Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Matches of the day, and the stuff of nightmares

Sheer, unadulterated joy and unfathomable despair: we're on nodding terms with the former, and know the latter so well we've got the Samaritans on speed dial. We kick off our look back over the last decade by fondly recalling ten of our best games - and dredging up the banished memories of five of our worst.

Ten of the best

Spurs (h), 13th March 2005
As alluded to yesterday, it's the hope that drives us as football fans and this game, which saw us overcome a spirited Spurs team thanks to a Fat Pat goal in front of me (and a few thousand others in the Leazes End), gave us hope. The victory saw us secure our first trip to an FA Cup semi-final in Cardiff, to a stadium that I love, and that I wanted to see and hear packed with Newcastle fans. It gave us hope that maybe, just maybe, we might see some success come our way. (Paul)

Mackems (a), 17th April 2006
"[I]f it is to be Shearer's last game, our biggest derby victory for fifty years isn't a bad way to bow out." The last words of our match report proved to be accurate (his testimonial aside) and, as a fitting tribute to our all-time top scorer, a glorious victory over the Great Unwashed was a beautiful way for the curtain to fall on his career. The fact that Michael Chopra, the Zog and even Albert Luque also got on the scoresheet illustrates how awful the home team were that day, which, if anything, actually made it that little bit sweeter. (Paul)

Stoke (h), 16th January 2008
A run-of-the-mill FA Cup third round replay that pitched a struggling Newcastle side against then Championship promotion-chasers Stoke, coming after a dull 0-0 draw at the Britannia, hardly promised much. But then the news broke that, incredibly, club legend King Kev was back for a second spell as manager, and, much as his initial appointment in February 1992 had banished the relegation blues and propelled us to a 3-0 win over Bristol City, the excitement and euphoria in the stands inspired the players picked by caretaker boss Nigel Pearson to sweep the Potters aside. Better times were surely just around the corner... (Ben)

Spurs (a), 30th March 2008
Initially, things didn't go to plan for King Kev. It wasn't until 22nd March and his tenth game in charge (following thumpings at the hands of Arsenal (twice), Man Utd, Liverpool and Villa) that he finally oversaw a victory. That win against Fulham lit the spark that set us on our way to safety, though, and the following weekend we recorded a hugely impressive 4-1 victory against another bunch of white-shirted Londoners. Nicky Butt and Geremi were unlikely goalscorers as we recovered from falling behind in fine style. Like Butt, Obafemi Martins also scored at White Hart Lane for the second consecutive season, though his icing-on-the-cake strike was somewhat less spectacular than the previous year's effort. (Ben)

Nottingham Forest (h), 29th March 2010
At the City Ground the previous October, in a game played out in a poisonous atmosphere, we lost 1-0, ceding top spot in the Championship to West Brom and having to suffer the Forest fans' taunts about our fall from grace. So revenge was sweet, Jose Enrique's first and only goal for the club (and indeed his first senior goal for anyone) sealing a hard-earned victory that all but ensured automatic promotion at the first attempt and consigned the visitors to the play-offs. (Ben)

Mackems (h), 31st October 2010
Given our lack of trophies, you have to take your highlights where you can get them and beating Mackems (rather than horses) is a definite high in any season. However, while beating them in any manner is satisfying, sticking five past them was a sweet moment that lives long in the memory and for Kevin Nolan in particular guarantees he'll never need to buy a drink on Tyneside as long as he lives. (Paul)

Arsenal (h), 5th February 2011
We've been involved in some memorable games with Arsenal in the Premier League era - the 3-1 win at Highbury in December 2001 that ended the four-year London hoodoo, the 7-3 howking suffered at the Emirates almost exactly eleven years later - but this one tops the lot. We'd lost 4-0 at home to the Gunners in the League Cup in October, and this time were trailing by the same scoreline with just 26 minutes on the clock. But, aided and abetted by referee Phil Dowd, a red card for Abou Diaby, an electrifying cameo from the Lone Ranger (yes, he was a footballer once, honest) and what is still the only goal Mr T has ever scored in a Newcastle shirt, we made Premier League history in recovering from a four-goal deficit to claim a point - and in the end it could so nearly have been all three. (Ben)

Man Utd (h), 4th January 2012
The Red Devils have regularly routed us in the Premier League - the 6-0 and 5-1 humpings in 2008, barely a month apart, are a particularly painful memory - so it's only right that we should revel in the rare pleasure of a comprehensive victory of our own. Demba Ba, who had revealed his addiction to strawberry syrup in a pre-match interview, set us on our way with a wonderful volley, before a sumptuous Dreamboat free-kick and a comical Phil Jones own goal secured us the three points and the game a place in the memory bank. (Ben)

Chelsea (a), 2nd May 2012
Our illustrious hosts may have had one eye on the Champions League final, which they went on to win, but take nothing away from a tremendous team display from those in black and white. Papiss Cisse was in the midst of an exceptional scoring streak that now seems like an age ago and had already hit a fine goal in the first half, when, wide on the left in stoppage time, he looped an extraordinary outside-of-the-foot shot over Petr Cech and in off the far post. Our goal of the season hands down, were it not for HBA (of whom more tomorrow). (Ben)

Man Utd (a), 7th December 2013
No matter that it came against the worst Man Utd side in decades. No matter that the Red Devils lost at home on six other occasions in the Premier League last season, including to the Mackems. At last, after 41 years of waiting, we recorded a victory at Old Trafford, and a relatively comfortable one at that. The only goal of the game came from the right boot of Dreamboat, who put himself firmly in the shop window - but despite their chronic deficiencies in midfield, when January came around Man Utd weren't interested and he left for PSG instead. (Ben)

Five of the worst

Aston Villa (h), 2nd April 2005
In all my days as a Newcastle fan, I can honestly say that this marked a particular nadir. It wasn't that we lost to a mediocre Villa side that was the issue, or even Saylor's appalling dive as though taken out by a sniper in the stands when he'd committed a deliberate handball. No. It was the disagreement between Bowyer and Dyer which went from a mild exchange of views to a full-blown punch-up. On the pitch. In front of thousands of fans in the stands and millions of people watching on TV. To describe it as a desperate day was an understatement. Not only were the players banned (ruling them out of the FA Cup semi-final two weeks later) and Bowyer subsequently found guilty of threatening behaviour and fined, it also meant that the wheels had spectacularly come off our season just as we had the prospect of games in the latter stages of two cup competitions four days apart. Needless to say, we lost to both Sporting Lisbon and Man Utd by the same 4-1 scoreline. (Paul)

Fulham (h), 16th May 2009
As dark days go, the whole 2008/09 season was littered with them. King Kev, JFK, Chris Hughton and Wor Al all presided over miserable performances. This was the 37th game of one of the most miserable seasons in my memory. Even though relegation wasn't confirmed until a week later (and a point in this game, or that one or any of the other 36 for that matter, would have sent the perma-tanned bastard's Hull team down instead), this was nonetheless an abject display in which we contrived to shoot ourselves in the foot thanks to a red card for Sebastian Bassong and a failure to register a goal. (Paul)

Stevenage (a), 8th January 2011
A list of this nature simply wouldn't be complete without a humiliating cup exit at the hands of supposed inferiors. Surveying the past decade, there are a few candidates for inclusion, but this one stands out like a particularly sore thumb. For League 2 outfit Stevenage, it was revenge for the perceived injustices of the clubs' infamous meetings in 1998, when we belittled and patronised them on our way to defeat to Arsenal in the final. Remarkable to think that that stupendous comeback against the Gunners came less than a month later than this excruciating embarrassment. (Ben)

Liverpool (h), 27th April 2013
Those of us present at the 5-1 St James' Park thrashing in December 2008 - a result that finally broke Shay Given's spirit, despite the three separate standing ovations we gave him, and clearly signposted our relegation the following May - probably didn't imagine we could possibly turn in an even worse display at home to Liverpool. Yet less than four and a half years later we contrived to get smacked for six without reply, Mathieu Debuchy getting himself sent off just to escape a sorry mess that once again appeared to foreshadow relegation. God knows what the scoreline would have been if Luis Suarez had been playing. I wonder if Stevie G went back to Liverpool and celebrated in time-honoured fashion, by beating up a DJ for not playing a Phil Collins song on request. (Ben)

Mackems (h), 1st February 2014
Proof that lightning can and indeed does strike twice. And lightning of the very worst kind, too - a painfully comprehensive 3-0 home defeat to the Mackems. The previous season's match was marked by Paulo di Canio's kneeslide along the touchline, and a police horse getting biffed in the aftermath, but February's loss was arguably more traumatising as it meant we could no longer attempt to write off the first game as a freakish anomaly. When the next derby comes around, we'll go into it knowing we've lost the last three - is it any wonder we'd have been particularly keen to see the Mackems relegated? (Ben)

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