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Opinion

Revisiting the days when I thought Newcastle United were really bad but now realising…

8 months ago
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I wrote the match report for the Newcastle game at Arsenal on Monday evening. I went to bed ruminating on just how poor we are to watch these days.

Fans of all clubs across the country, are desperate to see the days of being able to return to stadiums.

I’m desperate for it just to see how few of our fans return.

I’m sure there will still be a lot but I think this will be the easiest time to walk away.

Due to Covid, the routine has been broken. So many fans who didn’t want to break the habit of meeting their pals for gameday craic have had it imposed upon them. Those same fans have sat in living rooms and bedrooms, watching us sit deep and continually surrender possession to a backdrop of fake crowd noise. We glug the cans that were never popped in a takeover celebration frenzy and try to keep our eyes open as we endure ninety minutes of monotony.

If ever there was a time to walk, this is it.

I want this Covid nightmare to end for a multitude of reasons, obviously. But seeing the impact it has on a St James Park attendance will be interesting.

When I woke up the morning after the Arsenal match, I saw I had a Facebook memory from eight years before. It read the following: ‘I cannot stand Newcastle United this season. Two shots on target; that’s all Reading needed to beat us. Sixteen shots and one goal from us. What a load of rubbish.’

Hang on, I thought, as I read this. Sixteen shots? Sixteen shots? One goal! Boy was I spoiled back then.

I remembered the game as soon as I saw the memory. Their goalie had made a load of great saves and Adam Le Fondre had scored a brace to snatch a comeback victory. I went back and found the actual stats.

We finished on 57% possession (wow), fifteen shots (so I was slightly out in my enraged Facebook post) and ten (not a typo), TEN shots on target. To put that in perspective, as many shots on target in one match as in the last five games combined!

We’ve had fifty three shots on target in our eighteen PL games this season. I know you can ‘do anything with stats’ as Bruce says, but if you strip out the Palace and West Brom games, which were the only two that we’ve had more than five shots on target in (seven each) then we’ve had a mere thirty nine shots in the other sixteen games. That’s less than 2.5 a game. We’ve had two shots or less on target in precisely half our games this season so far. It’s a wonder we’ve scored as many goals as we have.

That Reading match came the year (2012/13) that we faced a relegation battle under Pardew, the season after finishing fifth.

Granted we had some players of greater talent at that time, but Ba had already left, Ben Arfa and Tiote weren’t playing, Cisse was struggling in his second season. Looking at that starting line-up it was only Yohan Cabaye who was exceptional.

The rest of the starting team was Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Anita, Marveaux, Gutierrez, Cisse and Ameobi. Some good players in there but I wouldn’t say that team is significantly better than the current one.

After that game we were one place lower than we are now and only two points off 18th and 19th, six points off the bottom. But we were having a go at least. We had done in that Reading game what other teams have experienced with us, the last two seasons. We forced their keeper to play a blinder and then were stung by their only attempts on goal.

I decided to pick five games at random to see how we had fared. I selected games from matchweek 5 (my girlfriend’s birthday) 8 (my favourite number), 9 (obviously), 21 (my birthday), 31 (my son’s birthday).

(MW 5) 1-0 home to Norwich 6 shots on target

(MW 8) 1-1 away to Sunderland 5 shots on target (Tiote sent off after 25 minutes)

(MW 9) 2-1 home to WBA 5 shots on target

(MW 21) 1-2 home to Everton 5 shots on target

(MW 31) 0-4 away to Man City 1 shot on target

I got quite lucky in my picks there as we were unbeaten in the first three. But even in the loss to Everton we had more shots on target than all but three of our eighteen games this season. Clearly, we didn’t have a good day at the Etihad, but we rarely do.

Excluding that game in Manchester, we had a minimum of five shots on target in every other game (including one where we played with ten men for over an hour).

I scrolled through all the results of that season and saw we lost back-to-back games away at Man U and Arsenal shipping eleven goals in the process. However, in the respective 7-3 and 4-3 losses we had seven shots on target in both games. That’s as many as we’ve had in our two most productive games this season. And three goals in both. We’ve only scored three once, in the Premier League, this season. In fact, we’ve played Arsenal and Man U three times so far and only scored one (own) goal in all those games combined.

Eight years ago, I thought we were playing some of our worst football in our Premier League history, but we carried a threat at least. We entertained, to a degree, and we lost.

I know points are the most important commodity. I don’t want to sound like the media stereotype of a Newcastle fan. It’s not that I’d rather lose 4-3 than win 1-0. That’s ridiculous. But I’d rather lose 4-3 and have a go than lose 1-0 or 2-0 or 3-0 and barely see Newcastle journey into the opposition half.

We finished 16th that season and only scored 45 goals in total but I don’t remember being so damn bored. I was frustrated, angry and upset at times. I’m sure I had a good share of boredom too…but not to this level.

There’s no real emotion anymore. I watch the game to the bitter end, turn it off at the final whistle and move on with my life.

I haven’t written a Facebook post about Newcastle United in a long time. Maybe this is because I’m older and don’t feel the need to lumber onto social media to vomit my opinions and feelings over my friends and family. Or maybe I just don’t care enough anymore. I’ve tried to use Twitter as my dumping ground for Newcastle opinions recently but I can rarely be bothered to even piece together a Tweet. Would this be different if there were any emotions stirring inside me?

One thing I realise now, is that we were spoilt in those mad days when Pardew used to select six left backs a game and spent his time embarrassing us with headbutts and foul language.

Pardew infuriated me too. He was much in the Bruce mould and I was relieved to see him go. Some have said they would take him back, but I definitely wouldn’t. Looking at his last couple of jobs I don’t think he even has that Pardew bounce anymore.

The point of this article is, no matter how bad Pardew was and how close he was to relegating us, Bruce is worse. The football is worse and the only reason we’re not nearer the bottom three is because the standard of those three has been so poor. That gap will be bridged if things don’t change soon.

I thought it was the lowest of times back then. Watching us dominate a team and not win the game. It was infuriating. The only team we’ve truly dominated this season has been Morecombe. League… Two… Morecombe,

Let’s hope for three things to disappear this year.

Bruce, Ashley and Covid. If Bruce and Ashley are here after the third party has exited our lives, then we could be looking at gates of twenty thousand or less. Possibly in the Championship.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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