2009/2010 The Rock And Dole Years
By Ian Cusack
Wednesday 19 Oct 2011 13:15:00
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2009/2010

Following the catastrophic and avoidable, yet inevitable and fully merited relegation from the Premiership, courtesy of Damien Duff’s own goal at Villa Park in a limp and lousy 1-0 defeat, Newcastle United spent the Summer of 2009 not so much navel gazing as viewing the unimaginable void that lay below the precarious precipice on which the club had crash landed, while pretending to ponder on which direction to lurch towards. Almost immediately the curtain had fallen on the rancorous and incompetent previous campaign, the rats collected their luggage and disembarked in search of their next cushy pay day.  Of those out of contract Viduka retired, while free transfers saw the departures of Cacapa, Doninger, Edgar, to Burnley reserves, Lovenkrands, though he was back again in September, Marwood and everyone’s favourite tweeter Owen, whose self-serving, narcissistic publicity brochure saw him given the chance to lie on Manchester United’s treatment table while reading the Sporting Life.

Money was raised by the sales of Bassong to Spurs (£8m), Beye to Villa (£2m) and Martins (£9m) to Wolfsburg; decent touches, but drops in the vast ocean of debt the lack of Sky money would cause. In retrospect, the best departure from Newcastle United that summer was Alan Shearer, whose desperately bad impersonation of Graeme Souness had seen the club take the tumble from the top flight. Two years later he’s still on the Match of the Day sofa, perhaps demonstrating there’s more to running a club than making the players wear suits and switching their mobiles off. However, as Chris Hughton reluctantly took control again, it seemed as the breackneck voyage in to the pit of despair was gathering pace as Newcastle followed up a 3-0 win away to Shamrock Rovers, a 1-0 success at Huddersfield and a 7-2 belting of Darlington with a 6-1 humiliation away to Leyton Orient, which was possibly the lowest point in the club’s recent history. The subsequent 0-0 at home to Leeds United was instructive as, according to the media, not only were the fortunes of the Magpies alleged to be about to follow those of the Peacocks, but it was the last game Newcastle played during the lives of Sir Bobby Robson, who died on July 31st and my dad Eddy Cusack, who passed away the day after.  I missed the Leeds friendly, sat in the Freeman watching the old fella’s life ebb away, but I told him the score and his comment was “at least they didn’t lose.” Small comfort perhaps, but it was an immensely important result following the disaster in east London.

Apparently, the Monday after the Orient game had seen a serious chat at the training ground, where the likes of Harper, Nolan, Barton and Smith pulled no punches; the team either grafted together or we were finished. It was the birth of “this group of lads,” in Chris Hughton’s memorable phrase and sowed the seeds of a season that was not high on quality, but saw an incredible 9 month long bonding exercise between players and fans as 100 points were accrued and only 4 league games lost, making 2009/2010 one of the most enjoyable and important seasons in our history. While everyone mucked in together, the singing reflected this; no more confrontational and ungrateful choruses of “get out of our club,” but the unifying, life affirming “all we care about is NUFC” was sung proudly every game. This truly was a family affair and Newcastle United was one big happy one; on the pitch and in the stands.

Obviously, it wasn’t plain sailing from the off; West Brom battered us in the opening game, but Tim Krul on for the injured Harper was in inspirational form and Duff grabbed us a point in his last game with a rare moment of adequacy from one of the worst underachievers we’d had on the books.  The smug media types, whether they be the whisky-soaked cynics from Fleet Street or the media studies Polytechnic drop-out bloggers in their John Lennon specs, all predicted crowds of under 20k at SJP; double that turned up to see Shola grab a hat trick as Reading were trounced 3-0 to set the scene on a glorious home campaign that saw us unbeaten on Tyneside throughout 2009/2010. Shola again proved the difference as we beat Sheff Wed in midweek, while Nolan and Ryan Taylor both scored stunners as we went to Palace and won 2-0, before August ended with a Danny Guthrie goal helping us past Leicester at a rain-soaked Gallowgate. So; unbeaten, with 4 wins on the spin and 4 clean sheets, as well as a cracking 4-3 win over Huddersfield in the league cup when we’d been 3-1 down. Championship? We were having a laugh!

In to Septembe andr Coloccini nodded the only goal at Cardiff, before we came to earth with a bump, losing 2-1 at Blackpool after taking the lead. It seemed a bad result at the time, but Blackpool went on to gain promotion, so hindsight excuses the team. Plymouth were cuffed aside 3-1 on the following Saturday, before a meaningless loss to Peterborough by a glorified youth team in the League Cup. The next match was live on BBC, away to Ipswich, now under the managership of the dog lover himself, Royston Maurice Keane. On an emotional day, all about the memory of Sir Bobby, Newcastle were untouchable; we won 4-0 with a performance that the Geordie Knight would have loved. It showed that “this group of lads” meant business and were determined to go up at the first attempt.

Unfortunately, some fans just didn’t get it; possibly because of the arrival of the cumbersome Marlon Harewood on loan, a midweek 1-1 with QPR, who looked the best team we’d played so far, caused disgruntlement, as did a subsequent 0-0 home to Bristol City, whose debutant keeper Dean Gherkin (class name!) saved everything we threw at him. After this, two successive losses, away to Nottingham Forest and Scunthorpe, in games we could have won, resulted in certain unrepresentative on-line uber ultras throwing their toys out the pram, demanding boycotts and public executions on Barrack Road. One young tyro even claimed “failing to beat Doncaster Rovers at home is the worst result in Newcastle’s history,” conveniently ignoring Kevin Nolan’s last minute winner, which was enough to reactivate our season. Perhaps our blogger buddy hadn’t been able to stay until full time; we’ll forgive as he probably had to be in for his tea and the X Factor.

November was a good month, with 5 straight wins; Ryan Taylor’s deflected winner and Harper’s best ever save gave us 3 points at Bramall Lane, before the only permanent new face at the club, Danny Simpson, got a flukey one as Peterborough lost 3-1 at SJP. Nolan won an awful game at Deepdale with the only goal, before Swansea were sent packing 3-0 with a trio of headers in the opening 25 minutes. Another new signing arrived at the start of December in the shape of the mercurial French free agent and free spirit Fabrice Pancrate; he scored the goal of the season as Watford were beaten 2-0, then did nothing much for 6 months. Shola and Ranger got one each as we eased to a 2-0 win at the Ricoh against a poor Coventry, making it 8 straight wins.

Fair play to plucky Barnsley;  they held us to a 2-2 draw, before the pretend derby saw the Smogs handed an utter humiliation on Tyneside the week before Christmas; how it was only 2-0 I’ll never know. With it being Christmas, Newcastle were constitutionally obliged to underachieve; 2-2 at Hillsborough and 0-0 home to Derby being par for the course. In the new year, we travelled to Plymouth in the cup, drew 0-0 then beat them in a replay 3-0 with a Lovenkrands hat trick. West Brom held us to a 2-2 draw in a storming televised Monday game, before knocking us out the cup 4-2 at The Hawthorns, not that we were bothered like. January ended with a 2-0 win at home to Palace and a 0-0 at Leicester, for whom Nobby Solano made his debut.

Suddenly, an outbreak of spending took place on Tyneside; while Harewood and Khisinashvili had not worked out as loan signings and went, unmourned, back to Villa and Blackburn respectively, this did not discourage Hughton from bringing in the uncompromising Fitz Hall from QPR and the promising Patrick van Aanholt from Chelsea on temporary deals. Cash money was also paid out for Leon Best, Wayne Routledge and Mike Williamson, as well as making Danny Simpson’s move a permanent one. The Premiership qualities of those players may be up for debate, but it has to be said that in the Championship they were the difference between us squeezing back up and winning the title at a canter.

February’s first game saw us completely obliterate Cardiff 5-1 with a performance as imperious as we’d seen in the previous half decade. We looked unbeatable, but weren’t; Derby trounced us 3-0 the following Tuesday, but that was the last loss of the season. Carroll’s late header grabbed a point at Swansea, before another sequence of 4 straight wins; 4-1 over Coventry, 3-0 versus Preston in home games, a 2-1 success at Vicarage Road on what appeared to be an allotment and not a football pitch, then a 6-1 crucifixion of Barnsley. The Smogs drew 2-2 with us in their cup final; before Scunthorpe obliging lay down to have their belly stroked on St. Patrick’s Day as we won 3-0. Long before this game, the situation in home games was that the opposition turned up, gave a spirited opening performance, tried to play football, and then folded like a broken deckchair as soon as we went ahead. Very much like 1992/1993 it has to be said.

Remember Dean Gherkin and his heroics at SJP in October? He didn’t match that at Ashton Gate, making two howlers as we came back from 2-0 down and should have won. A straightforward 1-0 win at Doncaster was followed by a crucial 2-0 success over Nottingham Forest, in the game that effectively if not mathematically put us up, when Jose finally scored and celebrated in style.

In to April and the wins just kept on coming; 3-2 away to Peterborough meant we needed a point to be up, 2-1 at home to Sheffield United, with promotion already assured after Forest had been held by Cardiff, 4-1 over Blackpool in 80 degree heat, 2-1 at Reading in a rearranged game and 2-0 at Plymouth to give us the title at last; 5,000 in Devon on a Monday night, evoking memories of Huddersfield in 84 and Grimsby in 93.  The last home game saw Ipswich steal a point with an offside goal in injury time, before the season ended with a 1-0 win away to QPR to push us over the 100 point barrier.

Truly, 2009/2010 was a marvellous season; the management, players and supporters all performed heroics as the club regrouped and emerged better, stronger and more united after a season in the Championship. Certainly, while nobody wants relegation, what 2009/2010 showed is that there’s nothing to be scared of playing at this level. Stoke city or Barnsley? There isn’t a contest! Of course with the main players of 2009/2010 long gone (Hughton – sacked, Carroll – forced in to a move, Nolan – solda against his will), we may find ourselves with another chance to savour the delights of Oakwell and Portman road in 2012/2013  if Les Francais don’t work out this season for us.

Next time, in the last one in the series, I’ll look back on 2010/2011. It must be may age because I can immediately recall more games from 1990/1991 than last year!

 

Ian Cusack



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