No sentiment from Magpies

CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City 1, Newcastle United 2It was billed as Craig Fleming's night, but there are few favours in the football world - and not much room for sentiment.


Norwich City 1, Newcastle United 2

It was billed as Craig Fleming's night, but there are few favours in the football world - and not much room for sentiment.

City's club captain had, quite rightly, been granted a testimonial season, and Newcastle at Carrow Road was to be his big day, and City's big pre-season test. It filled the bill in both cases.

Fleming entered to a guard of honour from both teams, children Katie and Will by his side, and responded to a thunderous round of applause, including a bow towards the faithful in the Barclay Stand.

But Fleming is the consummate professional, and there was work to be done, especially in a defence lacking Adam Drury - and especially when Nobby Solano gets the ball. It was the little right-midfielder who swung over an inviting cross on two minutes, which Gary Doherty headed out for a throw.

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There was consternation in the visitors' camp when Leon McKenzie robbed Titus Bramble in the left back spot, much to the delight of the crowd, and sent in a measured pass which was just a yard short for the on-rushing Robert Earnshaw.

At the other end, Stephen Carr tried his luck from long-range, Solano teeing him up with a short free-kick, but the defender's effort whistled past Paul Gallacher's left-hand post.

The early tussles failed to find either side holding an advantage, not surprisingly as far as Newcastle were concerned with a dearth of strikers, and James Milner operating alone up front. City had their share of possession against a five-man midfield, but Darren Huckerby, at least early on, was quiet, with McKenzie the main threat.

Amady Faye had the ball in the net on 15 minutes, but Gallacher can consider himself lucky that it was disallowed: both players jumped for Milner's cross, Faye won it in the air and poked the ball home, but referee Wright had already blown for an infringement.

Solano then tested the City man with a long-range effort after a penetrating run by Scott Parker but it was Earnshaw who should have opened the goal account after McKenzie robbed Butt in midfield then laid off a pass to the Welshman whose attempted chip went straight into Harper's grateful hands.

That miss was punished on 20 minutes when Bramble played a nice ball out to the right, Solano swung in an inviting cross which took a deflection and left Jason Shackell wrong-footed in the area. The ball bounced off Doherty and Peter Ramage didn't need a second invitation, sweeping the ball past the hapless Gallacher.

Newcastle could have had a second within minutes when a long ball found Parker hitting the area at full speed, but Gallacher got there just in time.

The Scottish international did well to scoop Charles N'Zogbia's long-range effort away as the visitors began to clench their Premiership muscles. City were in need of a calming and persuasive influence in midfield, with their sporadic attacks owing much to the strikers and Newcastle errors rather than creative juices in the centre of the park.

To their credit, Earnshaw and McKenzie looked sharp and worked hard to create their own chances - and a neat little combination with Huckerby down the left looked promising until the final ball was too long for Andy Hughes at the back post.

Ramage could have sent City in two down, but he headed a Solano corner a yard too high as half-time approached - and City fans were clearly respectful that it was Fleming's night when the whistle did blow, preferring polite applause to grumbles at the lacklustre opening half.

At least William Fleming, son of Craig, did what City couldn't do --put the ball in the net during the half-time entertainment. Could City follow suit?

Newcastle made four changes at half-time, City sticking with their starting line-up, and it was the Canaries who were first to show, Earnshaw combining well with Huckerby and then sending in a shot that was just a little too high and wide. Huckerby then had Harper scrambling at his front post with a low shot as he worked his way in from the right. But within a minute Gallacher was the hero, Milner's low cross causing problems in the City defence and Gallacher somehow keeping out the slightest of flick-ons.But the inevitable soon happened, with N'Zogbia making it 2-0 on 56 minutes with a screamer of a shot from 20 yards which left Gallacher with no chance.

Safri, who'd scored a beauty against the Geordies during City's Premiership campaign, tried for a repeat with a free-kick, but a deflection took both sting and direction out of his effort.

What City needed was someone like Newcastle sub Alan O'Brien, whose direct running was causing the home defenders, and Fleming in particular, some nasty moments.

There chance to get back into the game came around the 65 minutes mark, with a raft of substitutions by both sides which left Newcastle composed of mainly young reserve team players.

It took City a while to figure that out, with Carl Robinson doing well with a difficult volley which went wide and then Safri composing himself well for a shot that Harper pushed away for a corner. And it was from Huckerby's corner on 74 minutes that City got back into the game, when McVeigh found himself with time to turn on the penalty spot and put the ball home from close range.

One goal in it and City in with a chance, but Newcastle clearly don't do friendlies, and Gallacher had to be at his best to deny Carl Finnigan with 12 minutes to go.

It was, in Nigel Worthington's oft-used words, “game on”, with chances coming at both ends - with Newcastle holding on.

There were 15 substitutions in all - but the one that came on 86 minutes when Michael Spillane replaced Fleming produced applause from everyone in the ground, fans and players alike. Then the heavens opened and referee Wright brought the players off a minute early - some sort of omen surely.