By Ian Cusack
Tuesday 12 Apr 2011 13:33:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles


It’s now more than three years since Sam Allardyce was shown the door at St. James’ Park. With the benefit of hindsight, absolutely nothing at all to do with his brief, inglorious time on Tyneside, including such disparate elements as his appointment, tenure and sacking, makes any sense at all. However, the same can be said of his replacement Kevin Keegan’s odd and still to be fully explained or justified return to the SJP hot seat. 2007/2008 was an utterly insane season, considering we began it by contemplating Allardyce taking us back to the Champions’ League and ended it grateful that Keegan had kept us up, though it seemed a bastion of calmness and tranquillity when the following one is remember, but that’s for next time.


Looking back on the early Ashley era seems almost surreal, when one considers just how popular the now vilified owner was with supporters, basically simply for not being Shepherd. While both players inc and The Mag erred on the side of caution about the new regime, certain cyber hotheads were taking the idea of seeing Chris Mort and Ashley buying pints in Blu Bambu as a sign of the reawakening of the Geordie nation. How wrong they were, but in their wish to see Shepherd removed they’d never contemplated how much truth there could be in the cliché “better the devil you know.”


On the pitch, we had bid less than fond farewells to the frankly useless Babayaro, the highly individual talents of Titus Bramble, his bling buddy Kieron Dyer after 8 underachieving years, the cowardly Luque and the agricultural Craig Moore. While it was good riddance to bad rubbish for that lot, we did spend a moment saying thanks to Scott Parker, apparently homesick and the God-like genius of Nobby Solano, who both ended up at West Ham, Antoine Sibierski, when Wigan offered him a 2 year deal and Pav Srnicek, who retired.


In their place we welcomed a similar mixture of talented and terrible players. The good buys would have been Habib Beye, a quality defender, Abdoulaye Faye, a no-nonsense stopper, though with apparent anger management issues, Jose Enrique, who is still doing the business still and the portly Viduka, who was a world beater one minute and a liability the next. After three and a half years, the jury is still out on Joey Barton; for every goal versus Villa there is a punch on Morten Gamst Pederson, not even taking in to consideration his extra curricular activities. The bad buys really did stink; Rozenhal was as soft as shit and left for Lazio on 1st January, Cacapa was Titus with a Portuguese passport, Geremi appeared to be playing in slow motion and Alan Smith has still to convince me he is a footballer to this day.


Anyway, following a couple of encouraging friendly wins over Celtic and Juventus, the whole thing kicked off away to Allardyce’s old club Bolton on my birthday August 11th. A classic from Charles N’Zogbia and a Martins double saw Newcastle 3-0 up in half an hour, with a final score of 3-1 really setting the scene in emphatic fashion. The next week, we drew 0-0 at home to Villa in a dull game, though the needless booing at the end suggested Allardyce had very little margin for error among the SJP faithful. Newcastle fans again came under the spotlight the next week as we drew 2-2 in Smogland after twice leading. The barracking dished out to the eminently detestable Mido was taken up by the likes of Lousie Taylor of The Grauniad and other on-line cultural gauleiters, in the shape of polyversity Media Studies and Sociology drop-out bloggers, not to mention opportunistic Boro fans with an agenda to pursue, as racist chanting. It wasn’t. It was having a go at a detestable opposition player. End of story. Much to the chagrin of Lousie Taylor, the FA didn’t charge Newcastle United and as a consequence I’ve not read The Guardian since.


On the pitch Newcastle moved on from this shit storm in a tea cup to face Barnsley in the League Cup, when a brace by Martins and Owen saw us safely through, leading to a predictable 2-0 loss to Arsenal’s youth team at the Emirates in the last 32; ho hum.


September started with 1-0 massacre of Wigan courtesy of a lovely Owen header, before the first sign that Allardyce wasn’t up to it; we lost 1-0 away to Derby when Kenny Miller gave them their only win of the season in a game where Newcastle seemed utterly unable to pick their game up and create anything. A bounce back victory at home to West Ham was followed by a great first half away to Man City, where we went in a goal to the good, but fell apart to lose 3-1. We stood 9th at the end of the month and in the same place at the end of October, when home wins over Everton and Spurs were spoiled by a lame loss at Reading.


The main problem with Allardyce seemed to be his inability to switch tactics; it was his way or no way and, more surprisingly, given his ego, that he couldn’t motivate players. If we went a goal down, we were almost certainly snookered, but take the lead and we’d be okay. Sadly, we didn’t take many leads in November. The middle game of that month saw us draw 1-1 away to the Mackems when James Milner’s cross eluded Craig Gordon to give us a point we scarcely deserved, while the two home games that bookended this result effectively destroyed Allardyce’s credibility. The 1-4 massacre by Portsmouth, with them 3 goals up in 7 minutes, all courtesy of Cacapa and Rozenhal’s ineptitude, could possibly be seen as a fluke; the 3-0 banjoing by a Liverpool side in second gear could not.  Make no mistake about it; these were the two worst ever home performances in the Premier League by Newcastle United. The repeatedly chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” were right on the money. Allardyce had bluffed and bullshitted his way in to this job, where he’d quickly been found out.


A packed December programme saw a continued unacceptable mixture of results; a spineless 3-1 loss at Blackburn, a plucky 1-1 home draw with Arsenal, a 2-1 home win over Birmingham courtesy of a 90th minute Habib Beye header, a spawny 1-0 win at Fulham courtesy of Barton’s injury time penalty and a fluked 2-2 at home to Derby, courtesy of a late Viduka goal, when we ought to have lost, saw us 12th at Christmas. Predictably the festive period did us no favours; a 1-0 loss at Wigan, where the chants were “we’re shit and we’re sick of it,” before Barton went on a 12-hour bender, punched a young kid and ended up doing time, was followed by a 2-1 loss at Chelsea.


January started with a 2-0 home reverse by Man City that showed us as spineless as ever, followed by a truly woeful 0-0 away to Stoke in the FA Cup, which saw Allardyce removed from office. Typically enough, Ashley’s timing was neither logical nor helpful. Allardyce should either have been allowed to see the season out and then bulleted in the summer, as we were under no danger of going down, or not employed at all after Ashley took up the reins in 2007.  The first game after his departure saw a 6-0 loss at Man United, where Alan Smith saw red for foul and abusive language, with Nigel Pearson in charge, offered no hope of immediate improvement. We needed a boss and it appeared as if one cockney wide boy would appoint another, with Redknapp looking to be the likely candidate. Imagine the shock on Wednesday January 16th, with a cup replay with Stoke only hours away, when Kevin Keegan was unveiled as the new boss.


Retrospect shows we should not have touched him with a bargepole; he was yesterday’s man, distanced from the modern game, running his Soccer Circus up in Glasgow and one can only speculate as to why he took the job. Yet Kevin Keegan united the fans, players and everyone associated with the club, bar Dennis Wise, until the end of that season. If he’d been given the title of Director of Football, rather than the odious taxi driver attacker, things may well have been very different in the long run, but Newcastle United, and Ashley in particular, like to do things the hard way, and sometimes the wrong way.


Despite Emre’s early red card, Keegan’s first game went well that night as we won 4-1 against a woeful Stoke, before losing 3-0 to Arsenal’s youth team at the Emirates in the last 32, again; ho hum.


We also lost 3-0 to them in Keegan’s first away game, which showed he didn’t really have the magic touch required to shoot us up the league. Indeed, it was to be 2 months and 8 games before he tasted victory. We drew at home 0-0 with Bolton and 1-1 with the Smogs, lost 4-1 at Villa, 5-1 at home to Man Utd, 1-0 home to Blackburn in the 93rd minute, 3-0 at Liverpool and stopped the rot with a good performance in a 1-1 at St Andrews. After 4 straight losses, perhaps the tide had finally turned.


Fulham were beaten 2-0 at home, then Spurs were humiliated 4-1 at the Lane after we’d gone a goal down, before Reading were blown away 3-0; 9 goals, 9 points and the best attacking displays of the season. This was followed by a 0-0 snooze at Portsmouth, before the Mackems were pulled to pieces 2-0. The first one saw a superb Geremi cross and a magnificent run and finish by Owen; two players who were held in contempt by Newcastle fans combined this day to produce the goods.


The season ended with us finishing 12th, after a 2-2 at West Ham and a brace of low-key losses 2-0 at home to Chelsea and 3-1 at Goodison. The former seemed to drive a wedge between Ashley and Keegan, when the manager on Sky TV post match basically admitted we’d never compete at the top of the table with the squad we had and the players Wise wanted to bring in, compared to the ones Keegan had in mind. It seemed a non-story at the time, but the events of the next few months proved that Newcastle United are only ever a heartbeat away from a major crisis. And 2008/2009 was a 12 month crisis from start to finish!


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