Blues 2 Newcastle 2 .. report

Last updated : 08 January 2007 By Richard Barker

Whether a replay is actually wanted by Blues remains to be seen, particularly given that this first game saw Stephen Kelly hobble off, Nicklas Bendtner be stretchered off and Radhi Jaidi complete a hat-trick of disasters by being sent off, thus earning himself a suspension. Great, huh?

Blues made a couple of changes to the team that lost at Ipswich on New Year's Day with Jaidi returning (for about 40 minutes) for Martin Taylor and Seb Larsson coming back into the side for Stephen Clemence meaning that Damien Johnson moved into the heart of midfield alongside Fabrice Muamba with Larsson taking up the wide right role. There was still no Cameron Jerome, so DJ Campbell was again up front alongside Bendtner.

Newcastle had their usual good following and spent the 90 minutes taunting the Blues fans for the lack of interest shown by the home side's supporters - or lack of. Blues had bigger crowds this season against Colchester United and Barnsley, but what the Newcastle fans might like to bear in mind is that both Colchester and Barnsley are probably a bigger draw than a team containing the likes of household names Matthew Pattison, David Edgar and Paul Huntington - they're probably barely household names in their own households. Far be it from me to add that not so long ago Newcastle were playing at the level that Blues now find themselves in, and they were attracting 8,000 of their 'mental, mad, best fans in the world' fans at home. Expensive prices, bigger fish to fry (such as Leeds United next week) and the fact that their opponents aren't the draw they like to think of themselves as meant not many Blues fans turned up.

So, to the football. Both teams started fairly brightly in what looked to be a decent FA Cup tie in the making from very early on. It was Blues who took the lead after quarter of an hour through Campbell, who in fairness to him, keeps scoring when he's given opportunities in the side. A Larsson corner to the far post was headed back across goal by Matthew Upson and met by an outstretched Campbell leg to poke the ball home from close range.

Blues went on to really take control of the game after they'd scored and Newcastle struggled to get the ball off them. Gary McSheffrey went close with a free-kick as Blues dominated proceedings. Obefemi Martins shot straight at Maik Taylor at the other end before Muamba had a scuffed effort cleared off the line following some fine work by Bendtner who looked superb.

Blues were dealt a blow when Kelly was forced to limp off with what has subsequently been diagnosed as a torn groin muscle. Martin Taylor came on to play right-back, and Kelly's absence will be a blow for Blues as he's settled down a lot in the past few months and tends to be the only Blues defender not to join in with 'Stupid 15 Minutes' every week.

Newcastle hit back and equalised against the run of play five minutes before the break as Blues began 'Stupid 15 Minutes' at the back, this time spreading it out either side of half-time. It started with Steven Taylor scoring from a corner absolutely unmarked at the near post and clipping the ball home between the near post and Larsson, who was surely on the post to prevent such a goal. Anyway, it was shocking defending.

Minutes later Jaidi added his personal contribution to 'Stupid 15 Minutes' by letting a long ball forward sail past his head rather than dealing with it. I'd fancy my own chances of outpacing Jaidi, so for Martins who's bloody fast, it really wasn't a problem. He got in behind the Tunisian defender and was through on goal, so Jaidi decided to haul him down and get sent off. Fair enough. Luckily Jaidi timed the haul down to perfection, right on the edge of the box, and Newcastle - through James Milner - couldn't capitalise.

Blues reorganised at half-time now that they were down to ten men - Neil Danns came on for the unlucky Campbell - you can't argue with the decision, it just seems Campbell's always the fall guy. Larsson went to right-back, Martin Taylor to centre-half and Danns joined a tight midfield three with Muamba and Johnson with McSheffrey and Bendtner up front. Credit where it's due, Blues kept two up front.

Still, no matter what you're doing going forward, if it's 'Stupid 15 Minutes' at the back, there's not a lot you can do. Danns played a dreadful pass (he has an increasing tendency to do things at times that make him look like he's out of his depth) and Newcastle took advantage. Martins' ball was straight at Upson, but following Jaidi's lead he just let it past him and could only watch as Kieron Dyer strolled forward to finish well past Taylor.

Blues kept going, but were dealt a further (and big) blow when Bendtner had to be stretchered off after appearing to kick the turf. After a few minutes of booing from the clever Blues fans who though he was lying down because he's so lazy (they didn't really do that, it's just a dig at those who booed him at Ipswich) it became apparent he was in real trouble and so Neil Kilkenny came on for him to add to Blues' most makeshift of teams.

Newcastle fans/officials/players may bore the press every day by harping on about their injury crisis, but they still had a player worth £9.5 million as an unused substitute. Well, Albert Luque cost that much - whether he's worth that much is in doubt. Blues, however, were somewhat more stretched with Larsson at right-back and Danns and McSheffrey making up a forward line. Still, this is poor old Newcastle isn't it? They can always blame the pitch, despite it crippling our best player.

Blues kept going and McSheffrey and Kilkenny forced Given into saves, whilst Martins went close at the other end as Newcastle tried to kill their ten man, lower division opponents off. Blues are a made up of different stuff to the team Newcastle relegated some 8 months ago though, and with this Blues side there is a light that never goes out - see Southampton away, 3-0 down at half-time and still nearly nicking a point.

With a few minutes remaining Johnson crossed from the left and that great target man of a striker Neil Danns managed to flick the ball on to Larsson (who'd gone back into midfield with Muamba now at right-back) who turned and smashed the ball past Shay Given to make it 2-2.

Newcastle had to hang on for the remaining few minutes as Blues pushed for a winner, despite being the inferior side, having fewer players on the pitch, having a 19 year-old central midfielder at right-back, having a midfield made up of Damien Johnson and then old experienced heads such as Neil Kilkenny and Seb Larsson and having a strike force of our left winger and a reserve midfielder who's barely started a game all season.

So, a replay then, and like I say, not sure if Blues really want/need it - probably not. There were obviously minus points with Blues picking up injuries and a suspension, but the fact is that they may well have happened if they'd had a league game instead, so it's hard to say that it's "the bloody FA Cup, we don't need it, why are we bothering?"

On the plus side, a great deal of credit should go to Blues who matched Newcastle and outplayed them in parts despite all the setbacks they received during the game. Newcastle fans will tell you that they had a weakened team, but with Blues ending up with Muamba at right-back and Danns up front, a team with Shay Given, Nicky Butt, James Milner, Nolberto Solano, Obafemi Martins and others in doesn't look quite so weak all of a sudden. A decent result and a cracking Cup tie but an unwanted replay and a few players out for quite a while. The magic of the Cup, eh?