Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2011

What a curious season we're having. A clutch of St James' Park thrashings dished out to Villa, West Ham and (most deliciously of all) the Mackems; disciplined and thoroughly professional victories at the Emirates, Goodison Park, Upton Park, the DW Stadium and St Andrews; creditable and slightly unfortunate home draws with Spurs, Chelsea and (of course) Arsenal; and just three genuinely start-to-finish shamefully appalling displays. And yet by the end of March we found ourselves a paltry four points clear of 18th, the spectre of relegation hanging around expectantly as if awaiting a rendezvous with Yvette Fielding and Derek Acorah.

A dismal pair of defeats - the self-destruction at Bolton and the dejected post-Rocky loss to Fulham - was joined in March by a miserable tonking at the Britannia Stadium, remarkable chiefly for the fact that Stoke comprehensively out-footballed us. Alan Pardew had experimented with a 3-5-2 formation in the month's only other match, at home to Everton, abandoning it only when the Arteta-inspired Toffees already had us in a fatal choke hold. But perversely he persisted with it at the Britannia. Let that be a lesson, Alan.

Interestingly, Pardew was more than happy to point to others learning from their mistakes - his paymaster and chairman, for instance. Had Jabba not impulse-bought in 2007 and instead carefully carried out the due diligence process, he wouldn't have found himself propping us up now - and the weight of the burden he's shouldering must surely serve as a constant and painful reminder of the errors he made that led to our demotion to the Championship. While there's grudging acceptance that some financial wrongs are slowly being righted, supporters remain steadfastly opposed to his ownership, and given our precarious league position, the publication of our accounts was timely, underlining the hugely damaging cost of relegation.

Naturally, the club took pains to play down any sense of alarm, stressing that the financial results didn't take into account either the immediate promotion back to the Premier League or the record-breaking sale of Rocky - a deal which, according to the Guardian's David Conn, smelt a little fishy. Secret agent or no secret agent, managing to get £35m for someone who as recently as summer 2009 we rated at just £1m and who is still in need of lecturing about his boozing habits from his international manager suggests it was a good bit of business. (Though, if you believe Brian McNally - and history's taught us to be wary - overindulgence in the demon drink can sometimes be a very good thing indeed...)

It wasn't just mistakes that Pardew sought to remind Jabba of - it was pledges too. He'd been promised Rocky would be retained, and now, that promise broken, he seemed determined to ensure he gets his mitts on that hefty transfer fee. At least one of his predecessors remains highly sceptical he'll even see a penny...

But, hypothetically speaking, if Pardew were to be handed some pocket money, who might he be looking to spend it on? Cheik Tiote's Ivory Coast teammate Gervinho? Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson? England new boy Matt Jarvis? Perhaps even Stephen Ireland, who rashly burned his bridges with parent club Villa before his long-overdue Toon debut was deferred again, this time apparently due to managerial overeagerness to press him back into action. In view of Mario Balotelli's recent complaint, it's tempting to venture that our on-loan midfielder is allergic to first-team football. I'd suggest he might be agoraphobic, uncomfortable and nervous beyond the secure confines of the treatment room, but unfortunately for him the camera never lies...

Eagerly scouring the globe for players is all fine and well, but sometimes you can miss the bairns in baskets deposited on your very doorstep - criminal, really, especially now that the supposed cliche of the North East being a hotbed of footballing talent has been statistically proven. Rocky was a local lad, of course, and now there's another youthful star rocketing through the ranks, Michael Richardson, albeit one whose potential to emulate club captain Kevin Nolan had initially passed our Academy scouts by. Pardew is quite rightly an evangelist for the loan system as a means of developing such players, with Fraser Forster, James Tavernier and Ryan Donaldson all significant beneficiaries of the policy.

In truth, though, as is sadly so often the case with Newcastle, it was the short term with which we were preoccupied as March drew to a close. Try as we might to look towards longer-term aspirations, Premier League survival inevitably has to be the focus.




Blogger Ben said...

Actually I seem to have blotted from memory that awful defeat at West Brom that prompted Jabba to give Chris Hughton the boot...

10:39 p.m.  

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