Anger as light fades at St James'
Newcastle United 1 Arsenal 3
Monday 23 March 2009
No matter what some say, there are still good things about Newcastle United. One of them is the St James' Park DJ.
As bewildered, silenced punters departed a scene of what felt very much like loss, the Tannoy cranked into "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". Full-volume Morrissey warbling sweetly about a double-decker bus crash as the mournful shuffled out: this was a selection more inspired than many at this ground of late. Morrissey and marred.
It is a time for Gallowgate humour. Around the corner at the Northern Stage theatre, a production of Look Back In Anger plays, and to paraphrase, Newcastle don't want to be a lost cause.
But that is how it feels. Even though there are eight games remaining, something withered here. Belief, hope, call it what you will, logic says that a team that has won just six of 30 league games so far will not suddenly string three or four together in the last eight.
Given that Newcastle have yet to play Chelsea at home and Liverpool and Aston Villa away, the margin for error was reducing even before Obafemi Martins slid a weak 23rd-minute penalty-kick into the hands of Manuel Almunia.
That was one downward turning point on the night. Fifteen minutes later, Sébastien Bassong limped off. That was another, the full effect of which was seen as Nicklas Bendtner rose unchallenged to nod Arsenal ahead 12 minutes after half-time. Then Steven Taylor received treatment on the touchline as Abou Diaby exchanged a one-two with Robin van Persie to run through Newcastle's heart and bury the second. That was another.
Three minutes later, Samir Nasri made it three to end the contest and though Martins had briefly made it 1-1, the last 20 minutes could have seen Arsenal score more.
For the faithful, who had been generating real noise, resignation set in. There were flickers of anger, though, beside the home dugout and higher up.
The club owner Mike Ashley was confronted by an angry figure, one who is well known to Newcastle players past and present. He was removed from the premises.
Without wishing to be provocative, Ashley might need to ready himself for more of that, because the local hostility towards him and the likes of Dennis Wise has been on hold. It has not disappeared. With Newcastle lying two points below fourth-bottom Blackburn, their fate is not theirs to decide and the indefatigable fan base seems ready to explode.
"I wish Newcastle stay in the league, personally, because I like the people here, I like the consistency of the support," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "I really hope they stay up. But it will be very close." It is foreseeable that others will say the same in the coming weeks but sentiment will not make Newcastle win.
A fit Michael Owen would help; the caretaker coach Chris Hughton dropped Owen for Peter Lovenkrands and said Owen was "maybe not back up to match speed". Wenger admitted surprise at Owen's status on the bench.
Wenger praised Lovenkrands, but he could afford to be generous. This was a third straight league win and Manchester United and Chelsea had both lost.
"They still have quality to finish it off but you can see how important psychology is," Wenger said of United and the title. "They had a big disappointment losing to Liverpool; and when you have a knock like that it can be difficult to recover. I am sure they will recover because their manager is experienced, their players are experienced and they still have a game in hand. I still have hope."
Asked why, Wenger replied: "Because I am a bit crazy."
Newcastle fans can supply their own punchline.
Goals: Bendtner (57) 0-1; Martins (58) 1-1; Diaby (64) 1-2; Nasri (67) 1-3.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1) Harper; S Taylor (Owen, 66), Coloccini, Bassong (Beye, 38) Enrique; R Taylor, Butt, Nolan, Duff; Lovenkrands (Ameobi, 79); Martins. Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), Smith, Geremi, Gutierrez.
Arsenal (4-4-2) Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Nasri, Diaby, Denilson, Arshavin (Song, 75); Bendtner (Eboué, 89), Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Djourou, Gibbs, Vela, Eduardo.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Arsenal Gallas.
Man of the match: Diaby.
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