Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2009

A weekend off, courtesy of the elements - no excuse not to throw together the overdue review of last month, then...

By contrast with the turbulence and high farce with which November began, December was a much quieter month off-field. Jabba opted to keep a low profile, suggesting he might not be so completely unacquainted with common sense as he often appears. Organ grinder's monkey Llambiarse, meanwhile, seemed so determined to blot out all the controversy over the stadium rebranding that he even referred to it as St James' Park in his programme notes. Few distractions from the real business at hand, then - regaining our top flight status.

In the first of no fewer than six league games over the course of the month, we took on Watford. Peter Lovenkrands capitalised on a rare bit of gut-busting effort from Homer to give us an early lead, but thereafter the Hornets caused us real problems, and we found ourselves in the unfamiliar position of being under concerted pressure on our own turf, especially when Kevin Nolan was sent off for two yellows (by Mackem whistleblower Jonathan Moss, I should add). An opportune moment for our newest recruit, Fabrice Pancrate, to introduce himself with a fabulous bit of skill and thumping shot to wrap up a 2-0 win.

Another win - our seventh in a row - duly followed four days later, when Coventry were ruthlessly dispatched by the same scoreline. Coleman's outfit had kicked off as keen as mustard (arf), striking the frame of Steve Harper's goal twice, but Big Lad's opener on the stroke of half-time proved crucial and sub Nile Ranger's first senior goal sealed it.

The sequence of victories finally came to an end the following Saturday, though, a trip to Barnsley our undoing. We took the lead twice, the returning Nolan and Homer our scorers, only to succumb to a late Bobby Hassell equaliser. Chucking away points? A bad habit we thought we'd grown out of, but sadly not.

Thankfully a visit from Wee Gordon Strachan's demoralised and misfiring Boro was next on the agenda, the 2-0 victory a much-needed tonic for those who spent the most hellish weekend of the year being dragged from shop to shop by their WAGs. The Smogs squandered their chances, while Homer and Big Lad took ours. It's fair to say, though, that referee Kevin Friend lived up to his name, missing both Big Lad's barge on Emanuel Pogatetz and his Phantom of the Opera mask in the build-up to the first goal, and then Steven Taylor's handball on the line. A late addition to Chris Hughton's Christmas card list, no doubt.

So, ten points clear at the top at Christmas - festive cheer indeed. But then Big Lad warned of the dangers of complacency, Hughton praised the solidity of our back four and fate scratched its head and thought: "Hmm, that's really rather tempting..."

The result? A sloppily conceded early goal at Hillsborough and a complacent disinterestedness in pressing home our superiority once we'd gained the advantage, leading to a second successive 2-2 draw on the road in Yorkshire as the Boxing Day curse struck yet again. Stuart Attwell's Christmas presents clearly didn't include a pair of spectacles, the man in black allowing Big Lad's goal despite him being approximately a mile offside and then doing likewise with James O'Connor's prod after Harper had been assaulted by Luke Varney.

Just like our trousers, the gap at the top got tighter as the festive period wore on, as we posted another frustrating draw against lowly opposition (this time Derby) on the 28th in which we hit the woodwork twice but couldn't make the breakthrough. Still, Christmas is all about the art of masking disappointment and we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we were still unbeaten since that shoddy defeat at Scunthorpe on 20th October.

December saw us bid farewell to loan recruits Zurab Khizanishvili and Homer (though their returns to their Premier League parent clubs could yet prove short-lived), and Paul pondered the positions in which reinforcements are most urgently needed during the January transfer window. The rumours of interest in Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford bubbled away, while it was unclear whether we'd expressed a firm interest in Sol Campbell, now once again a free agent after his farcical dalliance with Notts County.

The end of the year, and the end of the decade, naturally had us reflecting on the past. Sir Bobby Robson received the 2009 FIFA Fair Play Award posthumously, while for Alan Shearer the honours continued to mount up just like they never did during his ten-year playing career on Tyneside, his latest an honorary degree.

Less welcome was some guff from professional ankle-biter and gobshite Craig Bellamy implying that Wor Al had somehow had a role in Robson's dismissal. And, with our minds drawn back to memories of Bobby's Borstal Boys (Bellamy, Bowyer, Dyer etc), Bigger Lad took it upon himself to prove that the Class of '09 aren't all clean-living goody-two-shoes by getting himself lifted for alleged assault for the second time.

But, with Newcastle named as one of the Host Cities for England's 2018 World Cup bid, it was also a time to look to the future. And a time to celebrate new beginnings, on a personal note at least, as Paul's second-born made a grand entrance just in time for Christmas. Just think: if we do fend off our challengers and return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, Isaac will be a Newcastle fan who can genuinely say he's known only success...


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