Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2014

As Newcastle fans we're well accustomed to being grateful for small mercies. Last month, that meant not having a fixture on April Fool's Day, in light of the disappointment, disaster, embarrassment and farce that had befallen us on the first days of the previous three months of the year.

All the same, off the back of thumpings by Everton and Southampton at the tail-end of March (the latter perhaps getting revenge on us on behalf of their fans, whom we'd ripped off back in December), we knew the calendar was only delaying the inevitable, and sure enough on the 5th we were battered again, 4-0 on our own turf. That the defeat was to the worst Man Utd side in living memory, one shorn of both Shrek and Robin van Persie, only added to our woes - as did the painful realisation that it was April and the Mackems had scored more league goals at St James' Park in 2014 than we had. NUST's concern that proposals to flog off land around the stadium might hamper any future expansion plans looked increasingly misguided - who in their right mind would want to go and witness this sort of drubbing every fortnight if they hadn't already forked out a small fortune for the privilege?

If we thought our woes might possibly be at an end, though, we were sorely mistaken. A trip to Stoke is never much fun in any context, including a footballing one, and at the Britannia we duly lost in comically ignominious circumstances to a mishit cross from a left-back who hadn't scored for six years and who at one time came close to becoming a Newcastle player.

At least hope was close at hand, though, in the form of a visit from a Swansea side scrapping among themselves as well as against malingering relegation fears. Desperate for a goal after notching blanks in four consecutive reverses, we finally got one courtesy of Big Lad. But first-half injuries to his fellow forwards Papiss Cisse and Luuk de Jong left the Silver Fox's adventurous three-pronged attack somewhat blunt and the Swans capitalised on our inability to add to our lead, Wilfried Bony rewarding the visitors' dominance with an equaliser just before the break before tucking away the winner from the spot at the death.

Afterwards, the Silver Fox claimed he could have "stopped that goal" had he been on the touchline rather than in the stands serving the final game of his ban. However, that presupposed that he could make a difference and that the players would be inclined to listen to anything he had to say - presuppositions that were made to look fanciful by the (HBA-less) team's next performance-in-inverted-commas away at Arsenal, a 3-0 defeat disguising a huge gulf in class and (more worryingly) application that gave the Silver Fox the unenviable distinction of becoming the first Toon manager to lose six consecutive Premier League games.

He wasn't alone in seemingly being unable to motivate the side, though; the pathetic lack of effort on display at the Emirates indicated that Wor Al's stinging criticism of the players' lack of effort after the Man Utd match hadn't been heeded either. It's quite incredible that people capable of inspiring a young disabled child to walk for the first time can't be inspired to do anything other than stroll around themselves. At the start of the month I'd pondered what we could learn from Everton and Southampton, managing to narrow it down to six things; by the end of the month the answer would have been a simple "Everything"...

Sadly the chances of anyone at the club learning from anything are about as slim as the chances of the Lone Ranger going a month without attracting the attention of the police. A case in point was Lee Charnley's statement on being promoted to managing director, which, in its reference to signing "one or two players per year", strongly suggested that the harsh lessons of the last two transfer windows will go unheeded. It doesn't take a genius (or Big Lad, for that matter) to understand that significant acquisitions are imperative.

No doubt that if Spidermag returns to St James' Park in the summer, he'll be hailed as being "like a new signing". A shame that during his loan spell at Norwich he did nothing for the job prospects of the man who gave him the escape route. Our commiserations once again, Chris. A manager sacked due to an unpalatable sequence of results, players underperforming, signings failing to live up to their billing, and tactical cluelessness - one wonders whether the Silver Fox had a nervous eye on what happened to his Toon predecessor down at Carrow Road...

While the futures of both the Silver Fox and Spidermag may be up in the air, Mehdi Abeid is set to return to the club with a Greek Cup winners' medal - and, if rumours are to be believed, Fraser Forster might do likewise with a clutch of Scottish titles and tales of memorable Champions League nights. Experiencing such nights at Newcastle any time soon would be about as likely as seeing a horse spectating at a football match - or, rather, less so.

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