The Long Thaw
By Jonathan Anderson
Saturday 09 Feb 2013 10:00:00
Browse all Jonathan Anderson articles



In Newcastle, as February begins and the weather starts to ease off; it’s been a long, hard, depressing winter on Tyneside……and I’m not even talking about the snow. They say after the excesses of Christmas, nothing much happens in January, tends to be a bit of a boring month apparently, well if you follow Newcastle United it’s not.


November, December and January have been about as painful as it gets as a Newcastle fan. A threadbare squad, a defence shipping goals, a notorious release clause triggered, various home defeats to bog-standard teams, and, an apparent want-away skipper have all helped lead to the very real possibility of a 2009 repeat. A season that started with so much optimism and promise has somehow turned on its head and become a complete and utter blow out.


Most fans with half a brain will know that a side that finished fifth in the table in May does not just turn into a bad team over night. Most will have also recognised that the NUFC hierarchy spent most of the summer patting themselves on the back, rather than actually going out and strengthening the squad that had done so well. This lack of investment and foresight has left us woefully short of numbers this time round, especially with a European campaign to be thrown into the mix too. We know this because the city has pretty much not stopped discussing this point since the window shut on 1st September 2012.


This season, Mike’s gamble to ‘do it on the cheap’ has come back to bite him (and us!) well and truly on the arse. We got away with it last year; unfortunately this year has been just the opposite. Ryan Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Steven Taylor, Haris Vukic, Dan Gosling have all been long term absentees this season, complimented by a heavy sprinkling of injuries to the likes of Colo, Tiote, Krul and Jonas that have really helped rub salt in the wounds.


After a pitiful December filled with gut-wrenching defeats at Old Trafford and the Emirates, we limped into January thinking it couldn’t get much worse. Wrong! After surrendering an early lead, we lost at home to Everton, followed by an embarrassingly meek exit from the F.A Cup at the hands of Championship side Brighton. The side was filled with reserves and young players who were quite simply not up to the task.


It was hoped that these apparently promising youngsters we have on the books, the likes of Sammy, Ferguson and Tavernier would pick up some of the slack this year and provide cover for any injuries. Problem is; there have been too many games, and far too many injuries. These young players need to be blooded into the first team gradually alongside senior players to guide and mentor them; not all chucked in at once and expected to win as they have this season. Its lambs to the slaughter and it’s simply not how you develop young players.


Rock bottom then hit at home to Reading. Another surrendered lead, another home defeat, this one was a whole lot harder to take. When things are going well and St James’ Park is rocking at its loudest, it really is a bear pit of the highest order. When things are going wrong, as they did that day, St James’ Park gets ugly. Everyone has their opinion and everyone likes to share it. The problem with that is, the negativity and anxiety from stands then creeps down onto the pitch and causes nothing but more problems and more stories for Sky Sports News. When the boys are on the pitch and things go wrong, hard as it may seem and regardless of who’s to blame, we must remain exactly as our names suggests, Newcastle UNITED.


After the Reading disaster, now with the very real possibility of relegation on our hands, I personally hoped that the defeat would be a blessing in disguise, that it would scare our tight-arse owner into opening his wallet. After all, last thing Mike wants is to miss out on the new Premier League cash bonanza deal that kicks in next year. Luckily, it would seem that’s what happened.


What followed was one of the most incredible weeks I can remember since the introduction of the transfer window. The bugle was blasted and the cavalry was called. With Dubuchy finally on board; Yanga-Mbiwa, Gouffran, Haidara and Sissoko were all drafted in on long term deals, over a remarkable four day period. The new blood that was required in the summer had finally arrived. Sadly, it took us to sink into the bottom five before Mike spent the cash; if we were in the top half of the table and sitting comfortably, you can bet your bottom dollar it wouldn’t have happened.


Then came the news that was just as significant and that we all wanted to hear; the captain would be staying. After weeks of uncertainty, the homesick Coloccini had been persuaded to stay on Tyneside until the summer at least. Whatever has been going on with Colo, and there have been plenty of rumours, this is not the time to lose your best player and leader.


With the reinforcements in place, we arrived at Aston Villa for what was without doubt the biggest game of the season for both teams; if ever there was a six-pointer in this division, this was it. Thanks to two moments of pure from quality from Cabaye and Sissoko, along with some stoic defending, we managed to put some daylight between us and rabble scrapping it out at the bottom. I would also argue that if that if this match had been played a month earlier, prior to the returning/fresh players (not to mention Mike Williamson probably playing!) we probably would not have won this match.


This size of this victory, and confidence it inspired, cannot be understated; especially when you considered what came later in the week with the momentous and magnificent victory against Chelsea.


I would go as far as to say that if Newcastle stays up this season, the final week of January 2013 will undoubtedly be looked back on as one of the most significant weeks in the clubs history.


So as the snow melts on Tyneside and the temperature begins to rise, there seem to be green shoots of recovery showing at St James’. The pieces’ are now in place, the squad replenished, key players returning and the skipper is committed. All we can hope now is that too much damaged has not already been caused in the last six months; and, that as the spring arrives, so does a change in the fortunes of the club we all hate to love.

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