Some goals are different to others. As Manchester City scored their 4th this weekend the cheer from the fans is muted. There are lots of blue empty seats showing on the television as they storm to the title. Matt Ritchie’s goal at St James’ Park unleashed the type of noise i’m not sure you can replicate in any other sport or any other activity in life. It’s elation, pure elation. I’m struggling for the words to describe it. The feeling when we went in front, deservedly, was sensational. It’s obvious but it’s also not. Goals are why we watch football, they are the game. They’ve been so scarce at St James’ this season, but then it’s almost worth it when they hit the net like they did today. What a day. What a football club.
Today was about small improvements. The Brighton game that we fumed at but was essential in stopping the rot at home. The Swansea game which we should have won then we should have lost and could have won and lost again before full time. Burnley and two points dropped but ten times the performance compared to what we’d produced in most of the months before then. Palace. People are still discussing the merits of that point. The key is United are getting better. Small gains from all over the park. A manager who is dragging every ounce of potential from a failing football club. A football club who spends more with a PR company that it did on signing footballers on a permanent basis over the last two years. Imagine having that task. Imagine masterminding that win with those players.
Imagine being Martin Dubravka. You’re playing in one of Europe’s minor leagues in front of crowds that rarely get above 5,000 away from home and barely over 10,000 for home games. Yet you’re really good. Miles too good for where you are. Only nine appearances for your country and you’re 29. Rafa Benitez brings you in and you’re at a Premier League club. Then you find out you’re playing in probably the most high profile fixture of the season, two hours before the game kicks off. 52,000. Tens of millions watching around the world. Most of us would want to get through a first day of work making no major howlers. Martin Dubravka has won his side three points. He was beyond brilliant. He’s our best keeper. Clean sheet against a £70m striker, a £50m winger, another player on £500k a week. This can’t have been how he dreamed, it would be too unrealistic, even for a dream.
Imagine being Mohammed Diame. Against Everton an arse-hole minority of your own support jeer you from the pitch after a poor game. Your stock is lower than it’s probably ever been at any club since you made it as a professional. You’ve retired from international football to try and kick start your United career. You’ve been open and honest about your form yet in front of watching family (probably) you’re own supporters (a minority) are cheering your removal from the pitch. Does that happen in a players worst nightmares? Yet against Manchester United there was a £90m midfielder on the pitch. It wasn’t Mo Diame but it could have been based on today. Not only did Diame run the midfield and therefore the game, he bullied Paul Pogba and Matic. He is performing like a £25m player. If we’d had him in this form since the start of the season I would argue we’d be clear of the relegation battle. We were so open and powderpuff in the middle in our dreadful run that I worried it would relegate us. We have a monster in midfield. Block V sing that ‘girls don’t like boys, girls like Mo Diame’. I bloody love the bloke.
Jamal Lascelles is our captain. The voice of the dressing room and a Championship winning captain. He starts the season outside of the team. Captain in name only. His replacement gets himself sent off against Spurs and robs us of a day like today. Lascelles is 24 but has had to fight for his NUFC career on more than one occasion. Loaned back out when bought, he was nowhere near the bench for the majority of the time under McClaren. He only got a look in due to mounting injuries and got sent off on his full debut. He came back from that and he came back again this season when he was deemed to be 3rd choice. Today he was the best defender on the pitch by a mile. Our captain will never be booked for diving near his own penalty area. The best thing I can say about the captain isn’t his honesty, passion, or any ‘attribute.’ It’s the fact he visibility improves other players. After this relegation battle is decided, he will a long sit of suitors regardless of which division we play.
Paul Dummet is a really good footballer. He started his United career playing left back, despite being a central defender. Paul Dummet has had to learn how to play fullback on the job. Most players spend their whole career in the same position. Dummet has had no such luxury. Yet he’s magnificent. He’s one of us and I never want him to leave. I want him to keep on improving and stay at United his whole career. Days like today are for players like Paul Dummet. There aren’t any songs for Dummet. He’ll not score many or even be involved in much attacking play, but he’s so important to us. He’s been abused, groaned at and written off by his own fans, yet here was keeping Alexis Sanchez quite, comfortably.
All the lads were perfect today. Manchester United didn’t have a sniff in the first half hour as United pressed and played. De Gea is the only keeper in the league that can make that save early on against Shelvey. United have the ball in their box over and over but a lack of confidence or quality or both sees De Gea untested. Saves, clearances and a bit of luck follows and we’re close to half time and Dwight Gayle is taken out in the box (again) for a stonewall penalty (again) which inexplicably isn’t given (again). Not our day? Not our season.
Get to half time and everyone lifts a bit. It’s been 45′ and they aren’t all that and we’re grafting and bullying and they’re looking for fouls. Lejuene clears off the line when Sanchez should score and you know what, maybe it is our day. Chris Smalling probably didn’t expect to have to play centre forwards for a bit today but he also probably didn’t expect to be booked for diving in his own defensive half. The header from Lejeune needs to be immortalised as a statue outside of SJP. The touch from Gayle to keep it alive will never be given the credit it should be and Matt Ritchie makes no mistake. Euphoria which is repeated at full time. What a football club this could be.
Rafa’s on the pitch again. When he’s on the pitch doing a mini lap with the players you know it’s been a good afternoon. Today was great. Out of the bottom three. That feeling you had when you heard Huddersfield had won? It’s gone round South Wales, the Midlands, the Potteries, South London and the South Coast times ten. Newcastle will get nothing at home to Man Utd was in their thoughts and a safe bet.
Didn’t happen though and we’re back in this. Four wins for 40 points I hear but maths is for Monday morning. Today was why we suffer what we suffer and pay what we pay. Well done Newcastle United, sometimes you’re just fucking brilliant.
ALEX HURST – FOLLOW ALEX ON @tfalex1892
Here is The Special, true faith newsletter from today’s game – just click here.
Here is the something, recorded immediately after the game.
And the Podcast recorded immediately after the match Warning – may contain ecstatic yelps …
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