A Month Of Saturdays: September 2011
The emphasis is very much on the "ex". For a club used to being rocked by off-field scandal as well as on-pitch calamity, September was a disarmingly quiet month for us. While our three old boys were admonished, embarrassed and arrested respectively elsewhere - and while Blue Square Premier striking partners were busy taking a leaf out of Lee Bowyer and the Little Waster's book, scrapping with each other on the pitch - Alan Pardew expressed sympathy for North-East newshounds, usually horrifically overworked but suddenly finding themselves sat twiddling their thumbs. Forget about "bombs going off" - there wasn't really even so much as a cap gun (though there were paintball guns all round). (Of course, Pardew's sympathy would be understandable if, as one wag speculated, stability might result in his own unemployment...)
Inevitably a large reason for the relative calm - and the paintballing trip - was the departure of ASBO at the tail end of August. No more childish spats, Twitter feuds or dressing room rebellions to report, just the whiff of something slighty fishy about the deal that took him to QPR. At the start of the month, though, most interest was focused on failed bids rather than contentious sales, as Paul bemoaned our inability to land Rocky's replacement during the transfer window. Our irritation was assuaged by neither Llambiarse's nonsensical attempt at an explanation/defence (come off it, Del Boy - every club faced the same difficulty of having to work through "complex and protracted" negotiations, and what was the Bryan Ruiz bid if not "knee-jerk"?) nor the weasely words of the Q&A session printed in the Ronny Gill. Pardew stuck his neck out and ventured a gentle criticism of his paymasters, while we lived in fear that free agent James Beattie would be announced as the answer to our prayers but took succour from the possibility that we might one day be able to wrest some control of the club back from Jabba.
The international break over, it was a curious quirk of fate that life AA (After ASBO) should begin with us facing his new side at Loftus Road. The Scouse workie ticket, captaining the side, showed our lacklustre midfield what we were missing, though the limelight was stolen by fellow debutant Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt. Still, we rode our luck and, thanks to a couple of splendid goalline clearances from Danny Simpson and Steven Taylor, escaped back up the A1 with another clean sheet and a point.
A week later and our resilience was given a sterner test, as we fell a goal behind at Villa Park, a ground that in recent seasons has become synonymous with misery. Thankfully, though, Mr T and Yohan Cabaye were back to their usual selves, turning in magnificent displays as Leon O'Best continued his knack of finding the net from point-blank range and only his compatriot Shay Given, once of this parish, prevented us from claiming all three points.
"If Demba Ba could only start scoring, we might be in danger of getting excited", Paul claimed at the end of that report - so the Senegalese striker's match-winning treble against Blackburn was the cause of much merriment. While our defence largely held firm again (in the face of one of the division's weakest attacks, admittedly), our expansive and incisive forward play, spearheaded by Ba, was a delight. Perhaps, we speculated, we'd found the striker we so craved after all. What's that old adage about things being in the last place you look?
Between the fixtures against Villa and Blackburn we took time out to hammer another nail into the coffin of Steve McLaren's short managerial reign on the banks of the River Trent. In truth Championship strugglers Forest played well and fought back to level no fewer than three times, but Sideshow Bob finally finished them off with penalties looming and sent us into the next round of the League Cup.
The fine form of the first team meant that others had to be patient and bide their time - most notably the fit-again HBA and Dan Gosling, the latter pushing hard for a place by putting in impressive shifts for England U21s and the Reserves as well as triumphing in X Factor duels with international teammates. Davide Santon too sat September out, his alleged fragile confidence matched by a fragile knee which needed draining to recover.
While those three spent the month largely behind the scenes, one fan spent a morning - and wrote about it. Perhaps Tim Krul should be henceforth christened Bananaman? The club, meanwhile, will be hoping that local lasses are keen to show their support for the club behind closed doors with the launch of a new range of branded lingerie. I think we can agree that, despite the early disillusionment with dithering in the transfer market, September was far from pants.
Labels: a month of saturdays