Another False Dawn?
Who was expecting that then? Not me, that’s for sure. As welcome as the result at the weekend was, it’s probably best not to get too carried away. This season has been a tale of false dawn followed by false dawn. After a reasonable start of two draws against difficult opposition in our first 3 games, we suffered 3 narrow but limp defeats on the trot. We then managed an upturn in response by drawing at home to last season’s champs Chelsea, a game we should have won after being 2 goals up with 11 minutes of normal time remaining. Newcastle then reverted to type by capitulating to a 6-1 thumping at the Etihad, after a very good opening half. The sense that our performances were starting to improve was enhanced by a 6-2 win at SJP against Norwich, though the scoreline didn’t really reflect the play. That was followed by again slumping to a 3-0 defeat to arch-rivals Sunderland, though the performance deserved more. A draw with Stoke would surely have been victory but for the performance of their top-notch keeper Jack Butland, and that was succeeded by a fortunate win at Bournemouth by a single goal from a single shot on target. Again, as we hoped that a run of results was building, if not always great performances, disappointment was to follow. Leicester totally outplayed us at SJP and then we threw in the towel against a previously stuttering Palace and got beat 5-1. Now we’ve managed to beat a Liverpool side who’d swept all before them in the weeks before. The lesson to be learned if there is one is that we don’t seem to be progressing at all. We merely have good weeks and bad weeks. I’m hoping we can carry on today where we left off, but I certainly don’t expect it.
Television, the Drug of the Nation
I’ve heard suggestions that we only put in a good performance when we’re on the telly. The rationale behind the theory is that our players, who moved here on the basis of NUFC being a stepping stone to greater things, only put in a decent shift and get motivated when they are in the shop window. Our results back this up to some degree. Half our points have come from draws with Chelsea, Southampton and Manchester United, and a win against Liverpool. In contrast to that we’ve suffered defeat to Swansea, West Ham, Watford, Sunderland, Palace and Leicester, though of course Leicester being top currently means they’re a good side not a poor one. It may just be the recognised phenomenon of sides raising their game against bigger teams. Some years ago I recall Roy Keane railing against struggling sides who’d roar into matches against his Manchester United. “If they played like that every week they wouldn’t be struggling” was the crux of his argument, that those players suffered from a lack of motivation and drive which would prevent them ever stepping up to that level. Our players might note that only turning it on against the big teams is not an attribute which will deliver them the big-money move they crave.
The rumour before the Liverpool game was that Steve McClaren had two games to save his job. As those games were at home to Liverpool and away to Spurs many thought he was a dead man walking. I have my doubts after the number of chances Alan Pardew got to take us down. Maybe in Pardew’s case they just didn’t want to pay up his crazy contract, and it’s not as if Ashley has never pulled the trigger a bit too rapidly, but I think the win against Liverpool will be enough to gain McClaren a reprieve until January even if the rumours were true. That being the case, and with us probably looking to spend in the mid-season transfer window, it’d be a surprise to me if McClaren then didn’t get to see the season out with his new players. I suppose surprises have been Ashley’s stock in trade during his time here however. Perhaps we are all wasting our time trying to guess the plan of someone who doesn’t have one.