booking for seat tickets phuck up... and a couple of hundred passengers bound for York being told to "Get on this one and sit anywhere, we've scrapped seat reservations for today!" because their original train had been cancelled.
But, we pragmatic and tolerant English folk, just respond to this kind of thing with a stiff upper lip and some good old gallows humour.
Complaining is for the moaning Myrtles of this world, isn't it!?
But unless people start to register their dissatisfaction with the nations train operating companies (and they are all pretty much the same people with differently liveried rolling stock), then this kind of severely overcrowded potential death trap on wheels type of scenario will continue to happen on trains all over the country at peak travel times.
The vast majority of passengers got out of the train at York, probably to avoid suffering from asphyxiation, as the shopping tills across the city let out a resounding 'kerching!' and I was able to climb out of the cycle rack and sit down in an actual seat for the remainder of my jaunt to Newcastle.
Just outside the station, a group of spotty teenagers, dressed in stretch denim jeans and replica old school Adidas trainers (and the obligatory Xmas jumpers, of course), stood glaring menacingly, in a not entirely convincing way,  at everyone who was heading out of the station, until a big lump of a bloke, sauntered forward inviting them to fight him and they scarpered, last to be seen all heading into the Gents toilets, together!
God help us if there is ever another war.
The days when Newcastle was an hostile place for football fans to visit, when only the very brave, stupid or foolhardy ever ventured here. are a thing of the past. And I'd wager that the nouveau wannabe football casuals of the region would be no match for their highly respected and much feared predecessors. Even those Geordie legends known as Jossy's Giants could have knocked the crap out of this particular unconvincing mob.
Passing the city centre pubs, the football songs emanating from within them, belonged to the supporters of both teams.
I smiled as I remembered the relief I had felt a couple of times in the eighties and even late seventies, when it was something of an achievement if I had negotiated my way back to Newcastle Central station, without getting my young head kicked in. Before breathing a sigh of relief as the train doors shut and we headed away unscathed over the Tyne Bridge.
This one isn't actually a statue.
There was one occasion when I did become seriously unstuck after getting separated from my mates and took a few bumps and cuts home with me as a souvenir of getting ragged about on the pavement off of the Leazes Road, by a gang of big blokes, while a big group of onlookers stood by, content to watch, rather than offer me any help or assistance whatsoever, even after I had been left in a crumpled and disheveled heap. But it was all part of the rites of passing of growing up and becoming a bit more streetwise in those days.
It could've been a lot worse I s'pose. Newcastle was a rough old place in those days and getting the odd kicking was par for the course if you were daft enough to attend games in some places.
It makes me laugh when I see some of these hooligan autobiographies, where they claim that rival gangs only fought against other hard men who had turned up on their manor looking for a ruck and that run of the mill football fans were never in any sort of danger. That's bollocks!
Anyone and everyone who ever traveled to away games was fair game for the bootboys in each and every town and city across the nation. Don't believe the hype.
St James' Park, which is around half a mile taller than Mount Everest (approx. guess, needs clarification) is only a short walk from the station, which used to seem a hell of a lot further way after games, back in the day.
Two lost travelers were talking and one said "The guy said just follow the black and white striped shirts and you can't miss it".
I pointed them in right direction and drew their attention to the signs that stand approximately every fifty yards on the way up to the ground.
Everybody in Newcastle, and a big slab of the north east, wears black and white stripes and you could quite easily end up wandering around anywhere within a twenty mile radius of the city centre (barring the bit to the south east of Gateshead where everybody wears red and white stripes) if you were to follow them.
It is said that if you stand still for more than thirty seconds round these parts, the council paints you with black and white stripes. So I didn't hang about, but breezed along towards the stadium, grabbing myself a Gregg's steak bake along the way as my combined breakfast/dinner, because I was in danger of morphing into Starving Marvin and I'd heard about the rip off food prices once I was through the turnstiles.
How much! And yet there are still fat people in Newcastle.
Anyway, amidst all of this long winded and self indulgent 'Dear Diary' dialogue, there was also a game of football happening this afternoon, so without further ado.
One statistic that stood out as I read the statistics from the game on the train home, which struck me as being fairly rare in this day and age, when football is barely any sort of contact sport at all anymore, was that Birmingham City hadn't been shown a single yellow card all afternoon.
You might say good on the visitors for abiding by the rules and promoting fair play, against the intimidating backdrop of a big, noisy and partisan crowd.
But there is also another school of thought that says: you have to get near to the opposition to be able to foul them in the first place.
And Gary Rowett's team were chasing shadows for most of the afternoon.
The Magpies face a tricky away trip to Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night, so Rafael Benitez rested the star of this afternoon's 'Dwight Gayle Show' for the closing stages of a game that was already well and truly won by then.
In fact Blues, backed by 3,100 fans who had made the 450 mile round trip to the north east on a weekend when football crowds are traditionally sparse because of Xmas shopping duties (thank goodness for online mail order), had never looked likely to take anything out of this one sided encounter, right from the moment that the match referee, Andy Davies, got things underway.
On the back of three defeats in a row, two in the league and one in the league cup, Newcastle saw Brighton & Hove Albion nick the top spot off of them last night by virtue of a 2-0 home win against Leeds United.
Evidently, they wanted it back.
Following on from a four game unbeaten run, fifth placed Blues had lost, surprisingly some might say, 3-0 against Barnsley at St. Andrews last week.
It seemed to be universally accepted in the visitors camp, that today was a bad time to be facing Benitez's side, on a day that they would be out to re-establish their title credentials in front of a sell out crowd. And maybe even an acceptance that City were just here to make the numbers up.
This Newcastle side is heading straight back up to the Premier League at the end of the season, most likely as champions... and if that doesn't happen, I will present Match of the Day wearing just Gary Lineker's underpants.
You might want to book a holiday abroad in May just in case then, but if the Magpies can sustain the level and tempo that they played at today, they shouldn't have any problem regaining their top flight status.
They made a good City side look decidedly below average today.
Those who had traveled up from the West Midlands were in good voice, but 'the Mags' had over 49,000 voices behind them and were obviously lifted by the noise levels coming from the stands.
Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett both had the red cards that they had received in the recent defeat at Nottingham Forest overturned on appeal and subsequently escaped suspension and both started today, with Shelvey's in particular having a big influence on the outcome of the game.
Gayle cost Newcastle ten million pounds when they captured him from Crystal Palace. If/when his strike rate helps them to get back into the Premier League, he will have repaid that fee, with significant interest.
Birmingham needed to stay tight on their rampant opponents to prevent them from making good of their vast proportion of possession, while hitting them on the break.
Gary Rowett's team are renowned for their hard work and shutting out opposing sides and it has stood them in good stead thus far this season, but today they seemed content to sit back and let the home side come at them... and they did just that, time and time again.
The visitors were both over run and overawed at times and their lack of impact was painful to watch.
Make no bones about it, if four-nil was a flattering result, the only team that it flattered were playing in royal blue.
As Blues boss Rowett said after the final whistle "That's a Premier League Side out there and they gave us a bit of a lesson", while alsoadmitting that he had wanted to make the changes he did at half time after just twenty five minutes.
Dwight Gayle has now netted sixteen goals already this term. United's highest goalscorer in a single season record, is held by Andy Cole, who scored forty one times over the course of the 1993-94 campaign. On the evidence of today's form, where everything Gayle touched turned to gold, he probably won't be too far away from making a good fist of surpassing that total.
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Championship table. Derby County play Nottingham Forest tomorrow
Mohamed Diame, who by all accounts hasn't been pulling up any trees since he joined Benitez's side from Hull City, was inspirational this afternoon. He created the first goal, when he beat off challenges from Stephen Gleeson and Jonathan Grounds on tthe right, before delivering an inch perfect cross to Gayle at the back stick, whose downward header gave the Blues keeper Tomasz Kusczak no chance, as two of his  defenders allowed to ball to go over them from Diame's delivery on eighteen minutes.
Six minutes later Diame released Isaac Hayden down the right flank and he in turned drilled a low cross into the six yard box, which Gayle met with a stab from his right foot, then switch to his left the finish the job after Kusczak had got the slightest of touches to the ball.
Blues were giving the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park and their distribution became lackadaisical in extremes... I hope they're not delivering my Xmas presents!
The black and white tide was almost relentless, with all of the aforementioned United players, along with Jamaal Lascelles who was virtually unplayable at times, simply had too much class for their visitors.
Birmingham City are a decent first division side, at times they are a very decent one, but today, what they came up against, was a team who will beat anybody in this division when they produce this kind of performance. Maybe City were giving them too much time and space to create, but it is just as likely that they were merely stood back, looking on in awe.
The home side looked infinitely fitter and stronger than Rowett's charges and the way they closed City down whenever they got possession and didn't give thm a moment to use the ball, was almost tantamount to bullying at times.
Half time came and Blues could probably be grateful that they were only two goals behind and had Kuszack to thank for making three really good first half stops from Yoan Gouffran (once) and Jonjo Shelvey (twice).
Half time: United 2 v City 0
Blues got the second half underway and if the joke was: 'What time do Birmingham City kick off?' Then the cruel punchline would have to be: 'Every two minutes!"
Because in the forty seventh minute they were restarting the game again, after Yoan Gouffran screwed the ball into the net from a tight angle to the right of Kuszack's goal, after Matt Ritchie had played a short free kick to Shelvey, who teed the ball up or the live-wire Frenchman with a cheeky lob that confused the Blues defence. Which with all due respect, wasn't proving to be a difficult task this afternoon.
David Cotterill launched a long free kick into the Magpies area and an impromptu game of head tennis broke out. Newcastle won that as well and were soon marauding forward again... after the referee had to stop the game for a few minutes, while the workmen put some quick drying cement into the holes that they had just put the 'One Way Only' signs up in, pointing towards poor Tomasz Kuszczak.
Foreground: Railway Station. Background: St. James' Park
Once again  Cotterill tried to get Blues moving again as he advanced through the right hand side of the midfield, but United had closed the doors tightly shut in front of him and with none of his teammates offering the Welsh international any options at all, he had to turn back and pass the ball to his defence. 
The visiting fans cheered "Ole! Ole! Ole!" as their misfiring side completed three passes across the width of the pitch in their own half, before the Gallowgate End couldn't resist one massive collective "OLE!!!" as the fourth pass ended up in row H of the East Stand, without any Newcastle player even having ventured forward to make a challenge.
I guess that passage of play just about summed up the afternoon for the visitors, who actually nearly got a goal back; when Che Adams twenty yard shot was blocked by Karl Darlow and Blues teenage debutant Corey O’Keeffe, who had just come on in place of Cotterill, headed the ball high and wide from the rebound. In case you were wondering who Karl Darlow is, because he hasn't had a mention yet, he was playing in goal for the home side, but didn't see very much of the ball.
Moments later, Birmingham had even more misery heaped on them, when Shelvey raced through the right channel, through to the bi-line and whipped a cross to the feet of Gayle, who completed his text book hat trick, one header, one left footed strike and one right.
Gayle was then withdrawn to a riotous roar and celebration of his performance, that was so raucous and heartfelt, you could actually feel the Gallowgate End shaking.
As Rafael Benitez said later in response to the Newcastle number nine's performance: "He was quite good!"
Newcastle were still moving well off the ball and offering a myriad of options in the visitors half and Birmingham, err... weren't.
In the last few moments of the game Gouffran nearly claimed his second and the Magpies fifth goal, but his shot flew inches wide of the upright.
FT: Newcastle United 4 v Birmingham City 0
If anybody tries telling me that there was another more one sided game than this anywhere in the world this afternoon, I wouldn't believe them.
The gulf in quality between the two sides bordered on being scandalous at times.
Newcastle are too good for the league they are in. But at least on days like today, clubs with play off ambitions and aspirations, get a free first hand demonstration of what sort of standards will be required of them, if they go up a division.
Being realistic, Birmingham City aren't ready for that step up... not yet anyway. But investment will hopefully be available soon, in light of their recent takeover (though not on the scale that Newcastle United are enjoying) and with an astute manager in situ in Gary Rowett, they won't be far off for much longer. Assuming of course, that he is the man the new owners want to take Blues forward.
Maybe this season would prove to be too soon for them if they were to win promotion via the play offs anyway, because as we saw today, they would probably struggle against the more expensively assembled sides, but next season is looking quite promising for a serious push to reach the top flight.
The Xmas Market was doing a roaring trade on the way back down to the station and the nightlife was already in full swing, with some really intimidating gangs having laid siege to the city centre by now, mainly consisting of 'larger than life' middle aged women (I am being polite here), liberating all of their wobbly bits, by wearing less than I do to go in bed in. That's an over-sized cotton t-shirt and naked from the waist down if you must know.
Vulgarity and noisy shameless exhibitionism on a grand scale, is harmless enough for those who choose to live such a lifestyle, but I decided not to hang around. 
I overheard the best chat up line ever though, as a young Geordie buck stood propositioning a flame coloured haired women, of indeterminable age, with what must've sounded like sheer poetry to her: "I wanted to shag your mate, but our Kev got in first and said you'll have to tackle the fat ginger one instead, so if you're up for it like!?"
The train journey back was stress free, but as the train pulled into Platform Three, the scene was one of carnage, with gangs of drunken people in Santa hats, grappling with policemen all over the place. "Ah, we must be in Doncaster now then"
I tiptoed past the ructions and collected my vehicle from the Network Rail compound, while circumnavigating another group of drunks who were trying to open my doors, because they thought I was a taxi driver... and I was back home twenty five minutes later.
Away days, it's a way of life!