Thursday, 15 January 2009

FA Cup third round replay: Newcastle United 0 - 1 Hull City - 14/01/2009

It's a genuine joy to see Hull City take a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in two decades. The last time we won a third round tie was in 1989, when goals from oft-forgotten full back Nicky Brown and the unforgettable Keith Edwards earned a 2-1 win at Cardiff City.

There was much to cheer from this performance at a muted St James' Park - the resplendent white kit commissioned especially for the occasion, the strong side Phil Brown selected (despite making eight changes from the defeat at Everton) and the way the players responded to the occasion. Backed by a 1,000-strong support of loudness, the better side won.

For all the changes, most of the team had tasted Premier League semi-regularity at the very least this season - only keeper Matt Duke, full back Nathan Doyle and midfielder Ryan France were genuinely clipped from the fringes of the squad to play - and it was a strong 4-5-1 with ample width and plenty of industry which dug out the passageway to the next round, having drawn 0-0 at the KC eleven days earlier.

Newcastle picked a strong-looking side too, despite Joe Kinnear getting his excuse in first by moaning about having 11 first-teamers absent, and a spine of Shay Given, Fabricio Coloccini, Nicky Butt and Michael Owen should be capable of winning most Cup ties. But they didn't, with Coloccini given a hard time by Daniel Cousin and Owen being unusually profligate with the chances which did fly his way.

City began strongly, with Richard Garcia doing well to reach a searching slide-rule ball from George Boateng, but Peter Halmosi was double-whammied as he made for the Aussie's cross - he was tackled well by David Edgar and flagged for offside.

The linesman's flag was a common motif for City in the first half, showing as it did plentifully as Cousin, in particular, failed incessantly to time his runs as the likes of Garcia, France and Craig Fagan all tired to set the Gabonese marksman clear. Frustrating as it was, it also meant that City were on top.

Newcastle's first proper go came when Jonas Gutierrez escaped down the right with lots of room, delivering a low ball towards Xisco - scorer of Newcastle's goal when we won there in the Premier League - but the daft striker spooned a gilt-edged chance both high and wide and took a good deal of bad-natured Geordie stick for it.

Doyle fouled Damien Duff on the edge of the area and Butt struck the crossbar with a firm header from Danny Guthrie's whipped free kick as the home side began to exert some real pressure, yet Duke was being left with little more to do than catch wayward crosses as Newcastle's finishing was beyond lacklustre.

On 25 minutes, Coloccini went in very late on Cousin, right in front of the technical areas, and as City's centre forward lay in pain, the two managers squared up over the illegality of the tackle. The referee, Phil Dowd, decided to take no nonsense from two of the more volatile dugout figures and sent them both to the stands, though only Brown went on instruction. Kinnear chose to shout his mouth off a little more first.

Newcastle carved out their best chance when Paul McShane and Kamil Zayatte - central defensive partners for the evening - ran into each other as the homed in on the same ball, and Owen was set free. His hasty shot was quite appalling.

City then got the ball in the net through Garcia's low drive from a half-cleared set-piece, but the whistle had gone for a shove by person unknown on further person unknown seen by spectators unknown.

Doyle struck an injury time volley wide as the first half withered and died, but there was real promise in City's play. Fagan and Halmosi, the wide men, were making plenty of breaks, Cousin was strong and resourceful down the middle and Garcia and France were making headway and covering the necessary yardage in support. There was a Cup tie to be won if Brown fancied it.

The second half, and immediately City are let off as Owen chases a long ball, looking suspiciously offside, but his stabbed effort pretty much hits Duke and trundles wide. Duke did all he could and got lucky while his team-mates surrounded the referee about the lack of flag. As if galvanised by this bit of near-injustice, City began to dominate. Zayatte went on one of those madcap runs of his, jumping over tackles without any real clue as to where he would end up, but as he finally shaped to shoot, Edgar got in a smart block.

Fagan, quiet and unwittily booed by the home side (as if he broke his leg deliberately), hit a left-foot volley of too much ambition which Given caught easily, then began a sterling counter attack down his flank, releasing Cousin through the channel, whose centre was played back by Halmosi for Boateng to hit, but another hefty block came in which deflected the shot away and rendered the City midfielder unable to continue. As he was stretchered away, Ian Ashbee joined in the fun.

Wantaway, self-praising Newcastle flanker Charles N'Zogbia then nipped through three powderpuff City challenges before Zayatte made up for the ineptitude by strongly snuffing out the full back's shot.

With about 15 minutes to go, Brown withdrew Fagan and slung on Bernard Mendy, knowing that any sort of headstrong cameo from the demented Frenchman could be the difference between a victory and an extra 30 minutes. And so it proved - within five minutes of his introduction, Mendy had swerved in and out of Duff and N'Zogbia and tried a left-foot shot which deflected perfectly for the onrushing Garcia, who coolly put a low ball into the six yard box for Cousin to stroke home.

A breakthrough in this long old Cup tie at last, and it had gone to the correct team at the correct time.

Newcastle didn't have much in response - Owen headed one chance high over the bar and Given, as if to prove Newcastle cared about the FA Cup, came up for two injury time set-pieces, both of which Duke dealt with comfortably.

The final whistle was greeted with glee and relief, not just because we'd won a game about which the club had uttered less than enthusiastic platitudes about winning, and not just because, finally, we'd progress from the third round of the FA Cup. A primary emotion from this game is the knock-on effect it could have on our Premier League form, and even though the alleged write-off match that is Arsenal's visit to the KC is this weekend, we know what City are capable of when the spirit and togetherness of the squad is reaching a nice peak.

Add to all that the less than frightening prospect of a League One club coming to ours for the fourth round and the performance of numerous fringe players which gives Brown a selection headache for the weekend, and maybe the future is looking just a little rosier. A Cup run could do us all the world of good.

Newcastle United: Given, Edgar, Bassong, Coloccini, N'Zogbia, Gutierrez (LuaLua 82), Butt, Guthrie, Duff, Owen, Xisco (Carroll 76). Subs not used: Harper, Taylor, Kadar, Donaldson, Ranger.

Hull City
: Duke, Doyle, McShane, Zayatte, Ricketts, Fagan (Mendy 74), Halmosi, Boateng (Ashbee 67), France, Garcia, Cousin (Folan 86). Subs not used: Warner, Featherstone, Giannakopoulos, Atkinson.