A Month Of Saturdays: April 2012
"April is the cruellest month"? Seriously, Mr Eliot? I beg to differ - on the contrary, it was really rather spiffing from where I'm sitting, right from Day 1, when Liverpool came to Toon.
The match had been billed as the quintessential "six-pointer" of cliched punditry: win, and we would be marching on towards Europe; lose, and we would have allowed the Reds to claw back some of the deficit. In truth, though, the outcome was never in doubt as we made the team who, courtesy of the Suarez affair, the whole country (rightly, in my view) loves to hate look like April fools. Papiss Cisse scored once in each half, Rocky was booked for a staggeringly pathetic penalty box dive before being hauled off and Pepe Reina was red-carded for clashing heads with Perchinho, resulting in the delicious sight of the diminutive Jose Enrique in goal, barracked by thousands of Toon fans reminding him of his doomy summer predictions of our demise.
A much tougher assignment than crushing King Kenny's crapshower followed on Good Friday with a trip to Swansea. The Liberty Stadium has been such a fortress for the Swans this season that they've virtually constructed a moat, drawbridge and crenellations - and yet we turned up, weathered substantial (if unfocused) pressure and won the game at a canter with another brace from Cisse, both courtesy of clinical passes from Dreamboat. The Senegalese striker's second was particularly eye-catching - a delicate curling lob over Michel Vorm that had many an onlooker drooling.
Cisse was on target again three days later when we welcomed Bolton to St James' (and from that familiar borderline offside position - that smile must have charmed a few linesmen), but it was HBA who stole the headlines with a mind-bogglingly brilliant solo run from inside his own half and a neat finish that finally broke what had been becoming an increasingly stale stalemate.
Five wins on the spin, then - and at a time of the season when momentum is critical. Would the following fortnight spent twiddling our thumbs (thanks to Chelsea's involvement in the FA Cup) have a negative effect, though? No, came the blunt answer, not a bit of it, as we recorded a resounding 3-0 smashing of Stoke. As if envious of the way that, in recent weeks, the limelight had been hogged by Cisse and HBA, Dreamboat made himself the centre of attention, scoring twice during an excellent personal performance. Nevertheless, Cisse still weighed in with a goal...
European qualification of some sort - an undreamt-of possibility pre-season - was guaranteed with that result and others elsewhere, and the Silver Fox claimed to be hoping to enlist the number-crunching services of Carol Vorderman to help work out all the different permutations (which were further complicated by Chelsea's unlikely progression past Barcelona into the Champions League final). In the circumstances, who could blame him for coming over all Hannibal Smith and revelling in best-laid plans coming to fruition? Not us, certainly. (An aside: here's Hannibal, we've already got Mr T (and may do for some time to come, thankfully), Dreamboat would have to be Face - so who's our Murdoch? A maverick outsider who's full of tricks though confesses to not always being of sound mind - it's probably HBA, isn't it?)
So what of the reasons for our success? Both our scouting network and the shrewd financial policy of which the Silver Fox proudly spoke were instrumental in us bringing in supremely talented and yet just about under-the-radar signings like Cisse, HBA and Dreamboat, all of whom were exceptional in April. While those three provided much of our forward momentum and goal threat, Demba Ba continually impressed in a modified for-the-good-of-the-team role and Spidermag was as hard-working and enthusiastic as ever - but it's also worth noting that the month's four consecutive clean sheets were no coincidence, either. April saw our defensive maestro Sideshow Bob rightly honoured with a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and Danny Simpson - yes, unflashy, no-nonsense Danny Simpson - named as (statistically speaking, at least) the best right-back in the division. There are a lot of sung heroes at the club at the moment, but Simpson is of the unsung variety. Those "fans" whose abuse forced him to quit Twitter should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Perchinho would still be an unsung hero were it not for the fact that his increasingly assured appearances are now celebrated in lusty song. Rather less celebrated, though, is his attempt at fine cuisine - a jacket potato - as revealed by Mike Williamson (still, better than Big Lad's somewhat Victorian attitude to culinary matters...). Williamson wasn't the only player to attribute our achievements to food, glorious food: Saylor spoke about the "weird meals" on themed team bonding days "but I'm one of them who will try anything", while Cisse waxed lyrical about the yassa (Senegalese goat curry) served up by the club chef to make him feel at home. (I don't know what's so special about his equivalent of Wor Al's chicken and beans or Ba's strawberry syrup, but it certainly works a treat.) Supporters too - one as young as four - did their bit to help Cisse settle in.
However, when our hotshot's luck ran out - he hit both the crossbar and post at the DW Stadium - so did ours, and in spectacular fashion. Suffering a 4-0 defeat to relegation-threatened opponents when you've just won six games in a row probably merited the pre-match odds of 66/1, but, while we were certainly below par, Wigan performed out of their skins, one of the division's form sides adding our scalp to those of Man Utd and Arsenal.
Still, that scoreline and results elsewhere left us in fifth as the month came to an end - hardly something to bemoan, particularly given the prospect of JFK's return to Tyneside, a reminder of one of the most horrific episodes of our recent past. Perhaps, though, we should be actually be thankful to the sweary old duffer - after all, as Saylor acknowledged, relegation was the best thing that could have happened to us. As we seem to be doing a rather good job of demonstrating.
Labels: a month of saturdays