Saturday’s emphatic 4-0 win over Birmingham at SJP was just what the Doctor ordered after the refereeing disgrace at Forest and after being knocked off the top of the pile by Brighton on Friday night, we were back there less than 24 hours later. It’s great to be top though the margin of our lead is only one point and we all know Chris Hughton can build a team and get it out of this division. I fancy The Seagulls will chase us all of the way this season.
Looking around the pitch at the end of Saturday’s game and I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out a United player who had a bad game. Maybe Karl Darlow could be accused of being a virtual spectator but you know, I quite like that and so I suspect did he and his manager. It was especially good to see Mo Diame have his best game in a B&W shirt and give a response to the doubters who have been calling him out. Let’s see Mo build on that performance and show the talent and impact he can have form us. But for me I purred over the supreme performances of Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey in our midfield, the former of which looks like he could go and be a real star for us. But the whole team was at it. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I’m not going to get sucked into discussions about team selections and tactics because I’m absolutely confident Rafa is picking the best team he judges to win football matches and giving them the tactical preparation to do so. The only team that can really and truly cause us problems this season is Newcastle United. Although we’ve lost a few games this season I don’t think I’ve ever thought we’ve been outplayed at any time. When United has the right attitude, puts the work-rate in and plays for the shirt, we will win football matches as the league table testifies.
This week however, I think we have two really tough tests and if we go into those games less than 100% focussed then we won’t win and we could be off the top of the table by Saturday tea-time. I say that because Wigan has never been a happy hunting ground for us and we know they will raise their game for us. We won’t be playing a Wigan that is near the wrong end of the table, we’ll be playing a team that will be having their biggest match of the season, welcoming a team being tipped to win the league and we all know that will bring out more from the opposition. Much the same can be said about Burton but what also worries me is the standard of officiating in this division which has generally been really poor. Martin at Forest was spectacularly bad but even on Saturday I saw about four incidents go for both us and them which could quite easily resulted in yellow cards.
Saturday wasn’t the first time. The general inability to get the majority of the basic decisions right does worry me ahead of visits to Wigan and Burton and I imagine opposing managers will be telling their players to get amongst our players and attempt to get reactions. To be honest, that looks like what happened at Forest with Lansbury where it succeeded beyond expectations.
We are going to need a good referee and officials who just play fair and don’t attempt to even things up with the kind of inconsistent refereeing we’ve seen so often this season.
I’m confident Rafa will be drilling the players accordingly.
As has been covered elsewhere a few of the true faith lot spent a good afternoon last Wednesday in the company of Senor Rafael Benitez and the two who did – Alex and Simon talk about it on an especially recorded Podcast. Just click here to get at it.
There has been some discussion of late about the atmosphere at home games and although there were moments on Saturday when the place roused itself, I felt the whole environment at SJP was way short of what it should be. I looked at the Gallowgate Corner about 10 mins before half time and the number of empty seats was shocking as those Mags had headed for the must-have half-time half. Near us (in The Gallowgate) there are those who traipse in 10 minutes late and leave 10 minutes early each half and I wonder why they bother. I heard one lad complain about the atmosphere at home games relative to aways (it was ever thus) the spend extended periods gazing at his smart-phone and he was far from alone. I was going to write that smart-phones are the curse of the modern football ground but although some felt the mass mobile light show made our grand old stadium look a bit like a Mariah Carey concert, I felt it did help to raise a bit of noise. With a good 15 minutes to go I saw loads streaming out of the ground and by the time the final whistle went on as comprehensive a win we will witness thousands had decided to snub the players and head for the exits. Frankly when I see Lascelles and others coming to a deserted Gallowgate after a fantastic win I could squirm with embarrassment. This team deserves better support and although the numbers we are pulling in home and away are phenomenal, the actual quality of the active support at St James’ Park just is not what it used to be not so many years ago. My match-going mate compared our crowd to the one at Old Trafford who despite watching some of the best players in the world and best performances around would be streaming out to get cars and buses back to every non-descript town into the country. Now, I’m willing to have a wager those heading down Strawberry Place with time left on the clock aren’t heading back to the Home Counties (in fact I know a few lads who travel to NE1 for home games from hundreds of miles away who are always there at the final whistle) and I just see no reason for it. We have all absolutely nailed those players who haven’t had the heart to play for our club in latter years but let’s be brutally honest, we appear to be going through a period right now when a big section of our support can neither get behind the lads vocally or even stick out a half of football. I realise I’ve probably irked a few people with those last few lines but that’s what is being discussed and it has to be said. It has to improve. As a support we are living off past reputations and we have to up our game.
What I am really finding uncomfortable and a little embarrassing is the continued applause on the 17th minute in tribute to John Alder and Liam Sweeney who as you all know were killed aboard Flight MH17 in 2014. This is the third season since John and Liam lost their lives but the 17th minute applause lingers on often interrupted by alternative chanting which just undermines the whole thing. There are others and I’m one who now decline to participate because it has gone way beyond the point of being respectful and is now well into the realms of being maudlin. It is losing the meaning it had in the first season following the tragedy when every game that season was marked by that poignant tribute – often joined in by opposing supporters. It should be put to bed. John and Liam will always be in our hearts and their memories have been respected. Enough now though don’t you think?
Gavin Webster is a funny bloke. By funny, I mean he can make you laugh. A lot. I’d heartily recommend getting out for The Footbaaall Show he has on at Stand Comedy Club on High Bridge on Tuesday 20/Dec/2016. Some of the funds raised on the night will be donated to Gallowgate Flags and true faith s having something of a Christmas doo there so we’re hoping the place will be really busy and a good time will be had by all. Hope to see a load of you there.
This is going to be another busy week for us all here at true faith. As you’d expect we’ll have our match reporters at Wigan and Burton, in the away end as paying punters, supporting Newcastle United FC. Thanks to you all for indulging and supporting us as ever.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …