The Easter schedule is always a tough one with two fixtures in three days. Easter Saturday sees us travel all the way to St. James’ Park to take on 6th-placed Newcastle United as 7/4 underdogs. I make two changes, with Sean Morrison coming in for Daniel Berger, whilst Michel replaces Ryan Mason. Blackpool manager Hector Cuper is one of the 38,460 in attendance as he continues to scout Bradley Johnson (if the media are to be believed). We put some early pressure on the hosts, but never really trouble their goal. 11 minutes in, Lansbury picks up a yellow card for fouling Dacian Varga. 13 minutes later, Varga looks to hit back, but his chip from 25 yards goes wide. It’s a game that follows our recent one, with nothing else of note happening in the first half.
Newcastle open the scoring in the 52nd when De Sutter tucks home from 8 yards. Or at least they would have if he hadn’t strayed offside. However, it’s a sign that Newcastle are starting to come into the game and 3 minutes later, it requires a smart save from Jonathan Bond to deny Devaux from 8 yards and we clear for a throw-in. Newcastle continue to press and in the 57th minute, Lansbury crosses from the right wing and Sturridge taps in at the far post from 2 yards out. Unfortunately, there’s no flag this time and Newcastle take the lead. Two minutes after setting up the goal, Lansbury fouls Johnson and gets his second yellow card, giving us a man advantage for the last half-hour. The referee’s notebook is in action three minutes later, with Bertin Matip picking up a booking and I replace him with Jay Spearing in the 67th minute – no point in playing 10-a-side! The 67th minute also sees Michele Marconi play in Varga, but Krul saves; can’t help but wish it had been the other way around. With time running out, Manuel Gavilan comes on for Marconi, whilst Federico Cenci replaces Jonny Hayes. The 87th minute sees Gennaro Riccardi cross from the left and he finds Cenci at the far post; Cenci’s header is parried by Krul and Newcastle clear and claim the victory. It’s another match that has not been a classic, but Newcastle are unlikely to care. Sturridge claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.3 and the game-winning goal as we stay 4th.
Easter Saturday results see West Brom and Bristol City secure play-off places. Our Easter Monday opponents are 2nd-placed Bristol City, who make the short journey to St. James Park. We’re 13/8 underdogs, which are odds that perhaps were set before our team lineup was seen as I make 9 changes:
The changes see a league debut for Dennis Judge at right back and Miltos Makris on the left wing, whilst Bertin Matip makes his 25th league appearance the club. The QPR boss, Gus Poyet, is one of the 8,714 in attendance and the rumour is that he’s scouting Skuse. In the 18th minute, former Exeter favourite Mackie takes a shot from 18 yards that Jonathan Bond parries before we clear for a throw. The next chance comes 12 minutes later, when Federico Cenci robs Williamson, but shoots wide. Mulready rounds Bond and rolls the ball home in the 33rd minute, but the linesman signals it’s offside and the scores remain level. The 38th minute sees Jay Spearing hobble off, with Manuel Gavilan replacing him. Ryan Mason joins Bertin Matip in the middle of the park, whilst Gavilan plays in the hole behind Cenci. The woodwork is rattled in the 40th minute when Mason meets an inswinging Matip corner with his head and finds the crossbar; Bristol City pounce on the rebound and clear for another corner. In the third minute of stoppage time, Matip decides to have a go at being the scorer and although Gerken spills his effort, Bristol City clear and the referee blows for half time.
The second half starts with Skuse entering the referee’s notebook for fouling Mason and Matip soon joins him in the book following a foul on Kilkenny. An outswinging Bristol City corner from the right is met by the head of Williamson in the 56th minute, but he’s only able to head over the bar. Five minutes later, it’s our turn to be too high as Mason shoots from 25 yards. Liddle becomes the third booking of the game in the 72nd minute after fouling Gavilan. My second substitution comes in the 78th minute when Bradley Johnson comes on for Makris. Three minutes after coming on, he meets an outswinging Matip corner, but heads just over as the game peters out to a 0-0 draw in a less than action-packed Easter set of fixtures. Cranie is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.3 and we remain in 4th.
The physio reports that Jay Spearing went off injured with a bruised shin and will be out for 6-8 days. The month ends and Danny Haynes (West Bromwich Albion), Kenneth Coppens (Sheffield Wednesday) and Derek McInnes (West Bromwich Albion) scoop the awards for Player of the Month, Young Player of the Month and Manager of the Month respectively. In League 2, Rob McNally (who I’ve loaned to Morecambe) claims Young Player of the Month, with Paupol Mayila (who I’ve loaned to Wrexham) the runner-up. Declan Warburton and Tomasz Surowink sign three-year contracts, Dariusz Lenartowksi and Martin Koci sign for four years, with Juho Virkki signing a new five-year deal.