Well what an embarrassment that was on Thursday evening. Everything set up for a good, positive night on Tyneside with qualification from the Europe League group stages confirmed, and what do we get instead? No, not the performance on the pitch – that was poor of course. The real embarrassment was the cacophony of morons who decided to boo the team off at the final whistle. What a pathetic thing to do and what a pathetic light in which to show Newcastle United.
What is beyond question is that in a fortnight where we had three eminently winnable home games, the performances and results have been very disappointing. However, the short memories on display from some are simply staggering. Take a look at West Bromwich Albion, for example. Up at the top end of the Premier League going brilliantly. Loads of deserved praise being heaped upon Steve Clarke and how well-run the club is. What every single football fan in this country knows though is that in 12 months time West Brom won’t be in the top 4. They’re more likely to be somewhere close to where we are now. Probably with a few more injuries than they’ve had so far this season and no one will be looking at them thinking they’re a disgrace.
This is how life is in the Premier League. Chelsea & Manchester City are so far off the scale in terms of wealth relative to everyone else ostensibly in the same league, that they quite neatly represent Cameron & Osborne insisting that everyone is, “in this together”. The relentless Champions League presence of Manchester United and Arsenal keeps the cash flowing freely at those clubs too. Of the rest, Liverpool and Spurs have thrown a vast amount of money at their attempts to match the current ‘Big Four’ with nothing but small glimpses of league success to show for it. Sunderland have a net spend of over £100m in the last six years and one barely-scraped 10th place finish is the best they’ve managed. Then there’s the rest of us. Shuffling around in mid-table, needing every single signing to be a success to keep up with the pace, hoping that you have an injury free season so you can make a play for 5th or 6th.
The greatest challenge this season was always going to be living up to the expectation created by finishing 5th last time around. Several senior players haven’t hit the same heights yet. Meanwhile, whereas last season our fringe players looked good, we generally saw them surrounded by quality. Perch slotted in surrounded by Cabaye, Coloccini, Gutierrez. Shola was used sparingly as a target man to close games out. Suddenly we find that we approach the weekend with Ben Arfa, Coloccini, Cabaye, Perch, R Taylor and others ruled out. With every chance that Gutierrez, Cisse, Obertan and Shola will miss out too. We’ll see the squad being stretched to its limits at Southampton on Sunday. The fact that a write-off like Xisco and an absolute waste of space like Nile Ranger are being talked about in first team terms shows the extent of the problem. Our ‘cover’ players are OK but they struggle when all thrown in at once as would be the case at any club.
The second half against Maritimo was a real mess at times but by the end we basically had a strong keeper/defence, Ba stranded up front, and then a real inexperienced ragbag in-between those two points. So when the final whistle blew, the draw (and qualification from the group) was secured, was it really encouraging for the young lads who played in that midfield to be booed off the pitch? Are they really going to step out with confidence next time they’re called upon?
Is anyone to blame for the season we’ve had so far?
Pardew? Perhaps.. but he’s largely picked the right teams. Maybe a bit more tactical flexibility, especially when we’re losing, would help, but he hasn’t done a great deal wrong.
The players? Surely we can only properly judge them when we’re somewhere close to full strength?
Mike Ashley? Again, perhaps. Most fans felt we needed to make more signings in the summer. I felt (and still feel) we were one or two short, others felt we were six or seven short. Six or seven new players would certainly have been nice but non-Champions League clubs just cannot sustain squads that big. Yet that fact seems to escape another group of people who also have to take a small amount of blame for the three recent flat home performances. The moaning, groaning, whining brigade who from day one seem to have been waiting for this season to go wrong. The ones who howl angrily at Obertan every time he touches the ball. The ones who still can’t forgive Mike Ashley for Kevin Keegan walking out. The ones who must surely sap the confidence of every single young player at the club when they get straight on the team’s back as soon as we go a goal down, apparently blind to the fact we’ve probably got the longest injury list in the league.
They’re a minority, of course, but that minority was a true embarrassment on Thursday night when the Maritimo game ended. The club have given us three great seasons in a row. Now they need a bit of backing and it’s up to us to give it to them.