Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: November 2010

(This feels somewhat redundant or at least very out of date in the context of recent events - but for the sake of form here it is anyway...)

A forceful and muscular centre-forward renowned for bullying and bossing defenders, a local lad leading the line for club and country who wears the number nine shirt when in black and white. Remind you of anyone?

It's hardly surprising that Alan Shearer was fulsome in his praise of Rocky on at least two occasions in November. "Andy has taken up my mantle", opined Wor Al, before going on to muse about one of the only noticeable differences between the pair: "He's got more hair than me - although I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing with that ponytail! But he's had a great start to the season". And Shearer wasn't alone, with Arsene Wenger - who, as irritating, hypocritical and whiney as he can be, knows a thing or two about recognising young talent - also enthusing about his rapid development and qualities.

Once again I find myself focusing A Month Of Saturdays on Rocky's achievements (and misdeeds - to come...), but then it would be hard not to given how central he was to goings-on in November. Last time out I pondered: "Might the day yet come when Rocky picks up the phone and the voice on the other end of the line is more likely to be Capello than his solicitor?" And indeed it did, perhaps sooner than expected, with a full international debut against France. An England side looking to the future may have slumped to a disspiriting 2-0 defeat to arguably the most abject side in this summer's World Cup, but Rocky at least did his job, discomforting defenders with more caps than he's had Premier League appearances.

Though the England call-up was probably Rocky's personal highlight of the month, his contributions in black and white were certainly cause for celebration. Four goals we recorded and he scored them all, only drawing a blank in a frustrating St James' Park encounter with Fulham - though even then it certainly wasn't for want of trying.

Beginning the month at the Emirates where he left off in the demolition of 5under1and - an afternoon that, much to our amusement, continued to rankle with Ol' Caulflower Face - Rocky discomposed the Arsenal back-line and capitalised on uncertainty between defenders and 'keeper to head home on the stroke of half-time. The Gunners may have fallen well short of their usual electrifying standards, but we nevertheless performed very well collectively and secured an unexpected but warmly welcomed win without much trouble.

Also unable to beat us - thanks again to Rocky making the most of defensive miscommunication - were another bunch of preening London high-flyers, Chelsea. As the afternoon wore on, Carlo Ancelotti's side became an increasingly dominant force but ultimately could only muster a draw - and that courtesy of a shot that took a small but wicked deflection to deceive Tim Krul. Had that nice chap Ashley Cole been spotted imprinting his studs on Big Lad, he wouldn't have still been on the pitch to head Wayne Routledge's goalbound volley off the line. As if breaking Wor Cheryl's heart wasn't bad enough...

Rocky also netted in the painful home defeat to Fat Sam's Blackburn which inexplicably followed the Arsenal victory, but worse was to come in the form of the spectacularly awful performance in Lancashire, where we were torn apart by a vibrant and bang-in-form Bolton side. Not only did we defend abysmally, we also paid the full price for ill discipline, Sideshow Bob red-carded for elbowing two-goal Swede Johan Elmander and his central defensive partner Mike Williamson retrospectively banned for an illegal challenge on the same player. And all this coming after ASBO had reverted to type, undergoing trial by TV and subsequently being found guilty of violent conduct for a punch on Blackburn goalscorer Morten Gamst Pedersen... The only bright spot at the Reebok was, once again, Rocky, who scored our consolation and also hit the post while the team around him disintegrated - something that Wor Al particularly picked up on when singing his successor's praises.

But of course with Rocky we've become accustomed to taking the rough with the smooth, and there was more of the former as well as the latter in November in the shape of the lurid News Of The Screws revelations of goings-on chez Nolan following the derby victory. Safe to assume it was Mrs Nolan who imposed the strict curfew on their temporary house-guest - and so when the cat was away, the mouse and his supposedly mature and responsible guardian most definitely played. Still, by the end of the month he managed to convince the Mirror's Brian McNally that he "seems to be learning the error of his ways". Time will tell.

On the subject of learning from mistakes, it's to be hoped that January's FA Cup clash with Stevenage doesn't pan out like the last one, back in 1998 - a PR nightmare courtesy of bungling arrogance on our part. But if a club is prepared to offer Nicky Butt £200,000 a week to come out of retirement, then I guess anything's possible - including, perhaps, a new deal for Steven Taylor? While the suspensions for Williamson and Sideshow Bob saw the fit-again central defender back in the first team, the news was less good for his namesake Ryan, condemned to 12 weeks out following a training ground collision with Sol Campbell.

Also having to come to terms with a lengthy injury lay-off was Kazenga LuaLua, who sustained a broken ankle as League 1 leaders Brighton suffered a rare defeat at the hands of the Monkey Hangers. Meanwhile, fellow loanee Fraser Forster kept a clean sheet while his Celtic team-mates scored no fewer than nine times at the other end - a result that ultimately hastened ex-Toon striker Mark McGhee's ousting from the Aberdeen hot-seat.

There remained an odd but niggling managerial uncertainty closer to home, too, with Chris Hughton continuing to be kept in limbo by the club hierarchy, both over a new contract and a new assistant to replace Colin Calderwood. True to form, Hughton kept his own counsel, and it was left to one of the alleged prospective candidates for the assistant job, Faroe Islands boss Brian Kerr, to suggest that his former companion on the Republic of Ireland bench might be frustrated by the situation. As the calendar flipped into December, though, little did we know that Hughton wouldn't be in limbo for much longer.


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