Break-even point – the week gone by…

Entering into the seventh year of Mike Ashley’s five year plan for Newcastle, it felt like the scores were the reflections of the sad reality:

Exasperation 1 – Effort 0

Frustration 1 – Belief 0

Gutless 1 – Passion 0

But today I’ll not write about how the dogged fightback against Manchester United has dramatically changed everything.

One would easily be inclined to join the ‘turning point of the season’ bandwagon, given we came out roaring again in fifth gear on Saturday, just where we left off on Tuesday. However, once you settle down after all the mad jumping and crazy shouting, the cynic in you just wouldn’t give up so easily – Was this week about football being a funny game? Or was it what you would describe seasons later as “It all started that week when….”

Why do we still doubt?

Why does the Newcastle United fan in us fear, after that fearless half against West Ham?

Not just because of the second half (which was scary as hell for the Toon faithful), but also due to the fact that we know our football better than most. We have seen exceptional glimpses of flair and flamboyance being flushed down the toilet with astonishing lack of self-belief and glaring incompetence, in the same games more often than not. We have seen strings of demoralising outings, players and the staff likewise, devoid of ideas and innovation to change a game on its head.

Was the 50 million in the summer spent on the right players? What about the lofty targets of 8th place and cup runs? 10, 12, 18, 20 how many more games Steve, before one could judge you, of whatever there was left? And what about that fancy staff of yours?

Mind boggling!

And then Newcastle turn up against West Ham, for once like the home team. Inside six minutes, with almost 90% of the possession and a rare calmness in passing, the defensive midfielder picks the ball from the defence, bullets it through the opposition’s midfield to the no. 10, only for him to give a deft lay-off for the floating striker/winger to take it first time – the right foot making the sweet contact around the ball, which starts outside the near post and curls just perfectly little to sneak away from a diving Adrian into the net!

Minutes later, it’s again a neat piece of play, the DM turns with the ball, looks up to the right, swats his foot through the ball for an audacious floater. Just as we start to nod our head, the ball couldn’t land any better in front of the right wing-back, who has the neatest of touches to take it away from his opposite number, crosses it into the box and thump… goal number two within 15 minutes.

Let’s leave it at that for now. Let’s ask why? Was it that we have got our Cabaye back in Jonjo Shelvey? I thought so. In fact I still believe any other day, with Shelvey not there making those two passes, we wouldn’t have scored those goals. Hell, this was only our second goal (scored at Palace on 10 minutes) inside 10 minutes this whole season! And two goals within the first 15 minutes!

No doubt Jonjo Shelvey had the debut of his life, and would have been better had he not lost his mind to the fans calling for him to shoot. Even the fellow team-mates were growing jealous by the minute, and stopped passing to him.

newcastle united

But I hear you say, “You cannot pin it to one man, the lot were good.” Agreed, but it was Shelvey’s day. And then he made it Gini’s and Ayoze’s and Janmaat’s. It had been for Mitrovic too, if not for his slip-ups in front of the goal. But no doubt a truly solid performance in holding striker’s role, running up and down the pitch.

Good solid performance by the front six – translated into Coloccini having an even better outing in the second half; who, even under pressure, bossed their front line. He was my Man of the Match, not Shelvey. Even the second signing looked very encouraging (Saivet on as sub in second half), steely in front of the mercurial Payet, getting us through to the finishing line. He is going to turn up to be even better next outing.

Which brings me back to my main point: Was this match the turning point or not? But doesn’t answering that question point to our feeble short-sightedness? Will it be again that “Thank God for this window, we lived to fight another day in the top flight”?

For what? For another painful ordeal next season? And another 5-year plan?

Too many questions in my piece till now and I don’t have the answers. But I have some hope.

Let me point you to some facts,,,Our new signings came into a set-up which was down and out after a miserable four months of relegation fight. Add to that a new coaching staff and Head Coach, who had to start from scratch in building the foundation. Huge expectations with a 50 million spend and we never hit the ground running through the experiments McClaren was trying week in-week out. Injuries were piling up, results were piling up. New signings were getting accustomed to the pace and demands of the league, amidst the growing frustration of the fans. They needed time, McClaren needed time. And then came the January window.

McClaren wanted a set-up which played the beautiful game. Lots of possession, lots of short passing, two DMs in front of the back 4, flying wing-backs with one DM falling in the hole between the two CHs, wingers cutting into the midfield, and only a holding striker up front. All that was missing was the familiarity of the players into this mindset and a few key players to replace the deadweights.

That set-up now has all the pieces (and more coming in) courtesy of the January window…Jonjo and Henri are the DMs, Townsend/Ayoze and Sissoko are our wingers, Wijnaldum and Berahino/Mitrovic our sole striker. There you go, McClaren’s Plan A at its full flow which you saw against the Hammers.

For any long-term project to show its return, the first milestone is the break-even point. That is how I term it, the week gone by. From here, immediate short-term goals are breaking out of the relegation fight, get a few points under the belt and see out the season strongly. I will know better when I write again next month but deep down I believe the darkest hour of the night has just passed.

Rise and shine. HWTL.

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…

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