Newcastle United: Krul, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon, Perch, Tiote, Anita, Cisse, Ba, Guiterrez
Subs: Elliot, Bigirimana, Marveaux, Shola Ameobi, Sammy Ameobi, Ferguson, Tavernier.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Nastasic, K Toure, Clichy, Javi Garcia, Y Toure, Nasri, Aguero, Silva, Tevez.
Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Sinclair, Kolarov, Rekik, Razak.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
A response worthy of champions saw Manchester City half the deficit at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 3-1 win at St.James Park. Roberto Mancini would have been for desperate for the appropriate response to the derby day disaster last Sunday and his team duly delivered. It leaves the pressure on their cross-town rivals who entertain Newcastle’s cross-town rivals, Sunderland this afternoon. For Newcastle it leaves them in a highly precarious situation nearing the halfway stage of the season, nervously looking over their shoulders in the bottom half of the table with this defeat leaving them only two points above the relegation zone. The Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew had said he believed his team are in a relegation battle, a complete reversal of fortunes from last season when they pushed unsuccessfully for Champions League qualification in the top four. It appears that he is correct. The Toon army are looking decidedly demoralised at the end of a six-match run five of which has ended in defeat. Shocking form for a side who are vastly under-achieving.
The match itself was an absorbing one with a catalogue of scoring chances for both teams, but City picked up a deserved three points after a fluid attacking display that, more often than not, left Newcastle’s back four hideously exposed. Newcastle started the quicker side and could have the taken the lead inside a minute with Papiss Cisse forcing a decent save out of Joe Hart after a whipped cross from Chieck Tiote. Newcastle built on their bright start by bombarding crosses into the City area to continuously unsettle a defence who haven’t always looked convincing in the face of aerial threat this season. It was a pre-mediated ploy from Pardew, seeing the opportunity to get crosses into the box as much as possible for Ba and Cisse to tower over Nastasic and Kolo Toure. Despite a strong start, Newcastle failed to execute a decisive finish and cost them after 10 minutes when City took the lead in smash-and-grab fashion. A superb pass from Yaya Toure put Samir Nasri in on goal and he selflessly laid the ball off to Sergio Aguero who tapped into an open for the easiest of openers.
Not surprisingly, the match progressed into a period of City dominance following the goal and the champions realistically could have wrapped up the match in ten minutes after they went 1-0 up. Smooth and slick inter-play between the front four Aguero, Tevez, Silva and Nasri in almost unanswerable fashion left Davide Santon and Danny Simpson looking desperately towards the bench hoping they’d be relieved of their terror-some duties. or at least given fresh instructions into countering the talents of the City quartet.
Newcastle failed to recapture their early impetus and were punished further from a City corner, Javi Garcia towering fearlessly above all others to head it towards Santon on the line who feebly tried to swipe the ball away only for it deflect of his shin and into the net. A calamitous looking mistake. It was the strangest of first halves, both teams enjoying spells of attacking dominance whilst also having to contend on the back foot.
In a carbon-copy to the first half, Newcastle came flying out of the traps in the second showing their intent on regaining a foothold in the match. The telling difference was that their bright start in the second half was rewarded with a goal, and could have easily been rewarded with a second soon after. City failed to fully clear a Vernon Anita corner and Fabricio Coloccini hooked the ball back into the box to be met by a powerful Demba Ba header, his 11th of the campaign. Ba looked energetic, aggressive and dangerous all afternoon and perhaps if the next Newcastle chance two minutes later had fallen to him, it would have been 2-2. However, it was Papiss Cisse who made space for a shot inside the City area only to blast the ball well over the bar.
Disappointingly, Newcastle were unable to capitalise on a rattled City side after their goal and never really looked like producing much from open play. Tiote and Anita seemed to cover every blade of grass on the pitch, but to no avail. Cisse again looked a shadow of the devastating finisher who took the league by storm in the second half of last season with some spectacular goals. Alan Pardew will be hoping that he gets a new pair of shooting boots for Christmas like he did twelve months ago to ensure that his team aren’t left a relegation battle still in the business end of the season. City looked the more effective and ruthless of the two with their nimbly-footed attacking trio in Aguero, Tevez and Silva in the second half. (Nasri was subsititued for Kolarov in the first half.) They killed the game off with stand-in captain Yaya Toure poking the ball through Krul’s legs after Silva had slid Zabaleta in down the left.
There was no glimmer of hope after City’s third goal, seeing off the game competently and clinching three crucial points to keep the pressure on Manchester United at the league’s summit. Credit to City, they would have been devastated all week after losing their 37-match unbeaten home run to bitter rivals United on Sunday. Their performance today is proof that they are not prepared for a tumble down the table, handing the title back to United. Going to St. James’ Park is an intimidating prospect for any Premier League team, never mind a team who have underwent the grimmest of post-mortems this week, but City successfully maintained their impressive run against Newcastle and has left Pardew’s men in 14th. They won’t be relegated, but a season full of promise last year has not transformed into anything meaningful this year, perhaps they are suffering the dreaded distraction of the Europa League and have failed to adapt to the extra games. However, there were signs this afternoon especially at the start of both halves that suggest Newcastle will survive comfortably. If their finishing had been more decisive they would have walked away with a point. It was not to be. Anyway you look at it, Pardew will come under intense pressure if his team keep producing results similar to the past number of weeks.