Team: Kenny, Hill, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Young, Derry, Buzsaky (Macheda), Mackie, Wright-Phillips, Bothroyd, Helguson (Smith).
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Hall, Ephraim, Campbell
Attendance: 49,865 (including 1,300 R’s fans)
This was my first visit to Newcastle since Rangers lost there in the 1995/96 first Keegan era. In the interim the ground has been extensively rebuilt and extended to its current 52,000-ish capacity, which opened in 2000. We passed on Shearer’s bar in the Gallowgate End, but availed ourselves of an embarrassment of riches in the ‘Good Beer’ department in various locales over a 4-day visit with several Tyne-area breweries featuring. The Sir John Hall Stand in which the R’s fans were located is massive and the lift which took us to the seating level stopped at the 7th floor ! It was that or walking up 152 steps. Once inside there was a great view of the pitch, but making out individual players at the far end of the pitch was sometimes tricky. The seating was spacious and the concession areas were well staffed and efficient (although a half-time pie shortage was reported in some quarters).
With this being the first game under the stewardship of Mark Hughes, we were filled with anticipation of how the team would perform. However, any optimism was tempered with the knowledge that Taarabt and Traore were away on international duty (mirroring Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote for the Toon). Faurlin is out for the rest of the season with ligament damage and the last win of any description was back on 19th November at Stoke City after which a season high position of 9th was achieved.
In the previous away game v MK Dons, it really wasn’t until Helguson’s equaliser in the 88th minute that we had a significant shot on target. Memories of that were quickly erased here when Helguson had a good shot saved within the 1st minute. There were other chances in an opening period which the R’s dominated. Buzsaky had a swerving shot, Shaun Wright-Phillips hit the crossbar and Jay Bothroyd cut inside and his low curler clipped the outside of the post.
Shaun Derry was booked for a nasty tackle on Yohan Cabaye who first of all appeared to be okay because he had time to berate Derry for going in a little too over exuberantly, but then collapsed in a heap and had to be taken off (to be replaced by local Legend Ben Arfa). Leon Best’s goal exposed the R’s defence. There was an early (unfounded) suspicion of offside from our lofty perch, but the ball fell nicely to Best who bamboozled Luke Young and slipped it coolly past the stranded Paddy Kenny.
In the second half, Mackie scooped one over the bar, but Rangers’ best chance of equalising came when a lovely measured headed knock-down by Heidar Helguson fell to Bothroyd, but all he could do was sky a shot into the lower tier of our Stand. Smith was subbed for Helguson and Macheda came on for Buzsaky, but it was to no avail and the final score remained 1-0. Overall it was an encouraging performance though and with the prospect of some additions to the squad in the transfer window, things might be looking up.
(The above pics were taken by John Cooper and used with his permission)