United survival depends on striking conundrum
HE has not been a Newcastle United player for 13 days now, and even if he was, his injury means he would not have been anywhere near Ewood Park at the weekend. Still, watching the Magpies fail to break down an obdurate Blackburn rearguard despite dominating both territory and possession, it was impossible not to reflect on the absence of Andy Carroll. Can Newcastle see out the rest of the season without their erstwhile attacking talisman If they reproduce their thrilling second-half comeback against Arsenal, undoubtedly. On the evidence of the two games that sandwiched that though, a dour 1-0 defeat at Fulham and this largely unremarkable goalless draw, it might be better to reserve judgement. In Peter Lovenkrands, who hit the crossbar with a looping 15th-minute lob, Leon Best, who ran himself into the ground without ever really looking like forging a goalscoring position, and Nile Ranger, who flickered sporadically in a 13-minute cameo from the bench, Newcastle possess a triumvirate of strikers who would struggle to force their way into too many other Premier League teams. In Shefki Kuqi, a 90th-minute substitute who made his Magpies debut just three days after signing a short-term contract, they have recruited a player who recently struggled to make an impact at Championship level. As a result, Alan Pardew's attacking options are limited, and while Saturday's performance suggested Newcastle possess more than enough spirit and resolve to keep their heads above water in the final three months of the season, goals, especially away from St James' Park, are likely to remain at a premium. Everyone will focus on that now Andy is away, conceded Lovenkrands. But we've got players who can come in and score for us. I got 16 goals last year, that's only three less than Andy and I played less games than him. Yes, he's a big miss, of course. He's a great player and good luck to him. But we have players here that can go and fill his boots. We just need that bit of luck to set us off and I'm sure we'll be fine. Both me and Leon have been waiting on our chance. There's been lots of times when we've felt we should have been playing, but now we've got a chance and we need to go and prove it. Lovenkrands came closest to seizing his opportunity on Saturday, striking the woodwork after Jose Enrique's sensational through ball had invited him to scoop the ball over the advancing Paul Robinson's head. Newcastle also came close in the second half when Fabricio Coloccini juggled Joey Barton's corner around Jermaine Jones, before smashing an instinctive half-volley that Robinson did well to palm over the crossbar. Beyond that, though, the visitors failed to ask enough questions of the Blackburn goalkeeper, despite the best efforts of Barton and Cheik Tiote, who were excellent in midfield, and Enrique, who was the game's best player by a distance as he frequently marauded down the left-hand side. Too much of Newcastle's attacking became predictable once inside the final third, and with tomorrow's away game at Birmingham in mind, it was noteworthy that Ranger's introduction provided the kind of pace and impetus that was lacking for large spells. Nile Ranger is the one that is pushing hard, said Pardew. Whenever he comes on, he looks like he is going to affect the game. He could be the player that steps up to the plate, and I hope he is. I keep saying he is producing cameo performances, but he keeps reminding me that he has more than that. So we'll see how things develop on that score. Ranger's introduction was insufficient to change the scoreline, but after last weekend's chaos against the Gunners, there was something to be said for a return to more prosaic fare. Newcastle's defence, so slipshod seven days earlier, was back to its best, with Coloccini marshalling Roque Santa Cruz effectively and Mike Williamson recovering some of the composure that had disappeared entirely the previous weekend. Blackburn's only opportunity of note came in the opening five minutes, with Christopher Samba out-jumping the Magpies rearguard to nod down Robinson's long clearance, and Santa Cruz planting a subsequent header against the post. Beyond that, the hosts were well shackled, and on the evidence of this game, Newcastle, with 32 points, should be confident of finishing above Rovers, who are currently on the same tally. They will have to outscore two other sides of course, so after shipping four goals in a little over 25 minutes against Arsenal, it was important to regain a sense of solidity and organisation. Sometimes, against a team like Blackburn, you can find yourself wanting because of the size and strength of them, said Pardew. We stood up to that part of the game very well, and bossed the other side of it with our passing. The only disappointing factor was around the last third, where the moment never really arrived or we made the wrong decision at an important time. But I am genuinely very pleased with that performance, especially after Arsenal. We've had enough excitement for one week, so a dull game like that was the perfect tonic. Mind you, I won't forget the Arsenal game as long as I live. I think I'll probably forget this one a bit quicker.
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