Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2008

If the events of September made the club seem like the Titanic, sinking fast following the iceberg-like impact of Kevin Keegan's shock departure, there were signs in October that she might just be patched up enough to hold watertight until able to reach the relatively safe waters of next summer. In the long term, steadying the ship (as unsexy as it sounds) is exactly what we need on and particularly off the pitch - and in the short term, at the start of last month, it was equally essential.

At first, the signs certainly weren't good. 2-0 down at Goodison Park for the sixth game in a row courtesy of some supremely laissez-faire defending, we were having a good hard look down both barrels of yet another defeat. But then, with the whistle already between Howard Webb's lips, a passage of uncharacteristically quality play from Geremi and Steven Taylor hauled us back into the game. As loathesome as the expression "a good time to score" might be (mainly because it's the sort of thing Mark Bright trots out in his sleep), for once it was justified - we never looked back, equalising very early in the second half and going on to have the better chances to snatch the win. JFK was credited as the inspiration behind our recovery, despite contriving to miss both goals.

A 2-2 draw, then - something we started to make a habit of with our next fixture, at home to Man City, after a fortnight-long international break during which Michael Owen had managed to injure himself even though he'd been omitted from Fabio Capello's England squad. That left us relying far more heavily than we'd have liked on Shola Ameobi, when the opposition could boast Brazilians by the bucketload as well as an in-form Shaun Wright-Phillips. Things looked even bleaker when Habib Beye was incorrectly sent off for a fair tackle on Robinho before the quarter-hour mark.

But Ameobi it was who got us level, albeit with a sliced stroke of luck, and City's Richard Dunne charitably smashed home what looked like our winner until Stephen Ireland popped up to piss on our chips at the last. The fact that our Senegalese full-back's unjust dismissal was subsequently rescinded came as little consolation for the scant reward we'd got from a tremendous performance.

There followed what will almost certainly rank as our worst defeat of the season. Not the heaviest, to be sure (though it could without a doubt have been heavier), but any defeat by the Great Unwashed, no matter what the margin, is necessarily the source of shame and humiliation. Ameobi scored again, but goals before and after from Djibril Cisse and Kieron Richardson on a pitch that resembled a rubbish dump condemned us to our first loss on the old enemy's turf since 1980. JFK decided the circumstances were right to reintroduce ASBO to first team action - cue an enthusiastic confetti reception of bottles, coins and other projectiles from his red-and-white-shirted intellectual equals in the stands.

That made the home game with West Brom three days later a must-win - and thankfully we managed it. Again I don't want to sound like Mark Bright, but it was a classic game of two halves. In the first, we were confident, direct, penetrative and thoroughly deserving of the 2-0 lead given us by an ASBO penalty (followed by obligatory badge-kissing) and a deflected Martins header. In the second, nerves took over, the lack of confidence came creeping back, we handed the Baggies the initiative and were mighty fortunate they didn't exploit our charity more effectively. All the same, the win - only our second of the Premiership season - was still a win, even if it did come as much of the rest of the country was rooting around in the vegetable drawer for suitably proportioned carrots for their snowmen's noses.

Back in September, the decision to entrust the position of captain responsible for steadying the good ship Toon and being a sober influence on an unruly and demoralised rabble to a man with a volatile temperament who can't even keep his mouth in check seemed very curious, to say the least. (JFK's expletive-festooned press conference tirade made a refreshing change from the usual reeling off of glib platitudes, perhaps, but, like Sir Bobby Robson, I was far more inclined to view it as just the latest in a long line of incidents to drag our name through the mud. Way to go, Joe - I'm sure branding specific hacks very rude things to their faces is mature, adult and not likely to entice them into retaliatory savagery at all...)

But for whatever reason (and I'm still reluctant to attribute it to the JFK factor), October was far more promising than September and the prospect of our interim manager becoming the real deal grew by the day - not least because, after the manic speculation of the previous month, everything fell surprisingly quiet on the takeover front. Since his public announcement putting the club up for sale, Mike Ashley has wisely kept out of the limelight. The recently formed Newcastle United Supporters Club expressed their dissatisfaction with the pace with which the sale was proceeding, despite the efforts of one Keith Harris. Perhaps if he'd been able to devote his whole attention to hawking us around rather than being employed to do the same for Everton, we may have changed hands again...

The one significant off-pitch development was the departure of Tony Jiminez, our Vice President (Player Recruitment) for less than ten months. Is it a vacant position that'll be filled, or will it be scrapped for good? That's the question for Ashley. Does he take a leaf out of Daniel Levy's book by dismantling the relatively recently established hierarchy and reverting to a more English management style, possibly paving the way for King Kev to return for a fourth time? Or does he stick resolutely to his guns?


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