This is a difficult game to preview. We’re playing Brentford – who are seventh and just four points behind us in the table. Brentford are a side I know very little (nothing) about and a side that many simply expect us to beat at home. The international break doesn’t do us any favours as we’re one of the form sides in Europe. United have won 11 of our last 13 games in all competitions.
However with the international break providing the chance for a period of reflection I can’t help but write about how the season is progressing from the stands. How are we doing as a fan base? Every away game is sold out (as usual) and as long as the opposition bring 2,000 away fans – there’ll be 50,000 at every game. Not bad. And we pat ourselves on the back for this, relentlessly. It’s staggering – but expected. The manager wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t expected.
Perhaps it’s the clickbait sites in search of desperate articles to post. Jason from New Hartley has tweeted from his bedroom that he’s not happy Matt Ritchie has been rotated so here’s an article with a link to a tweet questioning the ‘fanbase’. DarrenFTM79 has tweeted ‘pmsl at the mags’ and 48 tweets follow. ‘Are fans really not happy with an away win?’ screams the clickbait link. CLICK HERE CLICK HERE PLEASE CLICK HERE. I suppose the point I’m making is that in the ‘post fact’ era we supposedly live there seem to be divisions amongst the support and I can’t determine if they’re real, invented or a bit of both.
I’m delighted with the season so far – so perhaps these gripes are most likely exaggerated or coming from people whose only shot at the smallest amount of attention is to pretend like the world is has caved in as we aren’t 1 0 up against Rotherham inside twenty minutes.
Then again I’m thinking of Saturday at 15.50 and the reaction in the stands if we’re goalless. The reaction if we’re one nil down. Will it be supportive? I think on the whole, yes. The vast majority of the fans who go to St James’ don’t twist on and boo or scream abuse at their own players. However the minority that do, grab the headlines. They define the conversations and the narrative. It’s a bit depressing. I find myself caught up in it as well. I was delighted that the people (there must only have been around 500 maximum) who walked out at 3 1 in the ‘71st minute against Norwich and missed what came next. That’s pretty bitter – but I’m still delighted that the arsehole in the row behind me stormed out of his seat screaming ‘won’t even make play offs here you useless tossers’ missed it all.
You could argue it does matter what other arsehole fans do or think for the reasons outlines above – because these negative people seem to define the conversation and lead the media. Perhaps that’s the fault of the media, not the arsehole.
I read Martin Hardy’s new book this week ‘Tunnel of Love’ (out Sunday 15th) and you can listen to him talk to me about it all here. In the book Graham Souness speaks very well to Martin. You read that correctly. He’s honest about what went wrong (and plenty did) and what he had to deal with. There were some highs and some terrible lows. He calls United the impossible job in the book. As does Sam Allardyce. Both have gone public with this so I’m not giving too much away – you should really buy the book, and ‘Touching Distance’ if you haven’t. Allardyce makes a couple of great points. Again, you read that correctly. It pains me to say it as I loathe Allardyce as a manager, for so many reasons and I was delighted he was sacked at United.
His point is that there was a section of the crowd at St James’ Park that would be on the teams back within minutes of the game if things weren’t going well. It happens at every club, and it was a minority, but a sizeable minority and it affected the team and the players. He mentions that as soon as we lost 1 4 to Porsmouth at home (shudders) that was it. The fans wanted him gone. I disagree with him but he makes the point that fans were turning up to games and on the backs of players no matter what. Numerous managers have hinted at the St James’ Park crowd being a hindrance. I’ve always shrugged it off. Blamed the managers or the players or both.
Rafa Benitez goes public asking the crowd to stay onside and there are still people out there desperate to defend themselves and their mates when they boo or hurl abuse at their own players. Something is not right. This is a special football club. Read Kenny Dalglish in ‘Tunnel of Love.’ He’s managed in Liverpool, Glasgow and he says Newcastle United is different, more intense, more passionate. What is it? Why can’t we just accept that this season is about promotion and there’ll be bumps along the way. It’s not sustainable to have a meltdown every time we lose a game. I don’t care if we lose ten games this season and we only lost 4 games in 09/10. It’s irrelevant as long as we get promoted.
I’ll say it again: United have won 11 of their last 13 games. We’re a home tie away from a League Cup Quarter Final. Tickets at St James’ are affordable and we’ve spent money on quality additions to the squad. The squad is deeper (and ironically injury free) than any other time I’ve supported United in my adult like and I’m in my late twenties. Should United win the league at the end of the season (and we will) will those howling at the Wolves game feel any remorse or embarrassment? I doubt it.
The atmosphere has been flat at times at St James’ this season. Last season in the Corner it was better than it is now, even under McClaren. Uncomfortable truths. It was more supportive and the atmosphere was better. I look around at some of the people, many of them new this season and ask myself what an earth they were doing infiltrating the loudest part of the ground with their negativity and silence.
It doesn’t have to be like this. I don’t blame the crowd for defeat against Wolves or Huddersfield – but we can do better than this. It’s one thing (sections) of the media acting like they do and turning 4 negative tweets into an article espousing negativity but another that St James’ Park turn into an unpleasant place for our players to play.
That’s where we’re headed. Let’s do something about it.
Back to the game – Brentford have been turned over at Wolves and Rotherham and got a late draw at Villa. Their sole
away success came at Brighton, which tells you how mental a league this is, if you didn’t already know. They have the second best goal difference in the division after ourselves due to hammering Preston and Reading by 5 and 4 goals at home. Perhaps more impressive is the stat which shows Brentford have conceded just 9 goals in 11 games so far. Only Brighton and Huddersfield have conceded less.
Besides Reading and Norwich every game we’ve won this season we’ve been ahead at Half time. Each game we’ve been behind at half time we’ve lost – so the first half is crucial. I imagine Brentford will look at Wolves and Huddersfield and copy their game plans. Everyone behind the ball. Press us relentlessly in their half of the pitch, wait for us to concede possession and break in numbers. It worked really well for those two sides and could work again. It’s designed to frustrate the players and crowd and it’s worked.
Therefore the team need to be mature. You can’t win every game in the first half. If it’s 0 0 at half time, great. No booing. No anger. Even if we’ve not had a shot. It’s okay. Sometimes you have to win 1 0 with an 80th minute penalty. Or an own goal. I’d love to see the football we saw for ’40 against Brighton and ’30 against Norwich. No one can live with that – but I’m more interested in a solid, patient performance where we cut out the calamitous defensive errors which have gifted opponents goals at St James’.
As for team selection? I really don’t know so I’ll not pretend I do.
Prediction: 1-0 United.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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