It didn’t take long for the post-Chelsea buzz to fizzle out and we were roundly and soundly beaten by an under-strength Arsenal side who some had predicted were there for the taking. Unfortunately, the limitations of our squad and manager meant we were never going to be able to exploit any discontent there is amongst the Gooner faithful.
We are all entitled to our opinions and as an uneducated observer my take is as disposable as the next Mag’s but Williamson and Goufrann are not looking like they are anything like what we will need if we are ever going to establish ourselves comfortably in the top half of the PL and be a club that even has the pretence of competing for honours. That may be unduly harsh on those two and for what it’s worth I’d extend my lack of conviction with their quality to Tiote, Anita, Riviere and I wonder what the hell is happening with Ferreya. There has been some boasting about what is coming through the Academy but that confidence is grossly premature on the available evidence.
Never mind, let’s not dwell too much on the pasting we took at Arsenal and focus on a week which as the title of this old toffee hints at, is make or break for Newcastle United. In the four years he’s been on the Ashley payroll, Alan Pardew has never done better than the quarter finals of a Cup competition and if we are to go beyond that, we’ll need to travel to White Hart Lane with a decent team selection and game-plan. The game has to be won on the night and whilst a containment game is justifiable there also needs to be some threat going forward if we are going to do anything in North London. Such is the paucity of United’s resources I don’t see any other alternative than to play the best players available. It’s as simple as that. Personally, dependent upon Abeid’s fitness I’d drop Tiote because he’s looking like a liability these days. The last thing we need is him being sent off early in the game (as he should have been at Arsenal) and attempting to play the game with ten men.
United will have a massive following in London on Wednesday night. Many supporters will have had to take two days off work to get to and from the game, paid for digs, tickets and travel. The least Pardew can do is play his strongest side. Whether any of the management at SJP are on bonuses to win a Cup competition seems unlikely but I do know this – we want to see 100% thrown at this tie by every part of Newcastle United. Going out of the League Cup with less than a full commitment to the tie from the dug-out and on the pitch will simply be unacceptable.
After Wednesday night, our attentions will turn immediately to the Mackems and their visit to SJP next Sunday. Pardew’s derby record is rotten and Poyet appears to have something of an Indian sign over him. The last two defeats at St James’ Park have been unforgivable and far more is required from Pardew in how he has prepared the team for this game but also from every single player on the park wearing a Black & White shirt. Given how our players can occasionally raise their game against some exulted opposition and bomb against some lesser lights I do wonder how important this game is to many of our players who are from outside the NE and England. Some players get the derby completely without hailing from this region – David Kelly, Robert Lee, John Beresford, Bob Moncur, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton spring to mind but whether any player came of age on Shields Road or Senegal there are no hiding places or excuses come the final whistle next Sunday.
I do worry about the derby game though. Pardew has been at his best this season when he’s had the team backs to the wall and scrapping against superior teams. He has struggled by and large against sides we’d expect to beat – Hull, Palace, Burnley and Swansea for example. Only the West Brom game went to plan whilst wins over Leicester and QPR were laboured to say the least.
Sunderland aren’t a good side. That’s a statement of fact. Their place in the PL table isn’t an accident. But they can perform well as their Chelsea result demonstrated. They can be well-organised and hard to break down.
It will not be acceptable for United to play for long periods without the ball (as we did in matches against Arsenal, Man City x 2, Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea). We will expect to have the lion’s share of possession and we will expect to force Sunderland back and we will expect to win. That is not being one of those deluded Geordies I hear about or one of those arrogant Mags the Mackems occasionally accuse us of being.
Losing this game is simply unthinkable but frankly a draw will also be a huge disappointment.
If however, the manager and the players have delivered two wins this week then we will go into the Christmas period proper in ebullient mood. If the reverse is true then those who revile the manager will have very good cause.
I was at The Bridge on Tuesday night for a Football Supporters Federation-led event which is designed to bring some perspective to the derby games. It was well attended and all who showed up are well-meaning supporters of whatever stripe. I did find it something of a trial to listen to Kevin Ball go through his hard-lad stories and imagine we’d have the hump because he attended wearing an SAFC club tie (small-time eh?) but I was alarmed to hear the policing arrangements for this Sunday coming.
According to the Police (cough, liberal doses of salt at the ready lads and lasses) Nexus are unable to allocate a special train(s) for Sunderland fans travelling to Central Station because they are all out with shoppers. This then means Sunderland fans will get on Metros to and from Central with shoppers and quite likely with Newcastle United supporters from south of the Tyne. There will be no dedicated escort from Central to SJP either.
What could possibly go wrong?
Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there has been something of a change in mood since the summer and the magnificent way many thousands of Sunderland fans responded to the sad and tragic deaths of Liam Sweeney and John Alder on flight MH17. That has had a profound impact upon many of us and if it is true Sunderland fans will display a banner in tribute to John and Liam at the match, I am certain the warmth from the vast majority of our support will be fulsome.
However, it seems reckless to me that the Police should adopt such a laissez-faire approach to the most volatile fixture in the region’s football calendar. It is less than 12-months since the Polis were caught out being somewhat economical with the truth regarding the bubble trip arrangements they were promoting last season.
I wonder what all this is about?
Well, to this cynical eye, the advice to always follow the money seems perfectly apt. The Police do not want to spend money on security for this game. It must cost a packet I’m sure. All of that overtime and manpower at a time of slashed budgets and all the rest of it! So, if it does kick off on-route (and having been attending derby matches since 1976 I’d be more surprised if it didn’t than if it did) the Polis can point the finger at the clubs who opposed their support for the bubble trips and put this back on the agenda.
If (stay with me on this one) it doesn’t kick off then the clubs will be cock-a-hoop because what this will mean is that the TV companies will be able to allocate later KO times in their schedules and United and the Mackems will be quids in. Currently, Northumbria Police has been active behind the scenes opposing later KO times on grounds of security. We discovered all of this in January remember?
As ever in the modern world, it’s all about the money.
Fairly typically for Northumbria Police they have been disingenuous to say the least. Their strategy for this Sunday’s game is predicated upon Nexus’ alleged inability to provide dedicated trains for Sunderland fans coming to Newcastle. I’d ask you all to note the lack of a comment from Nexus on this matter. Has any half-baked local hack bothered to pick up the phone to Nexus and check whether or not this is actually true and discover what the protocols for transport usually are when Sunderland travel to Newcastle and vice-versa? No? Thought not.
If this goes off and is a success, fair play to the Police and Sunderland AFC (whose spokesperson on Tuesday night appeared completely on-message with Northumbria’s finest) but if it doesn’t and there is serious disorder, then on their heads be it.
To not much fan-fare it seems journalists from the Sunday Sun, The Chronicle and The Journal will be allowed back into the SJP Press box this coming derby game. I think this is a healthy state of affairs and generally positive. Whether this exile will have taught the Thomson House papers a ,lesson remains to be seen. As one who has lamented the lack of real professional scrutiny of how our club operates off the park I would hope the price to be paid for the return of Newcastle United privileges isn’t a return to the saccharine, child-like coverage many of us have grown weary with over many years. There are good journalists on the books at Thomson House, who I expect have good careers ahead of them and who are capable of much better than what has gone before. I’d really hope the price to be paid for being able to stick a Dictaphone in front of Alan Pardew a couple of times per week isn’t too high.
So, that’s Hatem Ben Arfa’s loan spell at Hull apparently over and him headed back to France to work on his fitness. This is all desperately sad. HBA is unquestionably one of the most talented footballers I’ve seen at United and it is a tragedy how his ability is being squandered by his own lack of professionalism and well, love of the game. There may be still some who look at the managers HBA has worked with and speculate whether a different approach could have drawn out his frightening talent. Unfortunately not one of Deschamps, Blanc, Pardew and Bruce have been able to do that and he has not proven himself worthy to work with managers and coaches further up the food chain.
What the end of HBA’s spell at Hull does say though however is that Pardew was right about him. That might be tougher for some to take than the loss of a truly, brilliantly talented player. A real shame!
Anyway, it’s a massive week for United, two wins and we’ll go into Christmas with good will to all men. But if we don’t …..
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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