West Ham and Newcastle United both had frustrating ends to their January schedule. Both had chances to put the game away in the first half. Both conceded goals in second half injury time, denying them the full three points of victory.
West Ham especially needed the points. Stuck at the bottom of the Premiership table, West Ham are in dire need of a three game win streak to save their season. They need momentum. But the fear is that their undefeated streak in late December and early January might have been all the momentum they are going to get this season.
West Ham did have a very promising start in their game against Everton. American midfielder Jonathan Spector scored the opening goal with a well controlled strike of a sweet rebound of the Everton keeper. He absolutely had to score that goal, and he came through, notching his first ever goal in the English Premiership (he scored two goals in League Cup action in November).
And that's how the game would go into halftime, with West Ham in control, up one-nil. Everton eventually won back control and equalized in the second half with a blast from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. But then the game became very memorable for the wrong reasons (at least for West Ham).
The Hammers regained the lead with an impressive strike from Frederic Piquionne. However, he was swiftly shown a red card for excessive celebration. In less than a minute, the Hammers went from estactic joy to feelings of dread and hopelessness. And so, in injury time, Everton attackers weaved around the tired West Ham defenders, with the final turn and shot performed by the afroed Moroccan-Belgian, Marouane Fellaini, who shot the ball into a low corner to secure the draw. Fellaini gave Newcastle bruises and headaches early in the season, and he broke the Hammers' hearts on Sunday.
What is it with Newcastle? Are they underachievers? Why must they learn one of the most fundamental lessons of football in two consecutive weeks? If you can keep your opposition scoreless through 80 minutes, then you have to bring in fresh legs and tell your lads to double their efforts for the final 15 minutes. You don't sit back. You are supposed to step up and finish the game strong.
The curly haired Argentine defender, Fabricio Coloccini, celebrated his 29th birthday by scoring his second precious goal of the season (and second in this league). He chested the ball down while in the box and just hammered it home at the 60 minute mark. Newcastle had this game in the bag.
But then a long, legal pass to Aaron Lennon stunned the Mags. Two defenders, Fabricio Coloccini and Danny Simpson failed to slide, poke, or otherwise deny Lennon his shot. There was nothing keeper Steve Harper could do as the ball rolled into the bottom left corner. It wasn't Harper's fault. His back four, who had been excellent all day, simply failed to tap or block the ball in their opponent's final attack. Perhaps if they had fought for the ball, rather than appeal for off sides, their team would have 32 points instead of 30.
I'm being harsh. But someone has to yell at these Lads. They are better than this. True, they could so easily be stuck at the bottom with West Ham. But they have shown that they can place themselves in the top half of the table (this draw actually lifted them to seventh place!). You would think that with a tight relegation battle occuring just beneath them, Newcastle would work hard to stay above the fray.
Andy Carroll was not available in this game. But they didn't need Andy Carroll in this game. They had plenty of chances to score the necessary second goal. All Shola Ameobi and Leon Best could do is miss, again and again. And even then, substitute strikers Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger nearly put it away in the final 10 minutes.
I realize, as a Newcastle supporter, that I should feel fortunate that this team has depth, a good defense, five strikers, and amazingly, only eight or so more points to earn to guarantee another season in the greatest professional football league on the planet. Newcastle is still recovering from a giant blow to their prestige and finances. However, I also have that passionate Geordie optimism, that expects to win a game if the Mags are in the lead with 10 minutes remaining. Newcastle are in a title drought, of course. But surely they are a big enough team to prevent disasterous endings to games like the ones they've had these last two weeks? There's a Geordie fan in me who still sometimes treats this team like it is 1996, when it could beat anyone.
Paul over at Black & White & Read All Over is correct. It isn't a question of talent or drive. It is a lack of fitness compared to more stable squads that have not suffered the setback of relegation. That might also explain the more numerous injuries this season compared to last.
Okay, on to the quality Newcastle United Blogs.
Black & White & Read All Over (same post by Paul): "The fact that we were even in a position to rue the points dropped is credit to the team, who struggled to get hold of the ball thanks to Spurs' slicker passing, but who looked the more threatening in front of goal, with Leon Best, Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger all guilty at points of failing to score when gilt-edged opportunities came their way."
View From The Shite Seats: "Somfor the Geordies it’s four points dropped from winning positions in a week, but it is also another good point against a high flying side and another closer to safety."
Blog on the Tyne (Lee Ryder): "Newcastle's service has been so poor out wide this season they have had to re-invent Joey Barton as a right winger."