Monday, April 19, 2010

Just champion(s)!

Plymouth Argyle 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Given that we needed just a solitary point from our final three fixtures to be crowned Championship champions, it would have taken something extraordinary to have denied us - and an Icelandic volcano did its best. But when, after a 400 mile road trip, the whistle blew on 93 hard-fought minutes at Home Park, we managed an eruption of our own, the fans pouring onto the pitch in joyous celebration. The title was ours, and you won't find many who'll dispute that it was deserved.

The whole evening was faintly reminiscent of that famous night in Grimsby seventeen years ago - a seaside setting, yellow shirts, a 2-0 victory. Thankfully this time my youngest brother is old enough to know better than to deface the commemorative wraparound cover of the Journal with felt-tip pen...

With Argentinian duo Spidermag and Fabricio Coloccini ruled out, ASBO and One Size stepped into a side aiming for a seventh consecutive victory, but it was our hosts who began very much on the front foot. Jamie Mackie tested Steve Harper within a minute and from the resulting corner West Ham loanee Bondz N'Gala should have done much better than sky a header high into the Toon faithful.

We gradually eased our way into the game, and when Bigger Lad found the space to curl a left-footed shot high and wide the home side failed to heed the warning. Afforded ample space from an ASBO corner, he looped a well directed header into the back of the net - thanks largely Onismor Bhasera deserting his post.

If that first owed much to our hosts' failings, the second was a classic example of the hot-sharp-knife-through-molten-butter clinical finishing that has set us apart from our Championship peers all season. ASBO was allowed to U-turn too easily, admittedly, but his one-two with Danny Guthrie was neat and the subsequent through-ball to Wayne Routledge was arguably the best pass we've witnessed all season. Routledge duly rounded 'keeper David Stockdale and kept his footing to finish inside the near post.

The pressure off, we relaxed - probably too much, given that Harper was called upon to pull off a smart save from Mackie's volley, Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted inches over the angle from distance and Alan Judge cracked a shot off the stanchion. Meanwhile, the television cameras caught Kevin Nolan suffering an eruption of his own, spewing onto the pitch - perhaps, a fellow onlooker suggested, in an attempt to improve the quality of the playing surface. Either way, the anticipated chants of "We are throwing up, say we are throwing up" never materialised.

The second period continued in a similar vein, Judge going even closer by smacking the crossbar but us maintaining our general control of the ball. An injection of fresh blood in the form of Leon Best and Big Lad (for Nolan and Bigger Lad) on 70 minutes was timely, and the former Coventry man followed Judge's lead in rattling the bar from distance with a shot so fierce Stockdale got nowhere near it even though it whistled directly over his head. That said, the Pilgrims' loanee stopper was all that prevented from ASBO adding to his two assists with a goal.

To their credit, Plymouth kept pushing and would have caught us out if it hadn't have been for Jose Enrique doing what Bhasera should have done before and patrolling the line from a corner. But as last week the result was never really in doubt and the full-time celebrations were suitably effusive - too much so for the stewards who soon conceded defeat in their attempts to hold back the black-and-white hordes who swarmed onto the pitch and around the players. The only shame was that Coloccini, Spidermag, Steven Taylor and Peter Lovenkrands didn't get to play a part in the game that capped a remarkable season.

Spare a thought for our hosts, whose relegation to League One was confirmed by the result. Given the accusations of arrogance we've had to endure all season, a bit of humility probably wouldn't go amiss - and the truth is that Plymouth gave as good as they got in terms of goalscoring opportunities, undone only by their wastefulness and our ruthlessness. We were grateful too to the indulgence of the stadium announcer/DJ in playing 'We Are The Champions' and 'Local Hero', to Pilgrims boss Paul Mariner for his post-match compliments in trying circumstances ("Newcastle United deserve to be in the Premier League. Their fans are unbelievable and I'm thrilled they are back up") and to those home supporters who had the incredibly good grace to forget about their side's fate and applaud our achievements. Would the same have happened on Tyneside? I'm not sure.

But the fate of Mariner's side isn't our concern, other than as an indication of what we feared might have been for us, had the players not pulled together and pulled out all the stops. Tonight was the culmination of nine months of blood, sweat and cheers and we'll be going back to the Premier League in much better spirit than we exited it.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


Blogger Unknown said...

Steve Harper for England?

5:32 am  

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