Friday, November 04, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2011

Who'd have thunk it, eh? Halloween, a quarter of the way through the Premier League season, and, rather than being stalked and harrowed by the spectre of relegation, we were talking (quietly and with cautious excitement) about the possibility of European football. Indeed, it's telling that the dreaded R word was only mentioned round these parts following rumours (misguided, it turned out) that foreign owners might lobby for it to be scrapped, just as it is that the one bit of player misbehaviour reported in the press - the Lone Ranger's latest brush with the local constabulary - never threatened to detract from our achievements in reaching the heady heights of third, or to derail what has the makings of a tremendous campaign.

When we visited Molineux on the first day of the month, autumn should have been in the air but instead the sun shone on us in more ways than one. Demba Ba was on target again after his hat-trick against Blackburn before Spidermag celebrated his new contract in style, slaloming his way through to score a splendid solo goal. From then on it was backs against the wall, the desperate and heroic efforts of Tim Krul and his defence only enough to preserve an away win with the assistance of wasteful Wolves finishing and Mark Halsey both generously ignoring Saylor's penalty-box foul on Jamie O'Hara and disallowing Kevin Doyle's injury-time equaliser. (Perhaps Halsey shares an optician with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni?) If you make your own luck, then we'd been very industrious indeed.

In times past we've limped into international breaks gasping for respite, but on this occasion it was an unwelcome interruption. Not that we allowed the two-week hiatus to knock us out of our confident stride, returning to Premier League action with a thoroughly deserved draw at home to a very good Spurs side who couldn't stop winning either side of their visit to St James'. October saw Big Lad hit the big 3-0 (Paul somewhat uncharitably suggesting on Twitter than he'd actually been aiming for 25...), and it was his brilliant equaliser after coming off the bench that gave 'Appy 'Arry an even more hound-dog-like expression than normal. Afterwards he subtly breathed down Ba and O'Best's necks before - inevitably - succumbing to injury.

Big Lad looked like being a big loss the following weekend when, with 80 minutes on the clock and B&B off-form, we seemed set for a disspiriting home stalemate with Deluded Dave's Wigan. Thankfully, though, Yohan Cabaye was on hand to curl in a superb winner and give some fizz to a display that the Silver Fox branded more like "flat bitter" than "champagne football". A tough cookie (or whatever the French equivalent is) as well as a class act, Cabaye had shaken off an ankle injury picked up on international duty. Many more goals like that and the man nicknamed Dreamboat will have Geordie men as well as Geordie women going weak at the knees.

The Frenchman pulled an even more delicious strike out of his locker in the midweek League Cup tie at Blackburn. As definitions of clinical go, scoring in the 92nd and 95th minutes with your first two shots on target is pretty good, but Danny Guthrie and Dreamboat's late, late show only forced extra time, Rovers having been two goals to the good. We traded blows again during the additional half-hour but ultimately uncharacteristically sloppy defending gifted our hosts a place in the quarter-finals with all the big hitters.

The Britannia probably wouldn't have been our first choice of destination having just surrendered our unbeaten record, just as Saylor confessed Stoke weren't the ideal opponents for someone with a broken hooter. A suitably scary place for Halloween, then - or so we thought. In reality, we confronted the ugly face (and faces) of football and triumphed, belittling the red-and-white-striped bogeymen. Stoke's own bogeyman Ba, rejected by the Potters last season as damaged goods, gained his revenge, stealing the headlines and inspiring Paul to creative genius. Whether his second treble in black and white was down to darts practice was unclear, but remarkably it was our fifth since returning to the Premier League last August and our second on consecutive Halloweens (you may remember the previous one...). Perhaps what was most pleasing of all, though, was the sight of Tony Pulis incandescent with rage at the second-half insistence of our full-backs Danny Simpson and Raylor on rubbing the ball dry with Rory Delap's towels to waste time at every throw-in. In the past we've been too often naive and easily outsmarted, so this example of nous, and hoisting Stoke by their own petard, was hugely enjoyable.

Considerable credit, then, has to go to the Silver Fox. Everyone's apparently "pulling 100 per cent" now, and in the same direction, and that's as much a reflection of his man-management skills as it is of the departure of wantaway players like Jose Enrique and disruptive influences like ASBO. Speaking to the BBC, Steve Stone talked up Pardew the tactician - only at Newcastle, though, could special focused defensive training sessions be such a revolutionary concept.

The replacement of the old East Stand sign with a new version carrying Sports Direct branding was a reminder that, above the Silver Fox, Jabba continues to preside over everything, his stature among Toon fans no doubt somewhat rehabilitated by virtue of the team's performance and his own recent low profile. He might be prepared to wager £50,000 on a single roll of a dice, but he does also seem to be putting us on a firm financial footing - if only to make it more attractive for him to find an investor to take the club off his hands.

So, not much to feel unhappy or uncomfortable about in October - apart, perhaps, from the club's implicit endorsement of the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan, which threatens to screw over Football League clubs; the continued failure to sign up to even the most woolly of commitments to fight homophobia on the terraces and in the dressing room; and the fact that Steve Harper has felt the need to leave in pursuit of first-team football while the Lone Ranger remains on Tyneside racking up the criminal charges.

To cap a month that's been memorable for all the right reasons, Paul became a father for the third time. Perhaps it was for the best that Jacob was born now rather than next May - if things carry on in the same vein for the rest of the season, the new arrival would have been in danger of being named after the whole first-team squad...




Post a Comment

<< Home