Saturday, January 19, 2013.
What the hell was that? I was at Saint James's Park for the first time since choosing to support this club nearly 20 years ago. I learned before my trip that I can never expect a win in this current campaign. But on an iron gray day, in a slushy, iron gray city, I saw Newcastle's problems first hand.
And where should I begin? The injuries are a given. But what I saw was a superior squad that couldn't finish chances in an otherwise fine first half, stopped playing in the second half, and topped it off with a disasterous tactical substitution by Alan Pardew. That's shooting yourself in each foot (one foot twice, I suppose). And what depresses me is that this squad has not learned from its mistakes. With the possible exception of Yohan Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux, who continue their positive play, I saw no one else on the pitch who showed improvement over what they had done since October or so.
Jonas, I love you. But you can't send a properly weighed ball into the box. You need to lay it off to a defender or another midfielder to do the honors. Newcastle's opponents know that. It hurts to watch. Coloccini had a fine first half. However, he was afraid to have the ball touch him in the second (along with Jonas), and it cost the team dearly. Shola Ameobi, were you there the whole game? And James Perch, I saw you come on in the 65th minute. But I don't remember you touching the ball.
Congratulations, Cisse, you got three shots on the target in the first half, two straight on the keeper. Last year you could beat the keeper on every shot you took. You were leathal. This is simply not your year. Anita, Cabaye, and Marveaux, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your teammates didn't want to win as much as you did.
Jonas and Williamson are solid, durable 'squad players'. But that's not enough. Not in this league with a third of the clubs not possessing the quality it used to demand. Let's face it, the English Premier League is weak. It has been for at least three seasons now.
Did I mention it was gray, cold, snowy, and miserable?
I know what pundits say. They say that Newcastle look too good to be a relagation team. Once they get Steven Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa back, they will upset a bigger club, like Liverpool or Arsenal. I see their point. Newcastle can pass the ball extremely well. They can defend when they are trying. They have talent. But there is a danger to this analysis. Those two upset possibilities come at the end of the season. Newcastle probably need six wins to secure safety. Where do any wins come from if the team stops playing in the second half of matches?
Before this dismal run began in October, Newcastle's problem was slow starts. They couldn't score in the first half. Now they can't hold leads. They have lost four leads since Christmas. And all season long, one rule has remained in place: they lose when they concede the first goal.
I should stop right there. I will let the more knowledgeable bloggers dissect this latest failure below. But I will conclude with the most concise summary I can on Newcastle's fate this season. This squad must defeat every team beneath them on the table if they are survive. Reading are beneath them, and Newcastle failed to win. Now they must not only defeat every team beneath them, but they must defeat multiple teams above them, like Swansea, West Ham, Sunderland (of course), and Aston Villa (next match). It makes no sense to hope for Norwich and Southampton to fall. They must defeat Southampton and QPR, who remain beneath them and who they face this spring. Who can be confident that they can defeat those sorry squads after this latest display against reading? Anyone? I thought not.
Six wins. Where will they come from? If they win one game per month, they will be two games short. They need two consecutive wins, and we know they aren't going to get that. Reading and QPR are going down. Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, and possibly Aston Villa are competing for the final relegation spot. Yes, competing. They are practically falling over each other for the honors of being dropped. And having learned from 2009, once you start calculating the odds of relagstion, your favorite team is doomed.
I need a drink. Two.
On to the bloggers who have recovered enough to speak up thus far.
In the aftermath of Loic Remy's decision to snub Newcastle United in favour of Queens Park Rangers it made me wonder just what direction the game is heading when it comes to player ambition and certainly passion.
We need a big win. A win that we should’ve got on Saturday if it wasn’t for an overtly negative approach after half time.