By Ian Cusack
Wednesday 08 Jun 2011 09:23:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles

It’s taken a while for me to finally sit down and pen this article, which is a change from the normal state of affairs. Generally, as soon as I know our deadline, I crack on with the business of doing the season’s review, but not this one. However I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of mental wreck who is still scarred by the events of this train crash campaign; it’s just that I wanted to see how things panned out in 2010/2011 before I committed myself to paper.


Well, I’m writing this in the midst of another abject 1-0 loss at Villa Park on a sun-drenched afternoon, when Newcastle failed to trouble Brad Friedel at all. The difference being that this time, albeit with half a dozen games to go, Newcastle are sitting 7 points about the drop zone in a seemingly comfortable 9th place, with 39 points and a plus goal difference. Those facts are no particular reason for open top bus parades or brass bands going down Northumberland Street, but the weaknesses of others should mean there’s another white-knuckle top-flight dogfight to look forward to in 2011/2012.


Looking back from only 2 seasons distant, the events of 2008/2009 seem even more of a farce from beginning to end and as preventable as a Shakespearean tragedy than they did while they were taking place. You know, whenever I go and see “Macbeth” and the Thane of Cawdor and his missus are about to engage in a brutal killing spree that will totally destabilise the Scottish realm, the temptation is always there to stand up, tell the characters to stop what they are doing and consider the eventual results of their actions. With the benefit of both hindsight and a time machine, the urge to do this to the players, owners and management of Newcastle at any time in 2008/2009 is a compelling one. None of this shit needed to happen.


It all seemed to start off so adequately. Keegan was in charge, and while no one deluded themselves that the fella had anything other than the instinct for a good player and boundless enthusiasm to keep us going forwards, the end of the previous season had seen us make progress on the pitch. Alright so there was no chance of his three transfer targets of Schweinsteiger, Lampard or Thierry Henry joining us, but never mind we got Coloccini, Gutierrez and Guthrie instead. They helped us grab an opening weekend point at Old Trafford and then beat Bolton at home, courtesy of Kevin Nolan. He wasn’t playing for us of course, but he missed a penalty for The Trotters, which was probably the best thing he did for us all that season.


On the Wednesday afterwards, we went to Coventry and played a blinding League Cup tie; twice ahead, we were pegged back in injury time at the end of each half, before Owen grabbed a winner in extra time. Typical Keegan cavalier stuff; this was what everyone wanted to see – entertainment! It was also James Milner’s last game, as he was sold to Villa the day after. While Keegan pretended the deal was his choice, his body language said otherwise and we slipped to a humiliating 3-0 crushing at the Emirates on the Saturday, when Bassong made his debut.


By the Tuesday, transfer deadline day had seen us bring in the football artiste Francisco Jimenez Tejada (aka Xisco, a bloke who’d struggle to get on the bench for my Over 40s team on a Saturday morning) and Nacho Gonzalez, who none of us could pick out from an ID parade, even if he lined up with the 7 Dwarfs. These two charlatans were signed not by the manager, but by a cabal of Wise, Llambias and whoever the hell Jeff Vettere was. As a result, a fatally undermined Keegan walked. Now a court has spoken as regards the whys and wherefores of those events and I don’t think it is profitable to examine old ground, but if he’d stayed, we’d not have gone down and he should feel some guilt at the events that followed. Instead, Chris Hughton was given the gig as caretaker.


After the international break, we lost at home to Hull, with sex criminal Marlon King getting both their goals and Guthrie breaking Craig Fagan’s leg, then lost away to West Ham, at home to Spurs in the League Cup and at home to Blackburn, before the Cavalry in the shape of Sergeant Tourettes Kinnear arrived. Rather in the way our parents generation knew where they were when Kennedy was shot, I know where I was when Simon Bird’s nemesis was somehow given the job of keeping us up; I was at my aunt’s post funeral wake at The Pack Horse in Burnopfield. The news of Joe’s arrival didn’t lighten the occasion.


In retrospect, the craziest decision of this insane year was giving Kinnear a job, but things didn’t immediately get worse. We fought back from 2-0 down to get a point at Goodison, and then matched Man City in a 2-2 at SJP. Admittedly we did lose on Weirdside for the first time since 1980 on Kinnear’s watch, but back-to-back home wins over West Brom and Villa saw us up to the dizzy heights of 14th. A 2-1 loss at Fulham saw the dreaded Cacapa reappear to hand them the points, while suicidal late defending gave Wigan a share of the spoils after we’d come back to lead in injury time as we went on a run of draws, with 0-0s at Chelsea and Smogland to follow, before the highlights of the season; a cracking 3-0 demolition of Pompey at Fratton Park and a glorious last second winner by Duff at home to Spurs saw us 12th at Christmas. If only the season had ended then.


Boxing Day saw us lose at Wigan, with Ryan Taylor scoring a free kick, as usual and earning a move to us, with N’Zogbia sulking the other way. Liverpool battered us 5-1 at home, which saw Shay Given decide he couldn’t take any more nonsense on Tyneside, as he put in the performance of his life and still conceded 5. Losing Given to the Manc Mackems saw my love for the club die more than at any other time in the past 38 years. Hull put us out the cup 1-0 at home in a replay, before Andy Carroll got his first ever goal for us, rescuing a point at home to West Ham. Blackburn trounced us 3-0, Citeh did us 2-1 and a Shola penalty after a Steven Taylor, Oscar nominated dive grabbed a point against the Mackems.


At the start of February, we went to the Hawthorns in desperate need of points. Kinnear was taken ill on the morning of the game and never managed us again. Hughton was back in charge and Lovenkrands, signed on a free from Germany, inspired us to a 3-2 win in our only double of the season. We were sitting in 13th but this was a false position of supposed security. A 0-0 at home to Everton, where Nolan was sent off for clattering Anichebe was followed by home losses to Man United and Arsenal, an away one to Bolton and a dire point at Hull, as we’d dropped to 18th by the end of March.


On April Fool’s Day, Ashley made a last desperate bid for salvation, by appointing Shearer as boss until the end of the season. Great player he may have been, but as a manager Shearer was a disaster; combining the man management of tough-guy Souness with the tactics of Allardyce, he was worse than Kinnear in terms of results. Admittedly the players, especially Owen, Viduka and Martins, simply did not want to know, but the incessant changes in formation and personnel counteracted all the supposed benefits of making the players wear suits and switching their mobiles off.


We lost at home to Chelsea, drew at Stoke courtesy of a steepling Carroll header, lost at Spurs, drew with Portsmouth, as Owen missed a double hat trick of chances and got thumped 3-0 at Liverpool, where Barton was sent off. Shearer accused him of taking the piss out of the city and the club; well, two years on Barton is the player of the season and Shearer is back on the MOTD sofa making inane comments with Lawro. Go figure…


The last 3 games began with a Monday night visit of the Smogs. Despite a Beye own goal in the opening seconds, we crucified them with Taylor, Martins and Lovenkrands relegating them and opening the trapdoor for us. In retrospect, one single point would have saved Newcastle and the Fulham home game is the one where it ought to have been gained. Despite Kamara putting them ahead, I still see Viduka powering home a header at the Gallowgate, only for Howard Webb to blow for a non-existent foul. Then in injury time, Nicky Butt, unmarked 10 yards out, shoots straight at Schwarzer and we lose, as a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions appeared from nowhere. The loss at Villa was a certainty from that point on.


However, as 2009/2010 proved and as I’ll show in the next issue, relegation was nothing to be scared of in the end. That said, I don’t want another helping any time soon.


Ian Cusack

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