Romanticism Vs. Realism Part 2

17 Aug

Football has a funny way of throwing up serendipitous repeat encounters – those strange second chances that work the like of John Motson into a lather. However, given NUFC’s volatility of late, the chance to re-enact our last ‘first-game-of-the-(Premier-League)-season’ became a surreal ‘changing same’. The same clubs, the same nagging pessimism, the same enthusiasm. Different players, different expectations, different result.

Just two years ago, NUFC played Man. U. At the top of the season and sneaked a 1-1 draw. Keegan was at the helm and – foolishly, with all the self-delusion of love – I was suckered, once again, into daring to dream that the Toon may – just may – be on the cusp of a new dawn; that the perennial ‘sleeping giant’ was going to, if not wake up and actually win something, then at least we might just stop rolling over in our sleep quite so often. How wrong that little daydream was proved to be is demonstrated in the fact that our next season opener was in the second tier of English football.

Fate gave us a cruel mirror of a game – West Brom. – a team favoured for promotion. This game was foreshadowed by easily the most acrimonious and down right pessimistic atmosphere I have witnessed in my time as a Toon fan. Talk was of ‘another Leeds’ and again that masochistic devil within said “good! It’s the only way to sort out a club that is still rotten to its core, despite the arrival – because of the arrival – of the false prophet Ashley!” I even cast a furtive glance at the League One (League fucking One) table to assess who I genuinely though may be our prospective opponents this season. I shudder to think of that nadir now.

Flash forward to last night and once more NUFC play (arguably) the title favourites first off. Yet this time, for the first time, I greeted this game with neither unbridled pessimism nor unrealistic optimism, but with something approaching pragmatic realism.

Of course I had those fleeting moments where I dared to dream that we might just sneak a win. I even had a tentative pastiche of Bjørge Lillelien’s famous commentary[1] ready in my head (Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson, George Best, Peter Hook, James Nesbit, Rod Hull – can you hear me Rod Hull? Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!) I also had those fleeting moments of dread. “we may well get destroyed. It could be eight or nine”. But, for the most part, I was fairly rational and objective (the actual duration of the game notwithstanding). I knew we’d get beat, and anything less than 4-0 would be OK.

2-0, in the real world, I could have stomached, so Gigg’s late goal (as good, speaking objectively, as it was) stuck in my throat. But other than that common sense prevailed. Cold, miserable, inevitable, depressing, common fucking sense.

But it’s OK. The season really begins against Villa next week, where a draw (some more confidence in passing and some more pointed attacks) will be expected. That was the one worry from last night – “where”, to paraphrase Alan Hansen’s well-worn maxim, “are the goals going to come from?” Carroll had a header that he should have buried, and there were a couple of long shots that Van Der Sar could have thrown his cap on, but little else.

But it’s OK. We’re not going to set the division on fire this season. But neither are we going to sink like a stone. From this admittedly early vantage point, Wigan and West Brom. look nailed on to go down (though quite how we are going to fair at Chelsea doesn’t bear thinking about just yet). That means we only need to be less worse than one other team. Blackpool? West Ham? Someone. Anyone. If we can manage that, then we’ve achieved all we can realistically expect to achieve. And what I admire about Chris Hughton’s approach is that he knows that. There seems (I hope) to be a long overdue feeling of realism at a club that have suffered from a bipolar flitting from ‘new dawns’ to ‘end-of-the-roads’ more than most.

This result is not the end of NUFC, nor is it a ‘new beginning’. It’s just another season.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqZTP8-8wIs&feature=related This is brilliant not only because of its unconstrained display of that most precious of footballing commodities – passion – but because of the list of English representative name-checked.

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6 Responses to “Romanticism Vs. Realism Part 2”

  1. Champ 17/08/2010 at 21:52 #

    At work today I was CHALLENGED to list the positives I took from the game last night. Mocked my Boro and Man U fans across the
    room, I suggested the following;

    1) Enrique will be seen as one of the best left-backs in the league come May. Considering how Valencia ended the last season, José made sure he started this one in a very different way.

    2) When Andy Carroll’s ‘man’ is less than the best centre-back in the world, Vidic, he will be a real handful, and deliver the goals that Mr Hansen can’t see coming. He’s learnt some very useful lessons in the Championship – contrast the way he dealt with Morgan @sheffutd (got smudger to rough him up), with how he dealt with Vidic last night (giving as good as
    he got).

    3. Similar to point 2, but more broadly speaking,
    players that will seem a great deal more capable of keeping us in the premier league when they
    are up against a non-championsleague outfit: Routledge, Colo, Nolan, Williamson, Jonas. Pace, service and solidarity checked, only piece missing is conversion: see point 2.

    4. Only the second goal was due to a total collapse of our defence. The first was sloppy but not unforgiveable, and the third, well, what
    can you do about those? We were no way 50% as bad as Wigan against Chelsea.

    5. We didn’t GIVE UP. As so often I’ve seen in ‘big’ games, take the shipping of 5 to lfc in 08/09 at St James’ as example, we didn’t crumble. Though we were under pressure (what did we expect?) we weren’t ‘backs to the wall.’ We conceded possesion, but maybe we can now
    give that to stronger teams without it necessarily leading to 5, 6, 7 goals.

    6. The travelling fans are phenomenal. I’ve
    seen all sorts of shite to my left at St James’ over the years, and some good support too (Blackpool, Spurs, West Ham, Cardiff), but noones come close to the TA support last night. With less than 2,000 allocated, outnumbered 36 to 1, the ONLY times we were drowned out were as the goals went in. We are as good as
    we claim.

    In summary, I’m optimistic. We were gutsy and committed. Yes outplayed, yes struggled
    to create, but it was MANU, and alas it’s not 1996 so it was never going to be any other way. I honestly think if the 1-1 @oldtrafford played the 0-3 @oldtrafford, it’d be the lads from last night.

    Roll on Villa. I can’t wait. Just 5 more sleeps.

    • Grant 17/08/2010 at 23:08 #

      I don’t think Newcastle will be relegated but here’s a dose of (what I consider to be) realism in response to Champ.

      It’s all well and good having Carrol in the middle, but Newcastle’s real problem is that their two wingers are not good crossers of the ball – it’s one of the weakest aspects of Jonas’ play and Routledge is short of quality in more than one department (he in particular will need to improve a lot – intelligence and tactics wise) – so Carrol doesn’t get the necessary delivery outside of set plays.

      Carrol will be a handful physically but Newcastle still need a more regular goal scorer, someone who can run off Carrol and stretch the defence either with intelligent positioning, or sheer pace, to pull defenders away from each other and create gaps(and the answer is not Ameobi or Best).

      The defence on the whole looked good, although Perch didn’t have a good game at all, but midfield is where its at and I’m not sure Nolan has got it anymore – as Zonal Marking concludes (http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/08/16/manchester-united-3-0-newcastle-scholes/) it didn’t look like Hughton got his tactics wrong, more like either Nolan couldn’t stick to them, he got distracted trying to support Carrol, or the midfield just tired very easily.

      I agree that they didn’t give up, and the spirit with the toon was good all round, but Man U were comfortable and Berbatov missed some good chances – it really was a stroll for them.

      Wigan are gaining a history under Martinez of taking heavy heavy defeats, but still gaining some unlikely victories – I think they will struggle this year but to put them as dead certs to go down after one game would be moronic. If anything they proved last year that you can take 2 or 3 of these pastings and still survive, and this will be true of a few teams.

      Newcastle are in a group of 6 – 8 teams that could finish anywhere from 18th – 9th, but I see the Toon taking a few hammerings themselves when travelling to London – sloppy will punished by quite a few teams.

  2. AN 17/08/2010 at 23:32 #

    I like the fact that “only the second goal was due to a total collapse of our defence” is listed as a major positive. All hail Toonian optimism!

    I thought it was fairly encouraging overall. Too early to make any substantial predictions though.

    The most pressing need is obviously to get another striker. This was underlined by the sight of good ol’ Shola faithfully applying himself as per, without any suggestion he might ever do anything remotely interesting.

  3. Tom May 18/08/2010 at 10:12 #

    Newcastle did start reasonably well, working hard all over the field and having the best chance in the opening 25-30mins. However, Carroll missed it – did well to get in the position, admittedly, but pretty poor not to hit the target!

    Other than that, they got away with a 0-3 as Man Utd were sloppy at times (their crossing was nearly as bad) and barely hit the target other than the goals. ‘Toon’ fans should be concerned both about the lack of goals with the current squad, and also the lack of discipline in keeping possession – which was notable in the second half. They gave the ball away so easily at times…

    I do sense a greater realism in Newcastle fans; was speaking to one on Saturday who said he’d be happy with a 2-0 defeat (and seemed to accept the limitations of the squad). It will be very tight between several teams at the end of the season at the bottom and NUFC will be among those sides. Much will depend on whether they can get some good home form – and get the knack of scoring at crucial times, i.e. when 0-0 near the end.

  4. Champ 19/08/2010 at 18:46 #

    Nice site that zonal marking one GE. Is there an animated chalkboard or summat? Cannae see owt on iPhone other than the blue cube that reminds me Steve Jobs is not in fact god.

    You’re right about the lack of decent crossers @toon that will give service to Carroll, but I don’t think that’s as big a problem as it’d seem. Last season so many of our best goals/performances involved routledge and jonas doing the same simple thing: moving us up the pitch quickly. When we play less solid defences (or play better counterattacking football) and can afford to keep Carroll / his partner further up, then as long as they’re fed into the box, we can score. I think that the hope that Carroll will be banging in ‘classic’ ‘no9 goals’ with his head from ‘whipped in crosses’ is probably optimistic with Jonas and
    Routledge as out wingers…

    HOWEVER, if Carroll needs head-service, we
    do actually have decent ‘crossers’ of the ball (when it’s dead): Barton and R.Taylor. Now assuming the former improves on his Manu
    efforts, and latter actually gets a game, there may be hope there. Guthrie too, now I
    think about it.

    It’ll be a VERY different setup and tone on Sunday compared to Monday.

    Ps; are you jokers planning on coming to any games? THE CORNER now a policy of season ticket holders in there, ie me, getting first dibs
    on the spare seats in “the best part of the ground.”

    M x

  5. Champ 19/08/2010 at 18:47 #

    Meh, and I’ve just seen you did mention setplays!

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