Well, things have gone OK with Newcastle United the past couple of weeks haven’t they?
It would have been far from defeatist for anyone to have given up on the Championship title after the Ipswich defeat saw us seven points adrift of Brighton – but a stunning set of results has seen any doubts over promotion mathematically obliterated and an unexpected twist in the title race. With two solid United wins complemented by a massive favour from Bristol City, which means we now only need better the Seagulls result on Sunday to snatch the title.
With Brighton facing a tricky visit to Villa Park, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to think one more decent performance against Barnsley may well see the second tier trophy revisit its home of ’93 and 2010.
Of course, the conspiracy theories are already out there.
Villa have nowt to play for and relations between our clubs have grown a little strained in recent years. You might also say that with their manager there is no love lost with his boyhood team. Even without any spiteful intent, could Villa be on a metaphorical beach and play out one of those half-cocked end of season affairs where they roll over with a suggestion that people shouldn’t be relying on favours from others to earn them cups. Hell, maybe Brighton might just galvanise themselves and play like the quality outfit they’ve been for most of the season, instead of the jelly-kneed bottlers that have allowed us to kick this back door open.
In the event of any of the above, it’s likely that we’ll miss out on the title by the infuriating margin of a single point, while sporting a superior goal difference. I have to confess to having a bit of a dwell on this in recent days, cursing the excessive injury time against Leeds, the switch off v QPR and more so the string of incompetent officiating that has blighted the season. Fulham’s opening day handball, Ritchie’s wrongly disallowed goal at Birmingham and over and above all else, the omnishambles at Nottingham Forest, where one man’s total incompetence to officiate could cost one side the title and send another down erroneously in one fell swoop.
After a bit swear and some dalliances with unhealthy blood pressure, I decided to give my heid a wobble.
Instead of stewing on the relatively minor setbacks of recent times, I thought back a bit further. Nineteen years ago, around about this time, I was storming out of Wembley in a huff at United’s sorry performance in the FA Cup final, when a gaggle of Arsenal fans walked past, clearly more concerned with beating the queues for the tube than seeing their team lift the cup.
This was totally unfair, if things had gone the other way I would have been there for ages: sobbing, hugging strangers, generally looking cool like. For the Gooners, it was pretty inconsequential that their team were lifting their first major trophy in almost a week. They’ve had their hands on it constantly since and the ungrateful wallops still want the manager out. Would they really have missed that one year that would have meant the world to us? Man Utd have 13 Premier League titles, did they absolutely need the one from 1996?
Of course, I know this is not how it works. Everyone must strive for everything and serial winners just want trophies more. Success must be earned. Having said that, I give you Exhibit B, Brighton & Hove Albion.
A quick check of the club’s history shows their greatest achievements have been three titles at the various incarnations of the third tier. They haven’t had top flight football in 34 years, when they enjoyed their only ever stay in division one, lasting a total of four seasons.
For Newcastle, this is just a necessary step, righting the wrong of the previous season’s mismanagement. I desperately want us to win the title on Sunday but it will simply be because it’s there and because it will shut up some of the haters who have scoffed at the thought of us not finishing top. Coming second will not deplete the relevance of this vital step in the Rafanaissance, and quite rightly there will be no civic parade for a trophy we should never have been competing for in the first place.
This time next year, in the dream sequence at least, we can harbour intentions of aiming for success at a higher level. If this does (ever) come to pass we will appreciate it on so many more levels than armchair Man Utd fans, or Arsenal spectators keen to beat the traffic could ever imagine.
I would hope this journey starts with the hoisting of the Championship trophy. If it doesn’t, perhaps we can take solace that a decent club with a strong local support base and a top man as their manager has had one of their greatest days instead.
Now let’s smash Barnsley and howay the Villa!
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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