Fourteen. 14. However you say it or write it, it is exceptional. I can’t believe the turnaround in this football club in twelve months. The anger of relegation all but confirmed at a sneering Villa Park. A Villa Park devoid of reflection, too happy to stop the protests for us. Too happy to turn the mirror outwards once again. Cheers at full time from the home fans last April and an away end despondent and broken. Benitez leaving and for all the improvements under him, even he hadn’t managed to resolve an issue that has bugged the club for most of the 20 years I’ve supported it: Newcastle United are fucking rubbish away from home.
Promoted teams tend to be good away from home. You have to be. However the average for promoted teams in the last 13 seasons for the 26 teams promoted is 10 wins away from home. Only Leicester when they came up have matched or record breaking total. Fourteen away wins is the best in the clubs history.
Some will say it’s not that special. Talk Sport presenters are already preparing the running sheet on why anything Unitedhave achieved this season is unimpressive or immaterial. Let them. To 4,200 in the away end last night it was neither. It’s gratuitous, but WE deserved that. The same faces you see away from home. The men and women of all ages who have to tell their mates, bosses or partners that actually they won’t be around this weekend. United are playing in Cardiff. On a Friday night. On the telly. I’ll be there.
So fourteen away wins and it could have been more. Last night in Cardiff the team were good. Not great, but good enough. We got to half time goalless and that was it really. My mate turned to me and said, game over – we’ll win this now. Nothing happened in the first half. They had a goal disallowed and drew a smart save from Elliot. We had some corners and didn’t really test the keeper besides a brilliant ball from Diame being latched into by Yedlin and their man making the save.
Second half it was all United. Cardiff missed a chance at the back post which was well worked but so poorly executed you can’t call it a chance. The Championship, that. United began to dominate with Colback and Hayden clearly playing with more attacking intent and linking up nicely with Perez in particular. Atsu after a quiet first half came into the game and started to cause Cardiff problems. One of the biggest problems for Cardiff was finding themselves one goal down to a sublime free kick. I’ve heard it described in the media as ‘deft’. Call it what you want but it was a fantastic sight. When football looks that easy there’s something beautiful about it. 1 0 United and the party started in the away end.
United pressed and Cardiff had headers they should have got on target. The next goal was nearly as good as the first. Isaac Hayden 30 yards out, drives at the defence. No one closes him down. Two nil and the keeper hadn’t dived again. This lad is the real deal. £2m Arsenal? Wenger in I say if he’s going to throw gems at us like that. I love the lad. He’s mint.
Mitrovic came on and missed a sitter when well placed in front of the keeper after an under hit backpass. One goal in 19 now for the lad. It would be good if he gets a start and a goal against Barnsley. Whatever you think of his workrate, cult hero status or ‘passion’ – the lad can’t finish and it cost us last season. I don’t think Rafa will be taking the risk next year if he can help it. I’d like to see him get a goal though – if he leaves to the adulation he craves (and some crave to provide him) then everyone will be happy.
The away end was in full on party mode with fantastic noise throughout the second half. There was a lot on another team in the North East who may or may not be relegated today. Quite a lot of Sunderland fans, who dished it out so regularly and so hard last summer, are now crying ‘obsessed’. If you can’t take it lads, don’t release t shirts with Rafa Benitez on them that make you look like a dick head.
Back to us though and what a night. What a season. 92 points – well achieved. Normally enough to win this division, comfortably. Whether that chance materialises I don’t care right now. I’m in Cardiff and thinking back to great performances from Clark, Diame, Atsu and Perez. I’m more and more convinced the last two have a place next season after being skeptical all season about them both. That’s all any fan wants, to have any player you think not up to it ram the world down your throats with performances. Diame was excellent last night, second half particularly. Covering a lot of ground and setting up a lot of attacks. He’s much better playing deeper.
That’s it for away games this season. There’ve been one or two lows (Oxford, Fulham, Blackburn, Ipswich) but so many highs (personally; Leeds, Derby, Rotherham, Brighton and now Cardiff). I’m sure those at Huddersfield and QPR have fond memories too. That’s what it should be about. Winning games. For too long this club has been generally rubbish at doing that. We now have the opportunity to do that in the Premier League. The opportunity to be a football club again at the highest level.
Over to you, Mike.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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