Newcastle United 2 Stoke City 1: Potters heartbroken by late Cisse goal
STATISTICIANS of a malicious nature are salivating over Stoke City these days.
Their vital statistics make grim reading: it's now one victory in Stoke's last 24 league trips, just two goals in their last eight on the road and they remain bottom of the 2013 form table.
Thank goodness the league table itself makes for slightly happier reading as Stoke still sit, however uncomfortably, on a handy old nine-point gap between themselves and the bottom three.
By the way, those first three paragraphs were written before the game in what turned out to be a futile attempt to tempt fate and somehow inspire better fortune on the road. No such luck.
Fixed fee sales package for any residential property, just £325 +vat. Includes listing on all major portals e.g. Rightmove & Zoopla, floorplans, photos, for sale board, etc. Call for more details.
Terms: All prices subject to VAT. Terms and Conditions apply. E&OE.
Contact: 01782 900100
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Travelling Stokies – numbering around 600 – must have thought that the estimated quarter-of-a-mile between themselves up in the Gods and the scene of Newcastle's injury-time winner was nowhere near far enough.
They could presumably have done without 50,000 Ant and Decs vociferously serenading Stoke's latest demise during yesterday's sub-zero temperatures and occasional snow flurries as well.
Even the hardiest Toon fan was dressed in a string vest.
But those brave Stokies making the arduous trip north were left with the consolation, such as it was, of witnessing a performance that deserved a point and didn't deserve the late drama conspiring against them.
For we were nearly two minutes into an additional four at the very end of the afternoon when Stoke's otherwise diligent defence switched off momentarily to leave Papiss Cisse scoring a heartbreaking winner for Newcastle.
The slightest mistakes are being ruthlessly punished during this wretched run of one win in 10 – and on this occasion harshly punished.
Defeat was all the harder to bear because the sight of Jon Walters winning and depositing a 67th-minute penalty for 1-0 had promised so much more from a Stoke side playing far more positively than of late.
Newcastle, starting with just three outfield players who started their Europa League tie against Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala three days earlier, still appeared a touch lethargic early on and had to wait until the 17th minute for Yohan Cabaye's skimming drive to cause the visitors their first genuine concern.
The Toon, fielding just the seven French speakers, were indebted to Argentinian Jonas Gutierrez for their next threat on goal when curling an ambitious effort a foot wide of Asmir Begovic's outstretched palm and left-hand post.
The home side came much closer after 36 minutes, however, when a deflected ball wrong-footed Stoke's retreating defence and left Yoan Gouffran snatching at a shot he put well over from six yards out.
The increasingly influential Cabaye was slowly warming to the task and wasn't far off with a shot deflected just wide of Begovic's right-hand post just before the break.
Stoke were looking positive without looking edangerous for the first half-hour as Peter Crouch and Ryan Shotton both struck tamely goalwards.
But they were justifiably up in arms when Shotton harassed Davide Santon on the edge of the Newcastle area and appeared to be touched as he went down in instalments amid futile shouts for a penalty.
Glenn Whelan ended the first half superbly for City after just failing with a one-two with Crouch deep inside the Newcastle area – then haring downfield to help stifle the home side's break from a desperate clearance.
A largely subdued home crowd tried to rally their troops straight after the break, but it was Shotton pinging a couple of balls into Newcastle's box to hint at Stoke's positive intentions.
The home fans did have something to shout about on 50 minutes, however, after Cheick Tiote's through-ball left Begovic colliding with Moussa Sissoko on almost exactly the same spot as Shotton's penalty claim in the first half. The referee's verdict was the same.
That spurred the Toon into action and left Stoke funnelling back towards their own goal for a long spell in which Ryan Shawcross had to demonstrate his leadership qualities… and Crouch popped up at left-back.
But it was Stoke catching the best sight of goal possible after Cameron Jerome broke through the middle and fed Walters who, having nut-megged Tiote, was then brought down by the midfielder for an obvious penalty.
Walters, having missed his last two spot-kicks, sent the keeper the wrong way to give the Potters the lead.
Stoke were immediately under duress at the other end when Gouffran broke down the middle and was foiled by Begovic's tackle just outside the area.
The ball squirmed free for Sissoko to line up a shot before being fouled from behind by Whelan for a free-kick right on the edge of the box.
Begovic squared up to a couple of opponents in the melee that followed – and was then helpless as Cabaye curled the free-kick over the wall to score off the crossbar.
Now the home crowd was alive and kicking, just like their players, as City faced a hairy last quarter-of-an-hour.
The visitors were still willing to attack themselves, to their credit, but it was their sure-footedness at the back which caught the eye during a potentially fraught finish to what should have been a well-earned point.
But in the 92nd minute, and for reasons best known to themselves, Stoke's back line allowed Cisse to escape their clutches – and beat any offside trap going – to gather Sylvain Marveaux's short through-ball and finish past Begovic.
Cruel, but in their present run of form, somehow inevitable.