Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2013

Last month I was bemoaning the apparent difficulty of getting a transfer deal "over the line". When something is proving extremely difficult, there are essentially three options: redouble your efforts, quit or cheat. We went for the latter, opting to pursue a player we'd already come close to dragging "over the line" in January, only for him to decide to trouser a load of cash by hitching a ride on 'Appy 'Arry's Relegation Bandwagon instead. Facing the prospect of a season in the Championship being overlooked by French coach Didier Deschamps, Loic Remy didn't need much persuading to make the move to Tyneside that he turned his back on seven months earlier. He clearly has a firm grasp of the significance of the striker's role at St James' Park, even going so far as to arrive injured and with a court case already hanging over his head...

It's just a shame that we were doing 'Appy 'Arry a favour, lightening QPR's ludicrously heavy wage bill, rather than poaching Remy from under his nose. After all, that would have been sweet revenge for the way he gazumped us for the Frenchman in the first place - and we already owed him one for helping to unsettle Demba Ba by widely broadcasting the terms of his release clause. Incidentally, it was no surprise, given Chelsea's apparent policy of signing every attacking midfielder under the sun and playing a lone forward, to see Ba linked with a return to the club that only sold him in January. Presumably those in the club shop will have been rubbing their hands in anticipation - a quick and easy job applying letters to the back of replica shirts as well as an opportunity to shift more of that strawberry syrup they got in. Not that everyone even remembered who Ba was - the Torygraph's Luke Edwards seems to have forgotten about him ever turning out for the Toon.

Nothing transpired, though, and the arrival of Remy to relatively little fanfare was our sole piece of business in August. JFK - someone we WOULD like airbrushed out of history, Luke - might have blithely claimed that everyone was singing from the same hymnsheet, but in reality the Silver Fox was acting the naughty choirboy, repeatedly chirping about the need to strengthen in the face of the official party line that suggested (laughably) that the squad was sufficiently strong as it stood. It seemed the one-man PR disaster was once again on a mission to see how deeply he could offend us, not only insulting our intelligence with that comment but also taunting us peasants with talk of private helicopter rides en route for a cosy get-together on Jabba's yacht off St Tropez. Needless to say, he offered no explanation for the fact that the get-together was organised to discuss planning and strategy and yet took place in late August.

By that point, our Premier League campaign was already underway. The pre-season fixtures had concluded with an arguably full-strength side coming perilously close to losing to Rangers of Scottish football's third tier, and a draw at home to Braga. The latter match might have taken place on National Football Day in memory of Sir Bobby Robson, but the game itself was nothing to get excited about, the Silver Fox later whining about the lacklustre tempo typical of Portuguese teams but failing to explain why we'd elected to play three of them.

An opening weekend defeat at Man City was hardly unexpected, though the manner of the thrashing was no less disspiriting as a result. I'd obviously tempted fate by hoping the "secret formula" would elude our hosts. Manuel Pellegrini's men hit the ground running, flexing their muscles as title contenders and showing off some of their expensive summer imports. Tim Krul was superb while all around him froze like rabbits in headlights, but couldn't prevent a 4-0 deficit. Our misery was completed by an injury to Spidermag and a red card for Saylor. Nice to see him getting both his blatant penalty-area handball (not spotted) and impetuous dismissal out of the way in the first fixture of the campaign.

One game in, then, and already Paul's prediction of a ninth-place finish was looking decidedly optimistic. The inauspicious start to our season wasn't helped by the fact that Dreamboat had been unsettled by a £10m bid from Arsenal - "derisory" according to the club but enough to turn the player's head, with rumours suggesting he'd refused to play at Man City. Going on strike? How very French. Hardly the most edifying behaviour from a man we'd earmarked as a future club captain.

The Silver Fox was spouting nonsense when he suggested Dreamboat's absence was a critical factor in our loss to Man City, but it would have been a valid point with respect to our goalless draw with West Ham, when creativity was in desperately short supply. I'd caricatured Fat Sam's mob as limited hoof-merchants in my season preview, but we can consider ourselves lucky to have escaped being beaten at home by them for the second season in succession. Even without Rocky they created enough opportunities to win - though it was us who struck the post and skied a sitter in the dying minutes.

We were in need of an ego boost and the League Cup victory over Morecambe didn't really provide it. Big Lad and Little Big Lad may have ultimately made it a night to remember for the Ameobi family, but we had to endure several hairy moments before that, as our hosts made a mockery of the gulf in status and Dan Gosling twice cleared off the line, thereby making his most significant contributions in a black and white shirt (not that that's saying much).

Against Fulham the following weekend, we were within four minutes of drawing a blank for a fifth home game in a row, stretching back to the spring. Thankfully, though, HBA had other ideas, popping up with a spectacular trademark strike to earn us a deserved three points if not the enthusiastic gratitude of his manager. It also meant a third clean sheet in a week, albeit against mediocre opposition - a welcome sequence given how easily we'd been sliced apart by Man City.

While Dreamboat remained on Tyneside, making his first appearance of the season from the bench against the Cottagers, the club's youngsters were scattered to the four winds. Michael Richardson signed for Accrington Stanley, Mehdi Abeid hooked up with Panathinaikos, Conor Newton went back to St Mirren (this time without Paul Dummett), and, after featuring in a U21 fixture that didn't offer us much hope for the future, Adam Campbell swapped St James' Park for Brunton Park. Not that all the loan deals we struck lasted the course - James Tavernier managed just two appearances for Shrewsbury before hobbling back to the North-East with metatarsal knack.

One player who did leave permanently was Brad Inman, Crewe for once buying in rather than selling a promising youngster. The Aussie soon came up against a familiar face in League One, the Lone Ranger scoring as Swindon, the saps who in their infinite wisdom have decided to give him an umpteenth chance, ran out 5-0 winners over the Railwaymen. That goal came three days after his first for the club, which helped to give 'Appy 'Arry a bloody nose. Haven't I always said how much a fan of Ranger's I am? As for QPR, it was slightly upsetting to see that Danny Simpson broke his scoring duck for his new club almost immediately - just our luck that he'll now turn out to be prolific.

Down the road, Sunderland players seemed intent on burning bridges (much to our obvious amusement), but ours were more keen to build or at least repair them. Some supporters were sceptical of Papiss Cisse's motives for kicking up a fuss about the Wonga shirt branding, so his decision to invite fans to his house for barbeques and games of pool and FIFA could be seen as an olive branch or an act of contrition. Meanwhile, Sideshow Bob made friends with the Pope, the pair bonding over a mutual love of San Lorenzo. A wise move on the part of our captain - we may yet need to rely on divine intervention...

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