Rare Taylor goal puts Newcastle at ease

Newcastle United 2 Birmingham City 1: Birmingham still seeking security after Ridgewell leaves them short again
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The Independent Football

This was not so much a feast of football, more a microwave match. You could have popped into St James' Park 10 minutes before the interval and headed home at half-time having seen the contest's pivotal moments, and witnessed Newcastle achieve something many felt they had little hope of back in August – securing Premier League safety.

That is a feat which Birmingham have yet to achieve, though they will no doubt be confident of accomplishing it next Sunday at home to Fulham.

To do so, it would help their cause to keep a full complement of players. For the second consecutive game they lost one of their ranks to an early red card, meaning they have played with 10 men for some two hours in the past week. At a time of season when limbs are at their most fatigued, it is not a tactic to be recommended.

In fairness, it was not particularlyapparent the visitors were a man light from the 35th minute, after Liam Ridgewell was rather harshlyordered off for handball amid the mother of all goalmouth scrambles sparked by Stephen Carr clearing Shola Ameobi's header off the line after Joey Barton's corner.

Ben Foster, again outstanding in goal for Birmingham, pushed Fabricio Coloccini's ensuing shot against the post, and when the Argentinian followed up with a header, Ridgewell, raising his arms to gain leverage as he jumped, deflected the ball out of the path of the lurking Kevin Nolan.

The Birmingham defender protested his innocence, but Chris Foy brandished red. Sympathy for Ridgewell was in short supply from his manager. "It hit his arm and he was on the line," Alex McLeish said. "Nolan was probably in a good position to get on the end of it and the ref's seen the arm going towards the ball. Those are the rules. If it prevents a scoring opportunity it's a sending off. He was the last man on the line." Ameobi exacted further punishment by beating Foster from the spot low to his right.

The goalkeeper thwarted Peter Lovenkrands and Nolan as Newcastle scented blood, and when Steven Taylor celebrated his return to the starting line-up with his first Premier League goal for two years, a header from Barton's corner a couple of minutes before the interval despite Seb Larsson's best efforts on the line, the floodgates were apparently straining. After all, Newcastle had scored 23 goals in their five previous home wins this season.

McLeish queried whether the former England Under-21 international should have still been on the pitch, and he added: "We had a double-whammy with Taylor, he should have been off for leading with his elbow on Cameron Jerome's cheekbone early on. We don't want to see that type of thing, that challenge is outlawed but the referee didn't see it."

There was to be another goal before Foy called time on the half, but rather surprisingly it went to the visitors, Lee Bowyer ramming the loose ball home from eight yards via Coloccini's desperate attempt to clear after Jerome had out-muscled Newcastle's central defensive pair.

Foster saved from substitute Nile Ranger while Roger Johnson cleared off the line from Ameobi as Newcastle failed to find the killer third, which almost proved costly when Tim Krul spilled a routine cross from Jean Beausejour at the feet of an unmarked Larsson. The Swede spooned the chance into the Gallowgate End.

"Losing today would have left us jittery and spoiled some fantastic work by the players," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. "I'm delighted with 44 points, we're back in the top half and can dream of a top 10 finish."

Cheik Tioté rewarded those fans who stayed until the bitter end by clinching a small place in Premier League history. The Ivorian's booking for a foul on Matt Derbyshire was his 14th of the season, equalling the record held by Robbie Savage.

Attendance: 47,409

Referee: Chris Foy

Man of the match: Foster