NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Leon Best celebrates scoring the second goal for Newcastle during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on February 5 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
It was the best of times it was the worst of times, and I mean that in seriousness. I've been turning the phrase that in a single match between Newcastle United and Arsenal I saw the worst half of football from the Magpies this season followed by the best half, or, at least, the most inspired.
I did have to wait for Interpol to deny the "investigation" to really cool off, but since that is all behind us now, it's time for a reasonable reaction.
It really was the worst half; one of those murphy's law halves. Our center-backs, whom I had been lauding week to week, can each take credit for one of those first half goals. Fabricio Coloccini owns the first, getting entirely beaten by Theo Walcott. The second was bad luck, just inches above Kevin Nolan's head. The third belongs to Mike Williamson, who drifted entirely too far to the left when his job was marking Robin Van Persie. The fourth belongs to both (perhaps a little more to Williamson), but neither of them are marking anyone; it's as if they were playing zone defense, but this isn't basketball.
In our game thread it was doom and gloom at the half. I said it looked like the team's spirit was entirely broken, and that the game would more likely than not end 6-0. Others were similarly gloomy, and I'll be honest, I started to worry about the season at large. I wondered if the team had undergone one too many adversities. But, that was just the first half, we should have known better, been better fans, than to have written off the lads.
The second half started out marginally better, but the tide really started to turn when Abou Diaby was sent off. I've watched Joey Barton's tackle over and over, and my conclusions are: 1. Barton must play that ball, 2. Barton plays the ball not the man, 3. Diaby takes the angle on the ball that will most likely produce a foul, 4. Barton does indeed foul Diaby, 5. The foul is bookable, Barton should have been yellow carded, 6. Diaby's initial reaction is inexcusable, and a certain red card, 7. Even if the initial reaction is let slide, when he pushes Nolan in the back he should be sent off. I say his reaction is inexcusable and I maintain that position even against the argument that Diaby has been injured in a similar challenge. One may say that his reaction is understandable under that light, but one cannot say that he didn't deserve to be sent off.
However you sort that out the one thing you cannot deny is that the incident injected a major shot of energy into an otherwise lifeless team. The Magpies side started to slowly build up a working game plan. They started maintaining possession for extended periods and breaching the Arsenal defense. Eventually this earned Leon Best a penalty. I've heard some complaining about this call, calling the foul "soft". Well, whatever, it's an indisputable foul, Laurent Koscielny plays directly through Best, never touches the ball and trips Best in the process, I don't really see what there is to argue about there. The only other thing worth mentioning on the first goal is that Szczesny shows complete classlessness in keeping the ball.
I give Nile Ranger a good deal of credit for the second goal. I hope Alan Pardew can get past whatever is holding Ranger out of the first team.
The third Newcastle goal is probably the most controversial of the game. I happen to agree with the Gooners on this one. I can't see the foul. If it is a foul it is just the softest foul, isn't it? So I'm happy to give that goal back to the Gooners, but I fully expect to be given the Leon Best goal that should have been. He simply wasn't offside. Fair trade?
Then there was the fourth. We've made no secret of our love for Cheik Tiote. That fourth goal was one of the most beautiful things I've seen on the pitch. Off the volley. Into a 2x2 square in the bottom 90. Such velocity. A slight bend away from the Classless One. Perfection.
Only if that late Nolan try had rolled about 6 inches more left. Oh well, we ended up with a tie that felt like a win. Each of those second half goals was very important. Not just for the final result of earning a point and hanging on to the mid table spot, but the NUFC strikers needed to know they could still score in the worst way.
Man of the Match: Danny Simpson, I may take some flak for leaving Cheik Tiote out here, but listen; the only man I saw playing 100% for the full 90 minutes was Danny Simpson. His work level was second to none, and for that even more that Tiote's tying goal, I have to throw him the bone.