Monday, October 08, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: September 2007

With Ben currently swanking around the New York on the other side of the Atlantic the task of briefly assessing our fortunes in September has fallen to me...

As autumn winds started to blow around St James' Park, it was our form which appeared to mirror the leaves on the trees and could best be described as changeable.

We started September brightly, with our first goal at St James' Park since February bringing a home win against Wigan and a Michael Owen goal to boot. This was followed at home by a home win against West Ham (courtesy of Marc Viduka and Charles N'Zogbia). In the case of that game, it proved that Viduka was a cracking summer signing, with his strength and goalscoring ability ensuring a torrid afternoon for Anton Ferdinand and co, and for the Zog it was further evidence of his excellent start to the season, and confirmation that his new five year contract was thoroughly deserved.

Owen also proved his worth for both club and country, adding three goals to his England tally whilst also appearing threatening when paired with Viduka for us, and at long last told the press that his priority is to play for the people paying his wages (regardless of what certain elements of the press might think). However, his subsequent injuries which necessitated further surgery were evidence of the injury carrying ill wind which continues to blow through St James' Park.

The handful of positive elements of our performance this month were more than mirrored by the bad, with our changeable form seeing us capitulate horribly away to Derby in a performance devoid of wit, width and wisdom, and further defeats to Arsenal's youth team in the League Cup and Sven's foreign legion in the Premiership. All three performances ensuring that our feet remain resolutely fixed to the floor, and left Sam Allardyce under no illusions as to the problems he still needs to address, in terms of both defensive organisation and the introduction of some creative flair into the midfield.

With our former chairman reportedly looking to use some of his massive payoff to get into bed with Father Christmas look-a-like Ken Bates at Leeds United it was seemingly inevitable that his replacement would start to mouth of in the press about what a shoddy job Fat Fred had made of balancing the books - presumably Fat Fred was first in the queue outside Northern Rock when our kit sponsor enjoyed a turbulent few days.

Against this backdrop, our supposedly reclusive chairman became an increasingly regular match day attendee, still sporting his Alan Smith replica shirt, and looking every bit the man of the people. However, given Smudger's recent performances labouring around our midfield with plenty of energy but bugger all creativity, defensive cover or even basic tactical awareness it remains to be seen whether the one remaining person in the crowd who apparently still thinks he was worth the money will persist with that choice of attire or start opting for a shirt bearing the names of N'Zogbia or Rozenhal (given his stature, perhaps Viduka might be even more appropriate).

From where I'm sitting Smith's inclusion in the team has been symptomatic of the circumstances in which Allardyce has found himself. Forced, as he has been by a raft of injuries in midfield, to focus on the team on the merits of effort over guile. Of course, the acid test should come when players such as Barton, Emre and Duff are available, or at least until Jose Enrique is deemed up to the challenge of the Premier League, at which point N'Zogbia should be given the chance to press forward from midfield. If Smith retains his place then the season looks like being one high on effort, but low on creativity and results and by the time the clocks go back and the leaves are no longer attached to the trees our aspirations for the season will also be lying in the gutter awaiting the first signs of snow.


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