Monday, May 09, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2011

March signalled a slide into trouble, so it was time to brush up on key survival tactics. How's about the following as a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to avoiding relegation?

1. Most obviously, start scoring regularly.

2. Stop conceding goals, particularly daft ones of your own making.

3. Win your home games.

4. Make up for what you lack in quality with a healthy dose of team spirit and stubborn determination.

We began April by taking points 1 and 3 to heart, giving basement dwellers Wolves a perfectly timed and thoroughly satisfying St James' Park spanking to file alongside those of Villa, the Mackems and West Ham. Kevin Nolan, Big Lad, Peter Lovenkrands and Spidermag all got on the scoresheet, the spectre of relegation looked to have been exorcised and a giddy Alan Pardew was even moved post-match to declare Big Lad "as good a striker as I've ever worked with". That reflects pretty badly on those he's previously had in his charge - though it's worth reflecting that at least Big Lad's wayward shooting has never landed the club in legal trouble...

Our next home game was very different but no less pleasing, the display and result suggesting points 2 and 4 had also been taken onboard. After an excellent first half during which, at times, we put Man Utd under significant pressure, we showed commendable resolve in repeatedly repelling the title-chasers' advances in the second period, Sideshow Bob and Mr T particularly impressive in the rearguard action as we battled our way to an honourable draw.

Judging by Taggart's purple-and-puce face afterwards, and his whingeing about penalties that weren't, perhaps that home and contents insurance was required after all. And he wasn't the only visitor to leave muttering and moaning - Little Saint Mick got in a huff about the chorus of boos which greeted his arrival as a second half substitute, prompting Paul to reassess his time on Tyneside and conclude that we never warmed to him because he never truly committed to us.

In between those two heartening home performances came a thoroughly lacklustre defeat to struggling Aston Villa, which brought back painful memories of that ironically sunny day in May 2009. After four losses on the bounce, Villa Park is fast becoming one of our least favourite away trips.

As always seems to be the way after he shoots his mouth off - this time about former Villa favourite Gareth Barry being Fabio Capello's "teacher's pet" - ASBO had an absolute stinker. If he wants to get into the England squad, then he's got a very funny way of showing it. Maybe he was just keen to experience a rough reception ahead of not being welcomed with open arms by the US in the summer...

That we fared better at Bloomfield Road than in Birmingham was more down to luck (and our opponents' profligacy) than anything else. Having taken the lead, we survived a host of spurious penalty claims but ended up clinging on, grateful for a point against a Tangerines side that had been in freefall.

Blackpool's goal came courtesy of a DJ Campbell header which Jose Enrique couldn't prevent from crossing the line. Was the Spaniard's mind on other things, perhaps - such as a summer switch to Liverpool? Pardew was quick to quash the speculation, and it's difficult to tell if Phil Thompson's lying - his hooter's already massive...

On the subject of bodily appendages, Hatem Ben Arfa - joined on the sidelines by Steve Harper and Leon Best, both out for the remainder of the season - revealed he came perilously close to having to have a leg amputated. In a month during which the club's attitude towards both fans and the women's team was called into question, the Frenchman was full of praise for the support the club (and fans) have given him throughout his recuperation.

Ben Arfa wasn't alone in counting his blessings in April. As bizarre as it might seem, there was a general sense of relief to have Jabba at the helm when we learned that we'd been targeted by fantasists/crooks Munto Finance. Jabba, meanwhile, had Coventry's owners Sisu to thank for ignoring ex-Toon full-back and then Sky Blues chairman Ray Ranson's advice and passing up the opportunity to sign Rocky for £34.2m less than Liverpool eventually paid.

With ASBO and Enrique both demanding ambition and its corollary, outlay on new players, as conditions of their signing new contracts, and with a draw against Blackpool seen as a good point, reinvestment of some of the Rocky cash during the summer is essential. Let's just hope Jabba appreciates that.




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