Well, that’s what football is all about.
Drama, twists and turns, two goal comebacks, fabulous free-kicks, penalty saves, pantomime villains and ultimately – points on the board and smiles on faces.
In Rafa Benitez we have a football man, a clever football man, a likeable, clever, football man, displayed in no greater volumes than before, during and after the Crystal Palace game.
The game began with a rousing and heartfelt nod to Merseyside and Sheffield and I have to say it was a privilege to be there to witness and take part in such support for fellow fans who set off to watch a football match and never returned home.
I’ve always had a liking for Liverpool Football Club and there have been many connections down the years, with a steady stream of players and managers swapping between the two working class clubs, You’ll Never Walk Alone indeed.
It was also a pleasure to see the latest of those connections in Rafael Benitez after the final whistle, walk onto the field, arms around Ayoze Perez, pointing at fans and orchestrating the support he richly deserves for uniting a disconnected bunch of misfits and cast-offs with the folk that had all but given up on them.
During the game we had passages of poor play from ourselves, mixed with a good work ethic in the face of some absolutely blatant spoiling tactics from Crystal Palace. I’ve seen poor sides turf up at St James Park in the past and set out for a point, but if that ‘performance’ was on the orders of a certain Mr A Pardew, then all criticism of him is richly deserved.
Players tumbling to the floor, staying down instead of rolling off the pitch, switching throw in and corner takers at the last second, goalkeeper taking forever to get the game underway etc.. is in a word – cheating.
It is the job of the referee to clamp down on this sort of thing and keep control of the game, something which wasn’t achieved and exemplified by his refusal to book Damien Delaney in the second period for tirade after tirade against himself, after being ruffled by Aleksandar Mitrovic.
If next season Palace fans see a whole season worth of Pardew football then they will deserve to be playing Championship football the following year – and lord knows we saw long stretches of awful performances and unbelievable runs of defeats while he was in charge up here.
Ah, but they’re in a cup final you may say, but poor sides can make it to cup finals, as we did in 1998. This however is no longer our problem. If we stay up and Rafa (The Gaffer) stays on, then we have something positive to cling on to, a man who will know the size of the re-building job required, which players should be kept and which ones have long outstayed their welcome.
In the space of ten games he has come in and identified problems almost immediately, picked players on merit and not reputation, dropped underperformers and instilled that one thing we didn’t have before – belief, or as was the case under Steve McClaren, instilled ACTUAL belief rather than blind faith.
Once the dust settles, a root and branch review must come from the top, but Lee Charnley, Bob Moncur and Graham Carr MUST NOT be part of the discussion, much in the same way McClaren was omitted from the same sort of meeting than saw him axed in February, a move which was easily a month too late.
If this requires a Director of Football then so be it, but he needs to be appointed by Rafael Benitez, who also needs to have total say on all things Newcastle United: transfers, contracts, team selection etc for everything to work next season.
Mike Ashley needs to realise that his old pals act routine hasn’t worked and dispense with them accordingly and give the job to someone who knows what the hell he is doing, something Charnley et al clearly don’t.
In the meantime, we have a couple of victories to achieve to hopefully ensure we are still in the top flight and in particular a score to settle at Villa Park, home to Aston Villa fans who appeared to develop a dislike for Newcastle from out of nothing. Thanks, we didn’t know you cared.
“Who’s your next Messiah?” they asked in 2009. In a nutshell- Rafa Benitez.