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Captain but not happy with the end result - 11/02/2003

   Andy Griffin
   Carl Cort
   Michael Chopra
   Brian Kerr

Last night was very disappointing, I'd been made captain for the game but the conditions were terrible with the high wind and rain suiting Sunderland's game. I have to say that it was great to be named as the skipper, being a local lad it meant a lot to me - that's probably why Tommy Craig gave me the honour! So thanks to him for that, it's just a shame that we didn't play well. I wasn't happy with my performance, the long ball game was forced by the weather and the pitch was a nightmare. I much prefer to pass it about a bit, thumping the ball 30 or 40 yards isn't my game.

I also felt sorry for the fans, I'm told that 2,200 turned up, and in those conditions it was a decent crowd. One thing that can be improved is the choice of grounds for the reserve derby - I think we'd have done much better at St. James Park, and I think the crowd would have enjoyed it more. I fully understand that the pitch needs protecting for the first team, but it's good for the young players to get used to St. James'. If you look at a lad like Brian Kerr, he made his first team breakthrough this season and although he's been at the club sometime, I bet he's not played at St.James Park any more than a few times. It's also a boost for the lads - we're Newcastle United players but most of us rarely get a chance to play at the clubs own ground. Maybe if we played some early and late season games - when the pitch is ok, and perhaps the derby against Sunderland, it'd make a big difference for us.

For those who didn't see the game, here's the match report from The Journal...

French striker David Bellion sealed a dire derby with the 67th-minute goal which sentenced Tommy Craig's mid-table reserves to a fifth defeat of the season. The Frenchman - at the centre of an alleged illegal approach from Manchester United earlier this season - settled a frustrating Premiership Reserve League (North) affair with a well-taken strike following a spell of intense pressure from the home side. And United's night went from bad to worse 10 minutes later after Christian Bassedas was dismissed for a second bookable offence - one of seven cautions which punctuated this ill-tempered meeting.

Driving rain and a fierce wind prevented any semblance of neat football, although Carl Cort showed smart touches and an encouraging turn of pace in front of Sir Bobby Robson. The former Wimbledon striker, partnering Michael Chopra in the absence of late-comer Lomana LuaLua, is finally rediscovering his best form and could yet feature against Leverkusen next week. However, it was Chopra who almost embarrassed Black Cats' keeper Mart Poom in the second minute only for the Estonian to regain both his pride and positioning to smother a well-struck shot at the second attempt. Cort played in Joe Kendrick minutes later and Poom stretched out a right hand to deny Andrew Ferrell.

The visitors, featuring seven first teamers, plus the former Derby number one, needed nine minutes to respond and Newcastle keeper Tony Caig, making his United debut, pulled off a fine stop to deny Matthew Piper. Poom conjured up the save of the half to thwart Cort in the 17th minute but Jason McAteer, back in action after a five-month absence, should have broken the deadlock eight minutes later but drove a right-footed effort high and wide. The terrible conditions, combined with some poor refereeing, contributed to a series of ugly exchanges and a flurry of bookings - McAteer, Kendrick and Bradley Orr all earning cautions from the officious Nigel Bannister. But this largely tepid affair lacked the passion and commitment normally associated with a Tyne-Wear showdown and it needed second-half substitute LuaLua to inject some life into a listless clash. The African had been on the pitch for 32 seconds when he left Mark Rossiter in his wake and drilled a low centre across the face of Poom's goal. A desperate block only succeeded in presenting LuaLua with a second chance and a lightning strike skimmed the crossbar.

McAteer departed to a chorus of boos after 61 minutes, but only after Argentinian international Bassedas had executed the game's one moment of true class, meeting LuaLua's cross with a scissor-kick which sent Poom sprawling. Sunderland appeared happy to soak up the second-half pressure and the visitors' patience paid dividends when Bellion beat Caig with a low drive 23 minutes from time. The pacy Frenchman found space on the edge of Newcastle's area and, with Caig keeper apparently unsighted, the ball drifted agonisingly inside the far post.

LuaLua responded with a deflected drive over the bar while Cort, lacking the ferocity of his first half performance, suddenly sparked into life with a tight shot on the turn which Poom did well to parry. With the Magpies still enjoying the greater share of possession, Bassedas became the fourth player to be shown a red card at Gateshead this season, and the second Newcastle player to be dismissed in two days, when he was cautioned for the second time in the 77th minute. Andy Griffin joined his colleague in Mr Bannister's book seconds later as Craig's 10 men battled to get back on level terms and LuaLua almost equalised in the dying seconds only for Poom to pull off another flying save.

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