Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2013

Round these parts the festive season is usually about as welcome as it is among turkeys and A&E workers, as messy as an office party with a free bar and a bouncy castle, and as enjoyable as watching the Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special while trapped in a telephone box with a chronic farter suffering from a sprout addiction. And yet, for once, we had what could be justifiably described as a merry Christmas.

Not that it got off to the best of starts, mind. Facing a Swansea side with one win in eleven attempts was like receiving a beautifully gift-wrapped parcel - but subsequently losing 3-0 to them was like opening the parcel and discovering Keane's greatest hits album or a shit inside. Things could have been different had either or both of our reasonable penalty shouts not fallen on deaf ears, or had Jonjo Shelvey been dismissed for dipping his bonce in Mathieu Debuchy's direction, or had the Frenchman not had the misfortune to bundle the ball past Tim Krul for the crucial second goal. But it wasn't to be our night - a fact underlined by a traumatic flight home which petrified even John Carver. One can only speculate as to what Mr T made of it (if he'd regained consciousness from his drugged milk, that is), but it may turn out to have been good experience for Iron Mike if he ends up heading to Rio with Woy's boys...

Only three days later, though, we were in full Christmas party mode. The reason why champagne corks were popping, crackers being pulled and intimate body parts being photocopied? The small matter of a first victory at Old Trafford since 1972. Finally, after 41 years, Santa had read our wishlist and dished out an early present. Noting the vulnerability of our opponents (a shadow of the former selves) and scenting blood, we did a thoroughly professional job on them, Dreamboat's second-half goal the difference. Admittedly we rode our luck at times - Patrice Evra hit the post, Mini V survived a penalty claim, Robin van Persie had a header disallowed - but the win was deserved and could only have been sweeter if the fuming, bug-eyed Scot in the dugout had been Taggart rather than David Moyes.

Southampton's visit to St James' the following weekend couldn't help but be a bit after the Lord Mayor's show, the ensuing draw a slight disappointment given the Saints' recent downward spiral and our exploits at Old Trafford, especially as we had taken the lead. Aside from another goal for Goofy - his fourth in consecutive home matches - the game was notable largely for the injury-time fracas sparked by Morgan Schneiderlin's aggressive challenge on Massadio Haidara which saw the number of personnel from each bench sent to the stands mirror the scoreline, goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman subsequently hit with a charge of improper conduct.

There was nothing remotely improper about the players' conduct in our next fixture, a trip to Selhurst Park. Showing scant regard for Crystal Palace's revival under Tony Pulis, we recorded a fifth successive away victory over them with ruthless efficiency. The Black & White & Read All Over match report was filed by friend of the blog Tim, who took delight in some improper conduct of his own, quietly slipping in the epithet "hairy passage"...

Even with everything going swimmingly (us sixth at Christmas, and the Mackems bottom), I couldn't help myself from worrying about Loic Remy's goal drought - so the loanee's brace in the Boxing Day battering of Stoke came as something of a relief, even if he did also miss a penalty. We may have romped home 5-1 in the end, Goofy scoring on home turf once again and even Papiss Cisse getting in on the act (albeit from the spot), but we endured a very sticky opening 40 minutes and only triumphed thanks to our opponents' indiscipline. Our old foe Mark Hughes was as guilty of this as his two red-carded players Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson, the pantomime villain coming across as more of a pantomime dame when he chucked his coat in the air in disgust and flounced off to his seat up in the stands.

Sadly, the final fixture of the year ended in narrow defeat, Arsenal's Olivier Giroud doing the damage that his numerous compatriots in black and white couldn't quite repair - not even Goofy, who drew a blank in a home match for the first time since October. There was no disgrace in losing to a side clawing its way back to the top of the league, though, especially when our performance deserved better, everyone apparently acutely aware of the considerable competition for places.

No doubt through gritted teeth, Wor Al acclaimed that result as an instance of the Gunners winning ugly in his capacity as a Match Of The Day pundit - a role which he expressly prefers to the prospect of management, having dipped his toe in those murky waters with us back in 2009. One old boy who did take the plunge in December was Olivier Bernard, though with the purchase of Durham City he's seized the challenge of club ownership rather than management. Also back in the North East was Shay Given, turning out on loan for the Smogs in their hour of need.

Just don't put any money on ASBO doing likewise for the Mackems in January - "It wouldn't be right", he declared. Still, if we can go to Old Trafford and win without really having to break sweat, and if Cisse can find the net in a league match, then frankly anything's possible.

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