Toon's Game Of The Season ... So Far!

Last updated : 15 January 2008 By Footy Mad - Editor


STOKE: Simonsen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Cort, Dickinson, Lawrence, Eustace (Pulis 90), Pugh, Cresswell,Sidibe (Parkin 65), Fuller (Pericard 90).

Subs Not Used: Hoult, Zakuani.

NEWCASTLE: Given, Rozehnal, Taylor, Faye, Jose Enrique, Duff (LuaLua 74), Smith, Butt, N'Zogbia, Viduka (Carroll 87),Owen.

Subs Not Used: Harper, Cacapa, Edgar.

Att: 22,861

Newcastle's beleaguered boss Sam Allardyce will stagger on to an FA Cup replay with Stoke at St James' Park desperately hoping his side's battling qualities have a major effect on his long-term job prospects.

Rumours of a likely dismissal should the Magpies have been grounded in the Potteries were played down by the Newcastle hierarchy but the pressure on Allardyce would have reached almost intolerable proportions if the Coca-Cola Championship club had advanced.

The presence of Sir Alex Ferguson at the Britannia Stadium was a reminder of how the world's oldest cup competition can change the course of a managerial career.

And should Allardyce survive and eventually go on to achieve even a quarter of the success Ferguson has had at Manchester United - Newcastle's next opponents - he may reflect on his side's durability during a tricky couple of minutes immediately after Jon Parkin's introduction, which might well have sunk Newcastle without trace.

On top for long spells, the Magpies were looking increasingly unlikely to make the breakthrough when Parkin latched onto Ricardo Fuller's cutback.

The substitute looked certain to score but Steven Taylor and Abdoulaye Faye jointly flung themselves in the way of the goalbound shot and kept it out.

Similarly, Shay Given was odds against to deny Richard Cresswell's volley from the resulting corner but somehow the Republic of Ireland international stuck out a hand and managed it.

Allardyce is a bullish character and insisted prior to the game he did not fear the sack if his under-performing team were bundled out of the competition at the first hurdle to lower league opposition.

Yet, even with such a stout heart and firm conviction, Allardyce could be forgiven a sense of trepidation as his team took to the field to face a Stoke side unbeaten since November 10, precisely the same day as Michael Owen last started for the Magpies.

It would be wrong and totally unfair to pin the blame for Newcastle's current difficulties at Owen's door but the England forward's frequent lengthy absences are hardly conducive to a stable team.

With Joey Barton missing and Obafemi Martins required to attend an pre-African Nations Cup training camp with Nigeria, Allardyce was shorn of a few key men.

Yet, a quick glance at a team containing Owen, Mark Viduka and Damien Duff offered an obvious explanation as to why so many believe Newcastle should be doing far better than they currently are.