So January kicked off with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to West Brom, and 1st February saw us slump to a painfully humiliating 3-0 loss to the Mackems. What would the first day of March hold in store for us? A victory at Hull, as it happens - and a handsome one at that, 4-1
, with Moussa Sissoko bagging a brace. Sadly, though, it wasn't the margin of victory or our sudden rediscovery of how to score goals that made the headlines in the Sunday papers. Oh no. Instead, the back pages were dominated by images of our manager headbutting an opposing player. At least we finally got to find out what it takes to get us up first on Match Of The Day
, I suppose...
"Headbutting" should really have inverted commas above, as to describe it as such is to exaggerate any aggression in either the intent or the execution, but it nevertheless was hardly becoming for someone in the Silver Fox's position - someone whom senior players are supposed to respect and to whom young players are supposed to look for guidance and leadership - and did absolutely nothing for our permanently fragile public image.
The club's reaction was swift and decisive; he was fined £100,000, issued with a formal warning about his future conduct and ordered to deliver a written apology to Hull and Steve Bruce (an apology later accepted
), but retained his job. (Perhaps Jabba and company were anticipating he wouldn't need to be pushed and would just jump, as reserve team manager Willie Donachie had in similar circumstances the previous month
.) The FA's own punishment, when it came, was hefty: a seven-match ban (the first three of which were complete stadium bans) and a £60,000 fine
. It could have been even more severe, though, given the media hysteria surrounding the incident, and indeed would have been had the club's damage limitation tactics
not been appreciated by the panel.
Those who surmised that the whole affair would undermine the Silver Fox's authority and ability to motivate or discipline were vindicated at least in part when we next took to the pitch. He may not have been allowed inside Craven Cottage, but he'd had a whole fortnight to work with the players since the Hull game; but, while bottom-of-the-table Fulham may have been in a parlous state themselves, we were in no mood to deny them the easiest three points they'll get all season on an afternoon when absolutely everything was abysmal with the exception of the weather
The loss through injury of Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy hadn't helped our cause, of course, and they were both to be sidelined for the month's remaining fixtures too. Remy's absence in particular was a huge blow, given our alarming inability to find the net without him. At least Papiss Cisse assumed goalscoring responsibility when we took on Crystal Palace at St James' Park, in what proved to be a carbon copy of the Villa match - us dominant without being especially dangerous against poor, unambitious opposition, and only emerging with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a strike deep into stoppage time
Three days later, when Everton were the visitors, we arguably played better, only to be undone by a superior side
in a rich vein of form who weren't about to be distracted from their mission to track down and overhaul Arsenal in the fourth and final Champions League spot. Ross Barkley's goal was a peach, too, even if he was assisted by some woeful defending.
The following fixture away to Southampton had been billed, somewhat less than thrillingly, as the Battle For Eighth, but from first whistle to last it was no contest. In what was an uglier spectacle than a caricature of Peter Beardsley
, Jay Rodriguez notched his second and third goals against us this season as he sought to enhance his claim to a place on the England plane to Rio in the summer, only for those hopes to be dashed by a long-term injury sustained in the Saints' next match. The game ended 4-0
, though it could have been many more, and we travelled back up to the north-east with spanked arses sorer than those of the Toon fans who had cycled down to the south coast in aid of charity
The examples set by both Southampton and Everton could teach us a great deal
, I argued, though whether the Silver Fox will be around much longer to learn those lessons was fast becoming the subject of some speculation. If I were a betting man (like, say, Dan Gosling
), I'd be inclined to wager that the man now permitted back into stadia on matchdays is living on time that's so borrowed Cisse might actually score in it.
Our woes in front of goal were only thrust further into relief by the fact that our two loanees at Rotherham, James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic, scored no fewer than three times each over the course of the month and fixtures against Notts County
and Bristol City
. Tavernier isn't even a forward - and neither is Perchinho, Wigan's improbable matchwinner as the Latics beat Man City in the FA Cup for the second successive season
With Adam Campbell still at St Mirren, we do at least have one potential star striker of the future currently at the Silver Fox's disposal. Adam Armstrong, along with Freddie Woodman and Lubo Satka, has signed his first professional contract
and made his first-team debut from the bench against Fulham, briefly providing a spark to our otherwise moribund attacking play.
Our problems aren't confined to goalscoring, of course - we're also incapable of defending. (A seriously toxic combination, that.) But there could be good news on that front too - or should that be Good news? Centre-back Curtis Good made an impressive debut for Australia against Ecuador in London
, though succumbed to an injury well before the South Americans completed a remarkable comeback victory from a three-goal deficit.
But even if there are reasons to be optimistic about the future, that optimism relates only to the team, rather than the fanbase. As Adrian Tempany argues in general, but also with specific reference to Newcastle, the average age of football crowds is pushing steadily upwards
, young people apparently abandoning the game in their droves due largely to the hefty cost that being a supporter incurs. I can't speak for all clubs, but - given the pathetic performances from our players, the shameful example set by our manager, the level of ambition shown by our owner and his board, and the general apathy among our fans - it's little wonder that teenagers are turning their backs on ours.
Labels: a month of saturdays, newcastle