The subject line of the email Steve McClaren sent out to Newcastle supporters on Thursday, ahead of the derby said it all.
‘We won’t be complacent’.
Unfortunately, the game against Sunderland ultimately turned on a calamitous moment of complacency all too familiar.
Newcastle had utterly dominated the first half, with several excellent chances spurned and barely anything coming back the other way. Then just before half time we lost our heads.
While we were still complaining about Robert Madley’s decision not to award us a penalty (either for Lee Cattermole’s handball or for his other hand hindering Gigi Wijnaldum’s run), Sunderland were doing what a Sam Allardyce team does, hoofing the ball out and lolloping upfield after it.
Four (Four!) Newcastle players surrounded but stood off the aged Jermaine Defoe, all jogging back at his pace rather than taking roles to close him down or drop deeper with more urgency to ensure a solid defensive line.
Nobody but Fabricio Coloccini concerned themselves with the run of Steven Fletcher, despite the captain being the least capable of anyone in our team to win a one on one race for Defoe’s fine through ball.
No matter how light Coloccini’s lean into Fletcher, no matter how dramatically Fletcher fell, no matter how unlikely he had been to reach the ball before Rob Elliot, Newcastle should never have given the referee a decision like that to make.
Up the other end I would have been screaming for those decisions to be given to us, so I’m less inclined to say the ref ruined the game than I am to say we shot ourselves in the foot. Again.
The fact that McClaren placed so much emphasis on avoiding complacency before the game, tells us much about what must have frustrated him in the first 10 games over which he has asked to be judged.
He could see it coming, because it has rarely been the manager’s tactics that have let the club down this season, but player complacency. We matched or bettered Southampton, Man U, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Norwich and Sunderland tactically but have dropped points to all but two of those, because of our inability to keep our focus for 90 minutes and maintain a standard we displayed very well for long periods of those games.
I have a running battle with Crystal Palace fans on Twitter where I lay into Alan Pardew at every opportunity and they crow back whenever they’re able.
Yesterday’s result saw much crowing – “#Pardewin” – but the disinterested viewer of Newcastle ignores the strides under McClaren and the painful memories of Pardew. The latter lost two derbies by yesterday’s margin and losing his last four derbies in a row is what set us up for being in this ignominious position of losing 6 derbies in a row. The first time it’s ever happened.
Pardew’s four derby defeats in a row, added to one from John Carver and one from McClaren, means that we’ve lost as many derbies in the last two and a half years as we had in FORTY EIGHT years prior. Pardew is the man who built the foundations for that.
McClaren is trying to fix that. The difference we’ve already seen is clear too, while Pardew sides never looked like being in derby games, we looked like we would win, we deserved to win, we just took our eye of the ball for a second and were punished harshly.
We didn’t fold, we kept chasing and paid for our endeavour conceding more to the gaps we inevitably left.
But how long can that enthusiasm be maintained while we’re looking up the table?
If we’re going to climb out of this mess, we cannot look to blame referees or diving opponents for our predicament, we must look at ourselves and the mistakes we made.
Emailing fans to say there’ll be no complacency isn’t good enough, the players are going to have to show it, with 90 minute performances from front to back.