The Indian Toon – We do deserve more
That special Newcastle v Sunderland October day in 2010 feels like a distant memory. And yet, as I watched the highlights of Nolans’s chicken dance, and Shola’s picture perfect scissor volley, it lifted my spirits from the abysmal dungeons post-Sunday’s shambolic performance.
Pretty strong words, eh? So be it. I could see the agony and anguish in the faces of the 50,000 Geordies after the last whistle. I could feel the sighs and the gasps from thousands of miles away. Because as a proud member of the Geordie Nation, I did not want to go into Christmas with a new derby loss record. Not after what we achieved last at home against the high-flying Blues.
Yeah we started well. I think the first 20 minutes really had everyone on the edge of their seats in expectation. Yeah I think Gouffran did show a little more character than earlier. He even had a shot at the goal if you come to think of it. But there was little to cheer for in the final third.
Hasn’t that been the problem for the entire of 2014? And have you seen any change in strategy to work on that? I have seen individual brilliance and fluke performances more. In fact, the entire Oct-Nov winning rally seems a big fluke now after the last three performances. It is apparent, and sadly appropriate, that our end to the year would reflect more or less of the team we have been. And I am NOT proud to say that for my team.
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Sunderland would have been 2-0 up by half-time if not for some luck. At one point of time in that half, we almost played 7-8 minutes without one centre-half. And if I had been a Sunderland fan, I would have been really disappointed not to have used that window. Lucky again! And even if the score was 0-0, Sunderland had scored a moral victory on us in that first half. So much for being the home side in a derby with 50,000 rooting for you. Revisit this line when we are at the Stadium of Light next year. You will know which is the home side then after 45 minutes.
Come second half. What should have been a straight swap of positions for Gouffran and Armstrong, was delayed for over 10 minutes. And when it came, Ayoze drifted right and Adam was placed centrally! Where does that rank in the list of tactical ineptness? If Cisse had come on, it could have made sense to move Ayoze to the right!
Sure there must have been a lot of proud chests at St. James’ to see a 17-year old Geordie at the helm of the attack (funny I have to use the work attack, when we hardly do so), but how can you squander your best bet to get a goal by drifting him out wide? The best chance for us fell to Armstrong, and I can bet all my money that had it been Ayoze, he would have played it across the face of the goal to Sissoko. That is what experience brings, even if we are comparing a 21 year old with a 17 year old here.
The next substitution was the icing on the disaster cake. Tiote off for Cisse! And what was the formation in your mind, Mr. Pardew? A 4-2-4?
Sammy Ameobi was clearly tired, none of his crosses even reaching the near post. Cisse hardly got 5 touches to the ball in his 20 odd minutes on the pitch. Moreover, once Tiote was off, Sissoko who was clearly the one making all the opportunities in the second half, had to drop off to cover the midfield. And the one time he failed to track back, Johnson pushed him aside for the run leading to the Sunderland goal.
Finally, by the time Cabella came for Sammy, you knew we had lost it.
I mince no words when I say that the players are equally to blame, if not more, for the defeat (yes it was a defeat, not a mere loss), as the manager. If you are going to make tackles in a derby, at least make a meat of it. Cattermole’s game comes in mind. Tiote got the yellow for reckless and rather stupid tackles piling one after the another.
Colback’s and Coloccini’s warnings were equally naïve, and with that your spine of the back third was in half-mind going into each tackle for almost two-thirds of the game. Sissoko and Dummett both could have stopped Adam Johnson and take one for the team, instead he made a pitch-long run for the goal like a world-beater. Yeah, all come to get their form back against Newcastle, none more so than the Mackems.
There was no better way to go to the League Cup quarters than to beat Chelsea at home. However, two thrashings in London, now a derby debacle, and ManU and Toffees to follow, I couldn’t wish for the year to end any sooner.
Will there be a dramatic turnaround at Old Trafford? Will we prevail over Everton at home? Will Leicester away for the FA Cup tie be a stronger show? Will we get in good recruits in January and turn it around in the second half of the season. Maybe.
We know with this team that anything and everything is very much possible. Maybe we are challenging European spots by May. But would it be because of a strategic change? Will it be because of our manager’s tactical superiority over the other? Would it be because of a definite style of play, which people can identify us with? I doubt.
It is equally possible that we linger around mid-table obscurity as ever. It is equally possible to have a disastrous second half and another relegation battle on the cards. This teeter-totter of a club that Ashley and Pardew has transformed us into, is what is most disappointing.
But we have always hoped for better, and we will continue doing that no matter what. That’s what we Geordies are, if only our team’s management could not take it for granted more.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all from Bangalore.
You can follow Rishiraj on Twitter @rishirajlahiri
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