Sunday, February 02, 2014

Derby despair - again

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 Sunderland

Well, quite frankly, this is getting ridiculous. For the third derby fixture in a row, we faced inferior Mackem opposition only to play abysmally and slide to a deserved defeat. How, in a season in which we've outplayed Chelsea and won at Old Trafford, did we once again manage to lose so comprehensively to that shower of shite? It was 1st February, not 1st April, after all.

After the previous two meetings it was obvious we owed them one, and needed to channel the spirit of that famous 5-1 drubbing in October 2010. Two players did just that - unfortunately for us, though, Rocky and Kevin Nolan were turning out for West Ham in the day's other 12.45 kick-off when they twice combined for goals. At St James' Park, by contrast, we succeeded only in channelling the spirit of April 2013's 0-3 embarrassment - the only difference being that Gus Poyet refrained from doing a Di Canio-esque knee slide in celebration.

One imagines Sir Bobby Robson looking down and shaking his fist in the direction of the man he branded "the scourge of Newcastle", but the visitors' ranks were stuffed with bogeymen: Fabio Borini, who scores every time he plays us; Tynesider Jack Colback; former Newcastle Centre of Excellence attendee Adam Johnson; debutant Liam Bridcutt, who was integral in helping Poyet's Brighton knock us out of the FA Cup in two consecutive seasons. All made vital contributions to our defeat, though in truth we shouldn't shirk from the fact that for the most part we were our own worst enemies.

The appeal against Loic Remy's red card having failed, Big Lad was drafted in to lead the attack in an otherwise unchanged team, meaning a 4-3-3 formation and Little Big Lad retaining his starting place. The Mackem Slayer's young apprentice proved to be one of our very few semi-bright sparks in the first half, combining well with Moussa Sissoko on occasion but with no overall end product.

A half-chance had been spurned by Mathieu Debuchy before on-loan left-back Marcos Alonso gave us a timely warning with an unmarked header over the crossbar from a whipped Johnson free-kick. Sadly it wasn't a warning we heeded, Mini V's clumsy challenge on a marauding Phil Bardsley giving Borini the chance to score from the spot - a chance he seized with style. We'd hardly got over that shock when the situation got even stickier. Dozy Alti-Can't-Hit-A-Barn-Door produced an exquisite flick (a fluke, surely) to release Colback, and when his shot deflected off Saylor and Tim Krul tipped away, the rebound was buried by Johnson, grateful to Davide Santon for a lack of awareness.

It says much about our first-half performance that captain-for-the-day Mr T (total Toon goals: 1) was having most of our efforts on goal, as any attempts to get back into the game were blighted by poor crossing and decision-making, and HBA was struggling in the Dreamboat role. A last-ditch clearance to deny Debuchy was about as close as we came to reducing the deficit before the break.

The Silver Fox's half-time changes - the introduction of new boy Luuk de Jong in place of Little Big Lad, and a switch to 4-4-2 - signalled an acceptance that his tactics had been hopelessly exposed in the first period, when we were regularly overrun in midfield. The change of formation made a positive difference, even if de Jong didn't, looking off the pace and too often easily dispossessed. (It reminded me, worryingly, of Stephane Guivarc'h's debut when we were thrashed by Liverpool - though at least on that occasion the debutant striker scored.)

Vito Mannone made a fine save when Mr T finally got an effort on target and with power, but it was de Jong's strike partner Big Lad who had our three best chances. First he flashed a header wide from a set-piece; then he saw an improvised shot saved following an excellent long ball from Krul; and finally he sent another header goalwards only for Borini to clear off the line.

Though this implies correctly that we were applying considerable pressure to the 5under1and rearguard, the visitors remained dangerous on the break and indeed could well have extended their lead sooner than they did. Johnson's trickery dazzled a clutch of home defenders before he curled a shot off Krul's far post, and then the Dutchman pulled off an impressive interception when Alti-Can't-Hit-A-Barn-Door tried to round him.

In that instance it was Mr T who had cheaply surrendered possession in a dangerous area, but when the killer third came, it was HBA who was culpable, collapsing to the turf and appealing in vain to referee Phil Dowd while the Mackems played on. Borini slipped Colback in and his left-footed shot arrowed into the top corner.

That goal ensured the Mackems recorded three successive derby victories for the first time in 91 years - and our embarrassment wasn't even brought to a merciful close by the final whistle, as a smattering of youths calling themselves supporters decided to disrespect the joint message about having a derby to be proud of by lobbing glass bottles at police in the Bigg Market.

After the match, the Silver Fox - visibly shellshocked by events and the barracking he'd received from supporters - talked about "taking stock" and "going back to basics", adding: "We have to remember where we are in the league and what got us there". That would be fine if "what got us there" wasn't the goals of Remy, Dreamboat and Goofy, none of whom are available to us at present for a variety of reasons. Since putting five past Stoke on Boxing Day, we've failed to find the net in five of six league matches. Against the Mackems, we contrived to have no fewer than 28 attempts on goal and yet never really looked like scoring.

The Silver Fox may have got it horribly wrong tactically, but doesn't deserve all the flak and ire - the players must take their share, as must an owner more concerned with lining his own pocket than the club's future and a director of football who is yet to make a single permanent signing and who failed to replace Dreamboat despite admitting his January departure had been agreed months earlier. Those fans who publicly threw away their season ticket books were, I suspect, protesting about the way the club is being run off the pitch as well as a third humiliation by the Mackems on it. Pundits who talk about retaining a sense of perspective and point to our healthy league position - we're still eighth - ignore the fact that this is papering over a multitude of cracks.

Bear with me, though, as I try to end with some positives:

1. We've discovered the whereabouts of Sylvain Marveaux, who came on as a sub. Presumably he had been down the back of the Silver Fox's sofa all along.

2. De Jong wasn't injured on his debut (or indeed in a training session immediately before joining the club).

3. Due to their association with this debacle, we'll hopefully never see the Wonga clapperboards again.

4. It may have been the away fans celebrating, but at least we didn't have to go back to the Dark Place after the game.

5. Last time we were beaten by the Mackems, it was the catalyst for a superb November during which we recorded notable victories over Chelsea and Spurs. Next up for us are the return fixtures against both, so here's hoping this defeat has the same effect.

6. At least we're not Leeds.

A Mackem fan's perspective: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Blogger 63soul said...

What a pathetic performance all the way around. Echoing your point, I liked this quote from the "true geordie" on youtube: "Newcastle made Joze Altidore look like Didier Drogba".

Embarrassed, dejected, and going back to sleep...

7:22 pm  
Blogger 63soul said...

Also, reports suggest Cisse may be flogged off to Rubin Kazan still---any thoughts on this? While Cisse has obviously had his issues meeting his potential, is it really smart to get rid of him now? I'm so outraged at management, coach, and players right now I'm having a hard time being rational. Perhaps the fact that Cisse was not on the pitch yesterday is influencing my nostalgia for the Papiss of yore. So many players I have defended (Ben Arfa & Santon among them) were horrific yesterday that I was actually excited to see Marveaux's entry into the match. Ben Arfa looked like he couldn't give a f... yesterday and its clear that we can't rely on a left back who refuses to ever use his left foot.
O.k., I started about Cisse and here I am ranting again about yesterdays sh..bath. I need to step away from the computer before I throw it at the wall!

7:47 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

There's talk of Cisse to Fenerbahce too, potentially. I'll post about it if anything happens, but it would be another kick in the teeth. Not denying Cisse is hopelessly out of sorts, but the one area we've strengthened the squad during the window was up front, with the arrival of de Jong, so to get rid of Cisse would leave us weaker than when we went into January. Effectively we'd have lost Dreamboat and Spidermag, and swapped one tragically out-of-form striker for another. Brilliant business...

2:11 pm  

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