Newcastle v Bolton

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 1:00 | Filed in Newcastle United

The first home game of the season. It’s one of those things tinged with fear and optimism. Optimism, because if we can win today, we’ll have got off to a good start this season. Fear, because a home defeat will undo all of the good work that we did last week by getting a point against Manchester United.

my toon top, showing 'Dad 33' on it (flickr)

This year however brings three additional concerns: how do I use this plastic ticket thing to get in, then? And so where’s my seat, and what’s the view like? And since I’ve bought Newcastle tops for the kids with their names and ages on it, do I really have to have one with my name and age on it too?

Apparently I do.

The plastic ticket thing is simple enough: you just wave it in at the barriers, it beeps and you push the barrier round to go through. As we had a choice of about 8 turnstiles to go in (our tickets work for any in a particular block), once we’d got inside the ground we then needed to wander around to find whereabouts we actually needed to go.

the view from our seats at St James' Park (flickr)

We’re in the Milburn stand, but near the corner with the Leazes end: our seats are probably in line with the penalty spot. near the corner of the ground (between the Milburn stand and the Leazes end). The view is surprisingly good (I sat the same distance from the pitch in the Leazes end for four years, and you can see the patterns of play much better from up here, even if it’s harder to make out which player is which unless they have a distinctive haircut — hello there Coloccini — or you can see their shirt numbers).

One of the nice things about our seats is that we are near the new ‘singing section’, where the old away fans used to be. This is great for us, as it gives the game a bit of atmosphere, even if I wasn’t that impressed with “ee-ai-ee-ai-oh, Colo-coloccini-oh”. Come on lads, you can do better than that (“Monday, Tuesday, Habib Beye” from Happy Days, for example). Well done to the lads in the singing section, and well done to the club for listening to the fans and providing a singing section. I’m glad I’m not in it, as it’s be a bit loud (more so for the little ‘un than me; besides which I’ve never really been one of the ‘singers’), but being near it is pretty much perfect.

You can also see across to Newcastle Civic Centre and beyond, but I’d guess the game would have to be poor before I’d start watching that. The crowd was lower than average — at around 47,700 — when we’ve topped 50,000 at virtually every game, but I’d guess the credit crunch is biting somewhat, plus it’s Bolton (not a ‘big’ team but almost invariably a ‘spoiler’ team), plus we’ve not exactly inspired with our signings. Although it’s a disappointing attendance for us, it’s still worth noting that only Arsenal and Manchester United are likely to better that regularly throughout the season (although Sunderland might beat it once or twice too — they might be local rivals, but like Newcastle they are a very well supported team, considering how little either club has won).

And while it was Gutierrez who had particularly caught the eye at Old Trafford last week — and indeed showed flashes of considerable flair and ability here, he wasn’t the person who impressed me the most this week. Nor was it Shay Given, who while admittedly was a hero for pulling off a fantastic penalty save, didn’t really have much else to worry about. Nor was it the goal-poacher extraordinaire, Michael Owen.

Nope, for me it was Keegan’s unsung summer signing Danny Guthrie. He was never spectacular, but very much in the vein of Nicky Butt, he kept breaking up opposition attacks, very much in the vein of Rob Lee, he kept driving us forward and giving players around him an option, and unusually for Newcastle we seemed to be first to a lot of loose balls, with Guthrie sweeping them up as if they had been passed to him. Very high workrate, nice tidy player. He’s not going to set the world alight, but if he continues to perform like that and continues to improve, he’ll be a vital cog in our midfield.

Unfortunately, our main problem lay where it has lain for the last two and a bit years. Up front. Since Shearer’s retirement we have generally been a bit toothless in attack. We have no-one with the ability to hold the ball up and play other people in (save Viduka, and he’s about as fit as I am), and only Michael Owen heads for the six yard box, so all to often we have the ability to work space to deliver a decent cross but frequently no-one in there to receive it.

Although fortunately Owen got on the end of one to give us a win we didn’t quite deserve: we’d had most of the play, most of the possession but we struggled to break down a defensive Bolton side who in turn posed us a few problems themselves.

It’s obvious that we still need to strengthen the team, if we’re to aim for anything above mid-table, as it simply doesn’t have enough goals in it. But four points from our opening two fixtures is a good return, the midfield looks solid, industrious and with a bit of guile, and the defence is looking increasingly solid too — so it’s not all doom and gloom!

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7 Comments to Newcastle v Bolton

  1. Anthony says:

    August 28th, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Ahh Danny Guthrie another decent player to come out of the academy that we couldn’t make use of…

    Like Warnock at Blackburn he’s one of the growing number of home grown lads that were are good, but not quite good enough.

    Shame because I liked both lads.

    And there seems to be an ever growing list of these young brits who are not quite making the grade. Jack Hobbs is another who will probably go the same way, maybe Paul Anderson, Godwin Antwi and coutless others who are off on loan all over the place.

    And that’s without mentioning the huge amount of foreign teenagers we’ve got – Pacheco, Nemeth, Insua, El Zhar, etc etc etc

    Still can’t complain, we won the reserve league for the first time in decades, and we’ve on the FA Youth cup twice… I just hope the lads get a chance.

  2. JackP says:

    August 29th, 2008 at 8:16 am

    If it’s any help, I feel similarly about our academy: Chopra in particular was a solid player at youth and reserve level but never quite cut it in the Premiership; Ameobi has had enough games but for me isn’t quite good enough; Andy Caroll, Fraser Forster, Kazenga Lua Lua and Ryan Donaldson will all be hoping for a taste of first team action sooner rather than later…

    The problem is at 21 you have to guess how good the player will be in 3 or 4 years time. I would argue Warnock has continued to progress – albeit probably not enough for a top-4 team – but sometimes players hit 22 and then virtually disappear….

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