At least it was a sunny day*
Says it all!
Toon 1 Gooners 3
Let's start with the positives. The half-five kick-off was meant there was plenty of time for a good beer session before the game. Certainly YMs were out in force in Spoons. A notable absentee was Miguel though - saving his dosh for yet another stag weekend in Spain! By the time we had to set off for the Park yet more bad results elsewhere meant that it was pretty imperative that we picked up at least a point. Walking up there was definitely a feeling of optimism in the air, and the atmosphere at the start was as good as it's been for a while. It might be the beer affecting my judgement, but I thought that for an hour there wasn't much wrong with our performance. Then they scored their second and we fell apart. No doubt people will do that what-if thing looking back at this game. If Owen had played from the start and been on the pitch to take the penalty.... If Oba had taken the pen with his stronger foot..... If we'd brought a sub on for Stevie Taylor as soon he got injured.... Ultimately it's all irrelevant. If we go down it won't be because of decisions taken in this game, it's down to the 38 games played over the season and on years of mis-management. We were in virtually the same position at this stage last season and you'd think that people would have done everything possible to ensure it didn't happen again. Instead we've just repeated the same mistakes that we've been making for years. Freddie Shepherd will I'm sure be feeling smug and telling anyone who wants to listen that we wouldn't be in this position if he was still in charge. Well it was under his regime that the foundations for our imminent demise were laid - sacking managers at the wrong time and with no successors lined up, wasting an absolute fortune on sub-standard signings, an obsession with "trophy" signings as that's what the fans supposedly wanted, spending money that we simply didn't have and building up a mountain of debt, etc, etc.
The big problem with these Saturday evening games is of course the lack of trains back south afterwards, in particular to Durham and Darlington. It's not unusual for people with tickets for Birmingham or London being left on the platform at the Central and with no later train to get them home, meanwhile the trains are half-empty once they get past Darlo. In the good old days of British Rail they would just have stuck some extra local trains on, but that evil Thatcher woman put paid to that. Anyway, I legged it out the ground and down to the Central the second the final whistle went because I wanted to make sure I wasn't one of those unfortunates left on the platform as the 19.44 pulled out. I did though take a calculated risk stopping off at the Pink Lane offie for a couple of cans for the train, as did a lot of familiar faces. I didn't think it would cost me too much time, but that was before the bloke in front of me paid with a card, and before some woman who'd been hanging round the counter for ages with no apparent interest in buying anything suddenly decided she wanted to relieve them of half their stock of lollipops! I was starting to panic and did seriously wonder about about the wisdom of what I was doing, but as it turns out there was still plenty of room on the train when I got there. It seemed like all the rest of our lot made it as well, but I don't know for definite.
Doing it the hard way
If we stay up (and it's definitely 'if') then it looks like it's going to go all the way to the end of the season due to our inability to win games. We're not losing many, but it would make such a difference if we could change some of those home draws to victories. Most people seemed to give us little chance against West Ham before the kick-off. This was I suppose understandable up to point considering each team's last few games. As it turned out we started quite well, and there's no disputing that we deserved the lead when we took it. And we could easily have increased that lead not long afterwards. This was despite totally wasting a succession of corners and free-kicks in dangerous areas. Step forward Geremi (again) and Guthrie.
But then it all started to go horribly wrong. Bellamy had been a threat right from the start and it was no surprise, not to mention oh so predictable, when he stuck in the equaliser. At this point we fell apart. The start of the second half was a complete shambles. It looked like the players had never seen each other before, and it was only a matter of time before West Ham took the lead. It was therefore no surprise when they did, but our "defending" for the goal was absolutely horrible. For the next 10 minutes or so I was convinced that there was no way back, and was about as low as I had been at half-time in the Birmingham away game last season. But then Charlie replaced Geremi (surely his last game for us???) and things slowly but surely turned round. In the end we were a bit unlucky not to sneak it.
To Hull and back
Watching the tame 90 minutes played out at the KC Stadium it was really difficult to see how Hull have terrorised so many teams this season; for most of the game we had loads of possession and were very comfortable. Admittedly Hull did create the better chances. I'd say a draw was therefore a fair result! Our defence looked a lot more solid with Bassong back, but of course they weren't up against Stevie Gerrard and co this week!
I'm afraid anyone hoping to read about yet another day out fraught with a catalogue of travel problems is going to be severely disappointed. In fact, everything was perfect - the train was bang on time both ways, and to make it even better most of us (but not Tom who wasn't as organised as the rest) had only paid a fiver each way. There were rumours circulating that when we arrived in Hull we were likely to be rounded up and herded into some horrible Social Club with only one person serving, as had apparently happened to a train load of Mackem fans a few weeks ago. This was backed up by the train guard saying that there would be a stack of police waiting for the train. We therefore toyed with the idea of getting off at Brough (the last stop before Hull), as Brendan and some other lads were doing. This had been arranged ages ago - Berwick Daz's brother Keith lives there and they were going to have a few pints in his local before cabbing it to the ground. In the end though only Round Boy went with the Brough option, the rest of us deciding to take our chances. As the train pulled into Hull we covered up our colours, and left the train in ones and twos so that we would hopefully not look like a load of football fans. As it happened we needn't have bothered as there were very surprisingly no police whatsoever waiting at the end of the platform! But just in case they were lulling us into a false sense of security and waiting outside to ambush us, we maintained our low profile as we left the station, with some of us leaving via a side entrance. Again though, we'd been worrying unnecessarily. Next stop Rugby Tavern!
It was Gordon who'd suggested the Rugby Tavern as the place for our pre-match session. It's a Sam Smiths pub so the beer is cheap (a bargain £1.45 for hand-pulled bitter!), and it's a 10 minute walk from the station and a bit out of the way, and therefore unlikely to be frequented by any of Hull's "boys". And so it turned out - I only saw a handful of Hull fans the whole time we were there. Toon fans though were there in good numbers; as well as ourselves there was most of the Wilson clan, and also the York Mags. We were joined later on by Bryn and Joe, who'd driven across, parked up by the ground, then trekked the mile and a half or so to the pub.
As is usually the case, all too soon it was time to sup up and go the game. Most people headed off back to the station in search of cabs. Myself though, because it was relatively early and because I'm tight and because I thought it might clear my head a bit - there hadn't been the expected (and much needed by me!) food on in the pub - decided to walk it. Mistake! It's an awful long way even if you go the shortest route, which I didn't. On the plus side though, I got to see a lot of the dingier bits of Hull, plus it probably did do me a little bit of good.
As for the ground itself, as far as I'm concerned it's the worst of all the cheap and cheerful grounds that have sprung up over the last dozen or so years. It's in the middle of nowhere, very small apart from the main stand, and the facilities are as ever totally inadequate; apparently the people who design football grounds still haven't realised that football fans, especially away fans, tend to drink beer before the game and will therefore need appropriate toilet capacity.
The walk back to the city centre seemed to go on for ever after the game, but it still left time for a quick one in a pub near the station. Then we stocked up with beer and food and boarded the train. The chaos and overcrowding we'd been expecting didn't materialise, despite the train only having two carriages. Tom had been told on the outward journey that without a reservation he wouldn't be allowed on ("There's a football match on you know"), but he had no problem. I suspect though it would have been a different story if there hadn't been replacement buses operating between Newcastle and York which must have persuaded a lot of people to travel by car or coach instead of train.
JFK has to take the blame for the humiliating capitulation against Liverpool. His Wimbledon team never showed anyone any respect, and I'd hoped that he would instil that sort of mentality into our lot. Instead we went into this game thinking that the best we could do was to sit back and soak up Liverpool's pressure and somehow sneak something at the other end. That tactic might have fluked us a draw at Chelsea, but no-one in their right mind could expect to get away with it again, especially missing our best two defenders on current form. From the kick-off we were playing 10-15 yards too deep. This gave Liverpool all the room in the world to pass it around at the back and then pass it straight through us. It was obvious after 15 minutes, by which time we could have been 3 or 4 down, that we had to change, but nothing happened. Even when we went behind nothing changed. I think I can safely say that the first half was the worst 45 minutes I've ever seen from the Toon in my 40 years plus of watching them. Things improved a bit after half-time. Shola gave us a semblance of physical presence up front, and the rest of the team pushed further forward. Obviously we conceded another three goals in the second half, but at least we matched Liverpool possession wise and territorially, and could quite easily have scored 2 or 3 ourselves.
The only good thing to come out of the game was that the fans kept behind the team and (on the whole) stuck it out to the end. It was a bit like the "good old days" the way that the noise level increased after we went 4-1 and 5-1 down. So much better than against Pompey and Liverpool last season!
There was a time in the dim and distant past when I used to really enjoy away games on Boxing Day. But that was when we occasionally used to win, and before we were forced to go to dumps like Bolton and Wigan - soulless grounds with inadequate facilities in the middle of industrial estates. At least now we've finally scored at the JJB 'stadium'. And at least this year's performance wasn't anything like as bad as last year's. I'd be more than happy if I never had to go back to the place though.
It wasn't a good day all round. Apart from the injuries and suspensions that we picked up, the result means we could now really do with getting something out of the Liverpool game. If we don't then we're going to be under an awful lot of pressure going into the run of critical league games that we've got coming up after the distraction of the FA Cup tie at Hull.
In case anyone's wondering what happened to the report (or whatever you want to call it) on the Spurs game, there just wasn't time for it with all the socialising I had on over the subsequent few days. Anyway, suffice to say I was over the moon to once again get one over on that lot. The fact that we hardly deserved to win just makes it that much sweeter! Their fans are just so full of themselves, exemplified to the tosser that me and Aaaarooonnaa had the misfortune to bump into on the train back to Leeds. Mind, Aaaarrrooonnnaa played right into his hands when the bloke tried to wind us by reminding us (just in case we needed reminding) that we've never won anything in the last 50 years. "What have you lot won like?" was Aaarrrooonnaa's response. Their League Cup victory last season had obviously slipped his mind!
Well, what a great performance and result that was at Fratton Park! It's some reward for those who travelled all the way down to the Toon for such a ridiculous kick-off time. I was looking at the league table before the game and thinking that, with the difficulty we've had digging out wins this season, we were in real danger of becoming entrenched in the bottom three. We haven't played like a relegation side the last couple of months, but if you're stuck down there for long enough then it's bound to get to the players eventually. The performance against Pompey should though give the players a massive lift. Instead on people focusing on a run of only two wins in 15 games, as it might have been, it's now only one defeat in 8 games! We've taken thirteen points from those eight games. The same return from the next eight games will do me nicely.
To be fair, I can't comment on the first 25 minutes of the game as Internet Explorer kept crashing on me. The first five minutes I did see were a bit worrying as it was all Portsmouth. However, from that point on we gave as good as we got and it was obvious that we hadn't gone down there just for a point. Even after we scored the first we kept pushing forward whenever we could. There was a long time left on the clock though! At one point, with about 20 minutes to go, Portsmouth had a few quick corners in succession. If that's how the the rest of the match was going to pan out I couldn't see us hanging on. We had no real problem with those corners though, and that was the last sustained pressure we had to endure. The second goal killed off Pompey and we strolled the rest of the match. Fittingly I was half-way though a bottle of Bateman's Victory Ale when the final whistle went!
Everyone played well. Charlie and Oba in particular caused their defence some real problems, and Jonas had his best game yet from an attacking perspective. Even Enrique looked like he might be the real deal, apart from one lapse when he allowed Defoe a chance at 1-0 that he would normally have buried.
While the result moves us nicely up the table, we're obviously still only one point off the relegation zone. However, there's now some real daylight between us and the bottom two. West Brom are looking odds-on to go down, while Blackburn need to turn things round quickly otherwise they'll be joining the Baggies; hopefully they'll stick with Paul Ince because he's doing a fine job at the moment. Just to confirm how tight the table is, if we'd have held out for victories in the last two home games then we might have been in 8th place now and thinking about possibly sneaking into Europe.
Here's Big Issue's report on the weekend for those that haven't seen it on the message board:
Just thought that I’d update you on the Tales of the Totally Expected that occurred over the weekend.
My train from Liverpool to Euston took a mere six hours to get there on Saturday going via Manchester, Stockport, Stoke, Birmingham, Coventry and Northampton. Apparently this was due to “flooding in Gloucester”. Nah I can’t figure that one out either! It was certainly pi$$ing down in London though as I discovered when I found out that there are two Kings Cross Travelodges and I went to the wrong one. Unfortunately the Blacklock chap had told me to walk into room 511 which I duly did. Doubly unfortunately the rather tasty Italian bint who lived in the right room in the wrong hotel unlocked the door and, thinking it was her mate that she was letting in, promptly returned to the shower. When she discovered that I wasn’t her mate she took it rather badly. Departing the wrong hotel slightly before security arrived I arrived in the right hotel looking like a drowned rat when I discovered that the North East brigade’s journey had been no less eventful and they’d got some poor smoggie arrested for being pi$$ed and sexually harassing passengers (how any of us ever arrive at the match I’ve no idea!). Apparently he’d been chucked off the flight from Smogland to Heathrow where he was travelling onwards to South Africa. Needless to say he was a guest of Her Majesty at the time he was meant to be departing Heathrow. Very expensive.
The good news was that Brendan had booked three taxis to take us to Leicester Square at 8.45. The bad news was that they charged twenty quid each and the journey took an hour. This was too much for Gordano who went hyper and started ranting that this was ridiculous and we should have got the tube and that Brendan was a twat, well everyone was a twat and we should have gone to Camden and we could all fvck off. It was also too much for Darren’s bladder and he actually convinced the taxi driver to let him out in the middle of the West End so that he could pi$$ in some posh shop’s doorway.
We finally arrived in Wetherspoons and amazingly nothing at all untoward happened. However for some reason we then decided to move to another pub. The only difference from the previous pub appeared to be that it was twice as expensive. On the way out Berwick Daz encountered some c0ckney tw^t beating up his missus and asked him politely to stop it. At this point the c0ckney tw^t made a bad life choice and asked Daz what he would do if he didn’t. Two seconds later c0ckney twa^t’s nose and face became separate items and beaten wife then attacked Berwick Daz. Daz was heard yelling “fvck off Barbara Windsor” and somehow Joanne ended up having a fight with her.
Whilst everyone else pi$$ed off to a night club (ten quid in, $hit beer, $hit talent and Youth Squad got relieved of their fake ID by the bouncers) me and Gordon decided to call it a day. Gordon was a bit relaxed by now. When I tried to get through the barrier I discovered that my Oyster card needed topping up. I told Gordon to stay where he was and left him like a grinning fool by the barrier. Needless to say when I got back he was gone. Found out later that he’d fallen asleep on the last tube and woken up in ####fosters wherever the fvck that is. One twenty quid taxi fare later………………….
Meanwhile I got back to the hotel OK and bought a kebab. Took it to the room and fell asleep before eating it. Woke up later – no kebab. Found out later that the thieving seagull Tommy had nicked it and shared it with Darren.
Next day got a group ticket at Waterloo and had an uneventful pi$$ up in the pub before the match (apart from Youth Squad who couldn’t get in cos they no longer had any fake ID). After the match got the train from Fratton assuming that little Paul was getting on behind me with the group ticket. Wrong! The tw^t had got on a different train. Twenty minutes later I was relieved of fifty two quid by the ##### ticket inspector (£25 penalty fare and £27 Open Single) and this was on top of the £15 I’d already paid. I did start a full and frank discussion with her but she started saying something about foul and abusive language and zero tolerance at which point I produced a credit card.
Apart from that nothing much happened……………………………………..
Stoke horror show
After going in at half-time with a two goal lead and looking totally in control, just what went wrong in the second half? The substitutions had a lot to do with it. The first one was presumably enforced. Without a single midfielder amongst the seven players on the bench (it's worrying that there's apparently no-one playing in midfield for the reserves considered good enough to step up), JK's options were limited. After the game a few people were saying that he should have brought on Viduka and played 4-3-3. Fair comment in hindsight, but did anyone say that at the time? I thought moving Beye forward into midfield looked reasonable. After all, he's decent pushing forward from full-back, and he's comfortable on the ball. In the event he didn't get going in the second half. The second substitution is for me the one that did the real damage. Oba had been a real handful for the Stoke defence all game with his movement and probing runs. Ok, Owen had scored two scored two, but as soon as Oba went off we lost an outlet. From that point on we had zero going forward, not helped by the fact that the fat Aussie contributed absolutely nowt. Then came the last substitution. Replacing a midfielder with a defender when you're a goal up with 10 minutes or whatever it was to go just sends out a message to the other team that you're struggling to hold on. It gave Stoke a lift, and from then on in it looked like it was really only a matter of time. Again it doesn't help when the replacement doesn't get into the game.
The last two home games we've conceded a late equaliser from a set piece, and each time it's a defender's scored it. I'm not alone in thinking that the solution is to always leave at least two players forward. If you do then the opposition is always going to use three or more defenders to keep an eye on them. This has got to make it harder for the attacking team to score, plus if the ball's cleared there's a decent chance it won't come straight back in. Mind, JK's not the only Toon manager to pull everyone back for set pieces, and we're certainly not the only team to do it.
Smog on the Tees
After Although the final score was the same, this game was quite a lot different to Chelsea. Or at least it started out quite a lot different. We piled forward straight from the kick-off, and it was 3 or 4 minutes before Boro even got into our half. Unfortunately though we gradually lost momentum from that point on. We were definitely the better side in the first half, but didn't do much going forward after half-time. It didn't help that JFK decided to take off the only player on our team who'd looked remotely like scoring. Quite why he preferred to leave on the largely anonymous EMO will forever remain a mystery.
Our normal policy when playing in Smogland is to have a few pints outside the town (Thornaby when we've driven, or Darlo in recent years when we've been on the train) and then travel in as late as possible. However, I decided to give Hogans cheap beer a miss this year and catch a train direct to Boro. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it cost an extra 12 quid to go via Darlo, which seemed a lot to me. On top of that I hate the shuttle from Darlo to Boro (think of those cattle trucks carrying Jews and you'll get the general idea). And I'm convinced that one year the train won't turn up. Arriving in Middlesbrough a couple of hours' drinking time before kick-off was going to be a novel experience for me considering that I'd never been inside a pub in Middlesboro in my life.
As the train headed north from York towards Thirsk the fog was that bad that I thought there was a serious risk of the match being called off. And even if visibility was technically good enough for it to go ahead, anyone stood behind the goal wasn't going to be able to see much, if any, of what was happening at the other end of the pitch. It wasn't long though before we exited the fog into bright sunshine.
With my minimal knowledge of pre-match drinking possibilities I had only a rough plan on where to head for a pint. I knew that some lads would be in Doctor Browns. However, with this being (I think) the closest pub to the ground I wasn't sure how safe it would be in there, as I'd expect the Boro thugs to be on the lookout for Toon fans. I therefore decided to first investigate the Isaac Wilson, a Spoons pub near the station. Again, I was a bit wary with the pub being only about 400 yards up the road from the station and therefore possibly being a hang-out for the Boro lads. There are though three or four downmarket pubs nearer to the station, and I suspect that these are the pubs to definitely avoid. Nevertheless I was fully zipped up as I did a quick tour of Spoons to check out the clientele. On the whole they appeared to be pretty normal, apart from the two heads obviously, with a mix of shoppers, families, and Boro fans. There was also the odd Toon fan in there, and nobody seemed particularly bothered about them being there, so I got myself a pint of Oracle (which turned out to be a fine pint!), pulled down my zip a bit, and settled down to watch a bit of Sky Sports News. It wasn't long before my Toon top attracted the attention of a couple of nearby Boro fans (husband and wife, about my age), and next thing you know we're having a good natter about the match and the world in general. The bloke's Boro top had "Boro 8 Geordies" on the back, but he works with a load of Toon fans and had only done it to wind them up. A couple of pints later and, being in a reasonably friendly pub selling good beer, I decided that I'd skip Doctor Browns. But then out of nothing the Boro fan suddenly told me to zip up; he'd spotted some Boro thugs wandering about the pub talking on their mobiles and clearly on the lookout for Toon fans. He was happy to admit that he'd been a bit of a lad in his day, but he was older and wiser, and of course times have changed, and he wasn't at all happy about what these lads were up to. He was actually very scathing about some Boro fans he knew who were in their 50s and who still go around looking for trouble. It seemed touch and go for a bit, not for me, but potentially for the handful of other Toon fans in the pub who were oblivious to what was going on. The Boro bloke at one point came back from the toilet. He'd been talking to one of the thugs while he was away, and he reckoned that the lad was saying that he might batter one particular Toon fan, for no reason other than that he was there. Charming. Nothing happened though. Nevertheless the Boro couple were quite concerned for my safety and were very keen that I should walk up to the ground with them. I considered doing so until they decided at around 2 that they were setting off for the ground. I didn't really fancy being in the ground before half 2, so I told them thanks very much but I'll have another pint and take my chances. A pint later I left the pub and set off for the ground with no sign of any Boro fans looking to pick off Toon fans. I didn't get far though before I hit a problem - the train from Darlo had obviously just pulled in and the Toon fans who'd been on it were getting escorted at snails' pace to the ground with a big no-go zone in front and behind them. It looked like I might struggle to get in before kick-off until I spotted some Boro fans doing a detour to get past the blockage, and so I followed them.
Once inside the ground it was pleasing to see we'd been given the whole away section. So after a few years of cutting our allocation because of persistent standing Boro have finally given up. They're not the only club. It's very noticeable that we don't receive those "You stand to lose" leaflets with away tickets any more, plus they no longer bother with those announcements telling us not to stand. It therefore looks like that particular battle has been won. They just need to go one step further and make it official, and then they can give fans the option of sitting or standing. At the moment anyone who wants to sit at an away game is knackered.
I'd stupidly booked a ticket on the five o'clock train back to Leeds. I say "stupidly" in hindsight. When I booked it I didn't fancy the alternative of having to hang around in Boro waiting for the next train, which was over an hour later. In reality I would have been quite happy to have gone back to Spoons after the game for another couple of pints of Oracle. But it wasn't to be. Instead I had to leave the ground 30 seconds before the final whistle (shocking!) and jog all the way back to the station. I only made it with a minute to spare, not enough time to get some beer in. So not really the most intelligent bit of travel planning of my life.
PS Am I turning into a grumpy old man, or is the paedo thing getting very predictable and boring? Like Keano and his dog it might have initially been a bit amusing, but it's not any more. Time to move on I'd suggest.
I'll take that
After the Wigan game our Paul came out with this classic: "If you can't beat Wigan at home you go down. Simple as that." Applying similar logic he'd presumably say something like "Any team that avoids defeat at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge will finish in the top six. Simple as that." To be honest this was nothing like the Man Utd draw where we gave them a real game. Apart from 10 minutes before half-time we never had a kick against Chelsea. Literally. For the first 30 minutes of the second half we only got anywhere near their penalty area once. It's a fact that we've played better at Stamford Bridge and lost 6-0. What I would say though is that we defended reasonably well, and for all their pressure Chelsea had few clear-cut chances. I'd probably go for Bassong as the pick of the back four, closely followed by Beye
I never normally have a go at players during the game, but I have to confess that I swore at Nicky Butt during this one. Or at least I swore at the screen, but you know what I mean. It was not that far from the end of the game and for the first time in absolutely ages we'd strung 3 or 4 passes together (very short passes admittedly), and I actually said out loud "That's better". But then Butt, under absolutely no pressure, played a casual pass back to Beye without looking. Except that he put it behind Beye, and it let Chelsea in. Fortunately they didn't capitalise on the opportunity. I just lost it though, it was just so p!ss poor from such an experienced player.
This was a pretty bad day all round. I'd been really looking forward to the game - a rare Saturday 3 o'clock kick-off, with an early arrival in the Toon and a good session. Well that was the theory anyway. Reality set in when I arrived at Leeds station to find that there were delays and cancellation all over the place. It seemed to be down to a combination of 'vandalism' (someone had pinched a load of cable) and equipment problems. For myself it meant that the 5 past 10 train wasn't expected until 25 past. That went back to 10.34, then 10.42. At this point I decided that I'd better get myself a can for the train if I wasn't going to be getting to Spoons until well after 12. Five minutes later, accompanied by said can, I checked the board to see what the latest ETA for my train was, only to see no sign of it. My first thought was that it had somehow caught up 10 minutes and been and gone while I was away can hunting, but I soon decided that couldn't have been the case. Subsequent enquiries revealed that the train had been cancelled! Very strange, and, in any case, why couldn't they have shown that info on the departures board? Much later I found out that what they meant by 'cancelled' was that they'd been having technical problems with the train, and so at some point they'd taken it out of service and put all the passengers on the train behind. If I hadn't have been on a cheapie advance ticket my strategy at this point would have been to jump on the first train to York. Or at least it would have been if there'd been any train to jump on; from when I arrived at the station at 5 to 10 the first train of any sort to York didn't leave until about 5 to 11 because of all the problems. As it happens I had to wait for the 5 past 11 because of my ticket. This was of course the train which loads of other YMs were catching. When it pulled in, more or less on time surprisingly, it was pretty chocka. And it was even fuller by the time it left Leeds. The outcome of this was that for most people it was standing room only all the way up. As if things weren't bad enough already, the train crawled all the way to York and then sat outside for 5 minutes outside the station waiting for a platform. As a result it was nearly one o'clock by the time we finally made it to the Toon. Not quite the start to the day that I'd had in mind.
As for the match, we nearly scraped a win that we didn't really deserve. I'd certainly say that Wigan didn't deserve to lose. They played well throughout, and even the really bad piece of refereeing that reduced them to 10 men didn't knock them out their stride. I fully expected them to shut up shop at that point, but they didn't, and in fact very nearly scored a second long before we eventually got ourselves back in the game. Despite Owen's glaring miss I'd say that he showed enough to get a start next game. I can't somehow see us playing with three strikers at Stamford Bridge though. A tricky one for the manager!
The trains back to Leeds were as bad as the trains up had been. The 17.38, which most people had gone for, pulled out an hour and a bit after it should have; any later and Tom would have been late for his gig in Guiseley. My train, the 18.41, was only about 10 minutes late. Of course it managed to lose more time on the journey. A bad end to a bad day.
Bad day at the office
There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would have come back from Craven Cottage with at least a point if we'd have set out to try to win the game. Instead it was like the bad old days of Big Sam - playing a team who are in the bottom three and who struggle to score goals, and setting out not to lose. That approach almost made some sense back in the dim and distant days of two points for a win, but in the three points for a win era it's a no-brainer for me that you should always aim to get maximum points, and settle for one if that's what you end up with.
Having basically blamed the defeat on our tactics, I have to concede that we probably wouldn't have lost if Stevie Taylor had been playing. Presumably he was missing because of illness or injury - bloody Sod's Law just when the defence was starting to look much more solid. And just when I thought our luck was finally starting to change and we get away with Shola being offside for the equaliser, Andy Johnson doesn't get pulled up for a blatant push on Cacapa a second before he gets tripped by Collocini for the penalty. Grrrrrr!
Anyway, just as the Villa win didn't suddenly make us a great team, dropping back into the bottom three after Fulham shouldn't mean all doom and gloom. We are after all only two points off the top half of the table. And on top of that, there are a few clubs around us in the table who are having pretty horrendous runs at the moment, amongst them Citeh, West Ham, and our old friends Sunlun of course.
Let's face it, a lot of us were to say the least underwhelmed when JFK was appointed. And fans of other clubs made it clear that they thought it was hilarious. However, he's so far proved a lot of people wrong and done a great job of turning things around. The measure of how well he's done is that people have on the whole stopped talking about KK coming back as being a must . Ok, Joe's been helped by players returning from injury and suspension, but he's also got the team looking like a unit for the first time in absolutely ages. Added to that he's unearthed three players I didn't know we had. I mentioned two of these after the West Brom game, but I'm going to give them another bigger mention now! Firstly there's Shola. I have to confess I'd long ago given up on him, but now all of a sudden he's looking like the player he suggested he could be when he first broke into the first team all those years ago; from being clueless in the air he's now winning loads, plus he's rediscovered his dribbling skills. And he looks fired up! Then there's Duff. He had shown signs of improvement earlier in the season, but the last few games he's really starting to look an asset. There still needs to be more end product, but he's always available as as an outlet, and he's a real handful for the opposing defence. Last and not least is Enrique. Some of his distribution was still very wayward, but against Villa he had for me easily his best game defensively for the Toon. For far too long we've chopped and changed the team for no apparent reason. The last few games we've made minimal changes and we're starting to see the benefit, particularly at the back; Taylor's looking much more solid, and Collocini's redisplaying his early season form. As a result Villa didn't cause us anything like the problems I thought they might. They had a couple of great chances in the first half (as did we), but never got going after half-time. I thought our first goal would stir them into action, but if anything it was us that got better.
Despite the league table having a much better look about it after the Villa game, we shouldn't get carried away; we're still only a point off the relegation zone, we've played one more home game than away game, and we've had a pretty decent run of fixtures since the Arsenal game. Having said that, we've got a few more winnable games coming up. Get two or three more wins from them and we can start looking upwards instead of downwards.
Changing the subject completely, I've fixed a couple of things with the site in the last day or two. Firstly, I only realised very recently that the 'Videos' menu link hasn't been working for the last few months; it's ok again now though. Also, I'd been aware for some time that the search function wasn't working properly; this wasn't down to me, but to some change that Google had made. Well I've done a bit of digging today and found a new improved site search facility that Google provide, and so the search now works better than ever! You should therefore have no problem finding that feature from years ago about JT's Countdown appearance, or that Pud article about Wheely's stay at Wilson Towers.
Toon 2 Baggies 1
If ever there was a game of two halves this was it. We started off like a house on fire, and continued to play some really good stuff and to create chances until the break. When half-time came I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking that we just had to keep doing the same things in the second half and we'd end up with an easy win. What happened during the break I'm not sure. Perhaps Joe decided to try to keep it tight in the second half, or perhaps the players had too much time to think about how important the result was and suddenly got all nervous. Whatever it was, we just never got going in the second half. I don't think the substitutions helped either - replacing Jonas with Geremi was only ever going to give West Brom a lift, as was taking off an attacking player who's a real handful (Oba). Anyway, we just about managed to hold out, not helped by the ref's creative timekeeping (4 minutes added time????).
The result took us out of the bottom 3, although we'll probably be back down there after Wednesday's matches. I'm confident though that it won't be long before we're well clear of the drop zone. In fact, we would probably never have been down there in the first place if we'd have had anything like a full strength squad available throughout. Now that players are coming back we suddenly look to have more than enough quality. On top of that we've 'gained' a couple of decent players in Duff and Ameobi. Will someone please explain the offside rule to Shola though?!!
A black day in the Toon's history
Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates recently. This is mainly because a few weeks back I decided, probably stupidly in hindsight, to rip out and replace the shower in my en-suite. Never having attempted anything like it before in my life, this little project is currently totally dominating my existence.
I took a day off from DIY to go to the Mackem match. I had at one point intended giving the game a miss for various reasons. I never enjoy derby games, although I've obviously often enjoyed the result in recent years. I decided in the end to go when I realised it's our only Saturday game in about two months, even if it was a stupid early kick-off. The day didn't start well for most of us travelling up to the Toon by train. Myself and the Hutchings were on the 08.12 train out of Leeds. It was running late though, which meant that we missed our connection at York. However, it was no big deal because there was a train just behind it, which Tom happened to be on, which we were able to jump on. Fringo wasn't as fortunate. His train from Bradford to Leeds was seriously delayed due to a cow on the track in Thackley tunnel! This resulted in his whole journey being screwed up.
Spoons was once again packed out with all the thugs and wannabe thugs who were getting the train over to mackemland. It quietened down nicely though once they'd all left, and those of us catching the Metro over were able to enjoy another couple of pints before we had to set off. The Metro again proved the best way of getting over there, although there was a heavy police presence for the first time. Getting back after the game was a bit hit and miss. Most of our lot joined the escort back to St Peter's Metro station. Apparently it was like a war zone as the police attempted to clear a way through the home fans. Meanwhile I made my way back to the Stadium of Light station and was enjoying a pint in Spoons while the others were still dodging missiles!
Realistically we had to lose at Sunderland sometime, but I've been absolutely dreading it actually happening. But now that it has happened I'm relieved in a way. They've obviously been under more and more pressure every year to beat us, but at the same time we've been under increasing pressure to keep our run going. That's all finished now though, and in future we can concentrate on beating them rather than on not losing!