Tuesday, May 06, 2014

'Diff-erent class

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Cardiff City

A clean sheet, a victory, a change in fortunes - all causes for celebration perhaps? The guarantee of a top ten finish (albeit one which ultimately came following Crystal Palace's draw with Liverpool on Monday night) confirmed staff and player bonuses for the year - perhaps a cause for celebration for some.

However, this is undoubtedly one of oddest match reports I've written in the ten seasons we've been doing this blog, with the game itself perhaps a sideshow to the main events in the stands, with prolonged and systematic denunciation of Jabba and the Silver Fox leaving neither man in doubt as to their current standings in the Tyneside popularity stakes. The Silver Fox even went so far as to stay welded to his seat in the dug-out, sending John Carver and Steve Stone out to issue touchline instructions rather than face barracking from the stands (which at least stopped him headbutting anyone...).

With talk in the build-up to the game of walk-outs, it was telling that an appreciable number of supporters did precisely that, exiting the stadium in the 69th minute and forming a core of chanting (or should that be disenchanting?) fans near the Strawberry pub for the remainder of the match.

At some stage, a football match also briefly broke out, one in which we played much better than we have of late, albeit against a side who showed about as much commitment to staying in the Premier League as we did away to Villa a few years ago.

Big Lad was handed what, in all likelihood, will be a final start at St James' Park in a black and white shirt, and he responded with the goal which took him to joint third on our list of Premier League goalscorers, with a leaping header at the back post from a fine Moussa Sissoko cross.

Preceding that goal, Mini V had demonstrated why he should have taken more corners this season, finding the head of Mathieu Debuchy, and our French right-back struck the bar with a strong header. Why that tactic hadn't been employed earlier in the season is anyone's guess. 

Anyway, Big Lad's goal threatened to open the floodgates, with Sissoko striking the woodwork twice before half-time. At the other end, one glaring miss by Frazier Campbell and one save by Tim Krul's foot from a Wilfried Zaha shot aside, we looked relatively comfortable.

The second half saw the Bluebirds try and force their way back, with substitute Kenwyne Jones looking lively, drawing a good save from Krul and generally making a nuisance of himself. The No-Necked Text Pest also made an appearance and looked to carry something of a threat down the flanks, and from one cross Cardiff's best chance came, only to see Sideshow Bob pop up on the line with a brilliant reaction block when Krul was prone.

Having responded to the walkout by withdrawing Goofy and replacing him with Dan Gosling, we subsequently swapped Mini V for Saylor as we looked to hold out for a long-awaited win. However, with Cardiff stretched, Sissoko found space on the right before cutting the ball inside to Mr T. He drove at the box before smashing his shot goalwards. That shot was blocked and the ball fell to Loic Remy to score at the Leazes End and put another nail in Cardiff's coffin.

With the clock ticking down, Sissoko forced a corner, and as the ball found its way into the box, Remy's header fell kindly for Saylor to blast home from one yard and secure the win.

With the visitors buried and our long slump ended, this game should be a cause for celebration. However, the unrest in the stands, brilliant summarised by the Lion of Gosforth on Match of the Day later, meant that jubilation was in short supply: "There has to be a big improvement and I think [Jabba]'s well aware of that. Newcastle fans don't expect them to be in the top three but they want to have belief. They want to have hope that they can go out and score goals and defend properly. They want to have hope that when decent players become available that they can go out and buy them in the transfer market. And also when they do have good players they don't want them to be sold. It's been so frustrating for them, they're angry - and rightly so."

Where we go from here (apart from to Anfield for our last match) is anyone's guess. On the one hand, this result and the guaranteed top ten position represents mission accomplished for Jabba. We're safe. We're in profit. We've not threatened to get anywhere near Europe since we sold Dreamboat in January without replacement. We dropped out of the pesky distractions of the two cup competitions early. If everyone renews their season tickets, then frankly I can't see anything changing off the pitch over the summer.

However, if season ticket sales plummet, then it is conceivable that Jabba might realise he needs to act, either by getting rid of the Silver Fox and/or by signing some players on a permanent (or more likely season-long loan) basis. It will doubtless not have gone unnoticed that David Moyes, who kept Everton in the heady position of seventh for so long on a meagre budget, is currently without employment.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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