Thanksgiving to New Year was always going to be a crucial period for Newcastle United and its fans. The confidence of the players was at rock bottom after being plastered by Leicester.
Relegation odds were getting worse by the day and McClaren was the favourite of many to get the sack. To add to the miseries, there were reports of “alleged” fallout on the training pitch. Colback was rushed in and Mitrovic got the disciplinary boot-out from the playing 11.
Well, the attempted revival of fortunes lasted 15 mins barely (at Palace), where we even managed a clever goal, but that was all folks.
So that is how the period started – getting plastered by Pardew’s Eagles. The defence got outclassed and outmuscled out of the game by, hold your breath, Connor Wickham! Was there an end to this Mackem nightmare, I said to myself.
Next up were the Scousers and Spurs and we needed reinforcements…back came Mike Williamson of all people.
Sorry state of affairs? Check.
Clueless coaching staff? Check.
A demotivated bunch of players? Check.
An empty strategy whiteboard? Check.
Relegation troubles? Check.
It was curtains on the season for me. Not on Newcastle, I would still have watched each match week in week out, fighting the odd game timings, the poor internet streams, and the extended highlights at times.
Still would have wanted us to win each match, but it would have been curtains on the promise of the renewed, revamped Newcastle coaching staff, and the hopes it would have given to fans like me. Not McClaren the manager, I looked up to McClaren the Head Coach, and his team of Cathro, Simpson, Black and Schoenmaker.
I never asked for instant deliverance, nor did I expect us to do a Leicester in their first outing, but I hoped for a CHANGE. A change in mindsets, in tactics, in formations, in set-plays, in passion, and most of all, in effort. But if it wasn’t coming by the third of the season, it was never coming. So the disillusioned me was preparing for another hopeless drag through to 2016 and Liverpool happened.
Dramatic changes before Liverpool game, the headlines screamed. But how was de Jong for Perez going to shake up anything? Or was it playing Cisse for another gutless outing which was deemed dramatic? Or so I was thinking, and fearing Klopp would rattle up a cricket score after their midweek adventures. But then I never expected that a different Newcastle would turn up for the 95 minutes that ensued.
I so wanted to do a post-match review of the Liverpool delight, was so choked up with the solo shouting after the Wijnaldum chip that I could write paens of Newcastle United dominance (or bullying as John Aldridge put it) but then stopped myself short.
That couldn’t be a gameplan, surely! How could Siem de Jong be so effortless and effective in the true role of a deputy, shouting and leading that midfield and frontline where Colo’s voice fainted away till now?
How could Cisse stand his ground, track back and make some clever distribution for a change? Why was Janmaat not making those “increasingly frustrating” forward runs, and doing his job for once, i.e. defending? Was there a flicker of passion I saw, some dogged belief, or was it that we have sank so low that the opposition got overly complacent?
So that was it. A happy Sunday night, and I was trying hard not to read too much into the subtleties and convert those into glimmers of hope. Not again, I said out aloud, next Sunday it will all be back to square one at Harry Kane et al. Or so I thought, and Tottenham happened.
Although I was inclined towards the fans’ sentiment of starting Perez and Mitrovic at the Lane, somewhere I was wishing to see Cisse and de Jong in the playing 11. I was sensing something there, some stratagem drawn at some whiteboard in the board rooms of St. James’ or Darsley.
All this time I waited for some bold thought, which was implementable to the current lot. You may dismiss me as being retrospective, but intrigued I was and as the game progressed, I was slowly picking at what McClaren was trying to do here.
Cisse and de Jong – get tight with the midfield, track back as much as possible, run to the box when Sissoko or Gini fly on the wings, take shots, but most importantly contribute to the midfield more. Hold on to game for 65-70 mins (unless something drastic happens by HT). Run, run and run.
Gini and Sissoko – Link up with Siem and the two DMs, track back the opposite winger/wingback, well deep into our own half, try to fly on the wings whenever it opens up, and stay there. Cut back inside only when needed. Hold on to the DMs and back 4, hold on to the game for 65-70 mins.
DMs and Back 4 – Anita and Colback to get on with tackles, disrupting play in the middle, linking with Back-4 and bringing it out to Gini and Siem. Cover 2/3rd of the field, not any more unless needed. Get compact with back 4, and cover the wings if Janmaat or Dummett make the forward runs.
Captaincy – Colo to command the backline and Siem to shout at the midfield and front-line
But all this is only build-up to the final throw of the dice –
Impact subs – Mitrovic and Perez, in order of need of the hour, to come in for last 20-25 minutes in the ideal scenario.
With their introduction, Gini and Sissoko have the liberty to forego their track-back responsibilities, but Janmaat and Dummett to stop their forward forays. Gini to come more central with left field left empty, early crosses to come from Sissoko, Ayoze to play on Mitrovic’s shoulder, more running into the boxes, that extra effort and we will push the legs of those tiring defenders……
It is possible that this is absolute bollocks and nowhere close to the actual game plan, but I could thread this together as I could see a method to the madness. It may happen that come Saturday night, we see a complete shuffle of the deck, and fans’ call for Mitrovic and Perez come true.
But with the current crop we have, this was the best that could have been utilized, and if this was the plan, it worked out as a dream. And most importantly, it has brought back the passion, the effort, the team feeling.
And that’s what I would like to see again. Whatever the game plan is, Steve has his dressing room back I feel.
That feeling of United, that same exhilaration, which made me fall in love all those years back, was visible again.
What better testament to this, than me getting two Toon fans, whom I made to sit and watch the last two spirited outings, my Dad and my wife. What will I not give to hear those magical words from the newly christened Toons – “What a win! They are good!”
Saturday we will sit together again and cheer you on Newcastle. And I will not predict any starting 11s, I will just believe….
Rishiraj Lahiri (Now from New Delhi after having moved 1,336 miles from Bangalore)
If not for the wonderful Black-and-white and Alan Shearer, I would have never got stuck with Newcastle. But then I fell in love at first sight, and the affair continues…. long distance….And one day, I will be there at SJP and I will cheer you on lads…
(To feature like Rishiraj, send in your articles for our website to [email protected] – all views those of the author etc etc)