Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: November 2013

Let's be honest: not even Michael Chopra would have bet on last month turning out well for us. We staggered into November off the back of an early League Cup exit and, much worse, a second successive defeat to the Mackems, with nothing to look forward to other than heavy beatings at the hands of Chelsea and Spurs. And yet we came out the other side with four wins out of four, accolades for our manager and goalkeeper, and a real and renewed sense of belief that this season could be more 2011/2 than 2012/3.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, there were signs in that cup defeat by Man City that our fortunes might be about to change. We more than matched the Premier League's biggest spenders for 90 minutes, only succumbing to their superior quality in extra time. Failing to take our chances against top-quality opposition was not a mistake we were about to repeat when Chelsea rocked up three days later. Level at the break, we pushed on in the second period, goals from Goofy and Remy securing the first and arguably most impressive of our November victories, not least because it came against in-form title hopefuls. (Plus there was the added satisfaction of normal service resuming on Wearside, with the Mackems tumbling to defeat in farcical circumstances.)

Even with that result under our belts, though, many no doubt felt that claiming maximum points at White Hart Lane would be beyond us. And it would have been, were it not for the repeated and sensational interventions of Tim Krul. The whole side worked manfully to frustrate Andre Villas-Boas' men, but it was our Dutch goalkeeper who did most to protect the fragile early lead given to us by Remy, earning himself that Premier League Player of the Month award in the process.

Our gathering momentum might have been stalled by the international break, but even that ended up working in our favour. Our French contingent returned to Tyneside buoyed by triumphing in their World Cup qualification play-off against Ukraine - no mean feat given the first-leg deficit they had to overturn. And they weren't the only members of our squad looking forward to Brazil next summer. Mr T's Ivory Coast also qualified (albeit at the expense of Papiss Cisse's Senegal), as did Nigeria. Big Lad may not have had a hand in securing the Super Eagles' passport to the World Cup personally, but he nevertheless featured prominently in their friendly draw against Italy, setting up their first and scoring their second.

Any fears that the fortnight's holiday from club football would prove damaging were dispelled within two minutes of kick-off against Norwich, Remy scoring for the third successive game - and, most remarkably, from a corner. Goofy added a second, and with Big Lad apparently under the impression he was playing against the Mackems, we should have cruised to victory over Chris Hughton's side but conceded a goal ten minutes from time, resulting in an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking finish and a palpable sense of relief at the final whistle.

Another banana skin was successfully avoided on the final day of November, West Brom dispatched by the same 2-1 scoreline. The match was memorable chiefly for a marvellous winner and goal-of-the-month contender from Moussa Sissoko, smashed into Boaz Myhill's top corner from distance, but the fact that we once again scored from a flag kick, Goofy on target again, also merits a mention.

While the negative tactics of the second half against the Canaries were questionable, and the Spurs victory owed more to Krul's instinct and inspiration than to managerial nous, the Silver Fox was nevertheless overall a deserving recipient of the Manager of the Month award. The Premier League weren't the only ones queueing up to give him a pat on the back - Mike Williamson did too, understandably delighted to find himself back in the first-team frame.

The victories over Chelsea and Spurs caused the Guardian to sit up and take note, highlighting statistical evidence suggesting we've abandoned last season's hoof 'n' hope in favour of a more cultured and sharper passing game. That such a change has taken place with Big Lad replacing Cisse as the focal point of our attack is all the more remarkable. My own analysis, meanwhile, credited the sequence of wins to a return to form (and fitness) for our key men, and to a shift in formation to a more conventional 4-4-2.

So, what are we aiming for? What were our initial targets for the season, and should we now be revising them? Some took the Silver Fox's pronouncements about the benefits of not playing midweek European ties as evidence that the club hierarchy regard European qualification as undesirable. If so, then Jabba and chums are even more idiotic than I'd thought - we should always be aiming as high as possible, moving to strengthen and reinforce the squad if and when necessary. It's the only way we'll retain players like Dreamboat, who appears determined to enjoy European football elsewhere if not with us.

Already on the move in November were James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic, both sent out on loan to Rotherham. If JFK pitches up at a Millers match, here's hoping someone points out to him the players we already own...

That buffoon's continued employment was one reason why it wasn't a perfect month. Another was the extension of Jabba's assault on anyone who dares to question his actions or authority, with NUST suffering a similar fate to the local press, finding themselves barred from the recently resurrected fans' forum. Contrast that with the amicable and mature way Port Vale resolved their dispute with local paper the Sentinel. Sadly, there seemed to be little chance of common sense breaking out on Tyneside - as ever.

Mind you, that went for some of our players too. Saylor's ill-advised attempt at "banter" on Twitter was deemed offensive by some, and resulted in a slap on the wrist and a reminder that tweets are public. If Jabba really wants to make improvements to the way the club is portrayed, he could start by insisting JFK and our players undertake more extensive media training.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

millers fan ....havent seen a lot of vucic yet but dicko and tavernier are a class above and i dont want them to go.tavernier and dicko should be playing championship or prem.freckelton is fantastic for us to just hope no one steals him

7:04 pm  

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