Pre-match pints in the White Horse
That's it for another season
Some pics from the Ipswich game:
The face is vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place him
Maggie and Miguel celebrate in style
Fringo takes advantage of complimentary coffee in First Class
Should he stay or should he go?
(with apologies to The Clash)
Now that promotion has been achieved the management at the Toon will no doubt be planning ahead to next season. We'll obviously be looking to bring some players in. But in terms of the current squad, which of them do we want to keep hold of and which do we want to see jettisoned? Well here's may take on it for what it's worth!
Nolan (but with reservations bearing in mind how little he contributed in the relegation season)
One Size (as cover)
Gutierrez (has under-achieved in terms of assists and goals, but we miss him when he's not playing)
Carroll (purely from a playing point of view; he needs to sort himself out off the pitch)
Stevie Taylor (although I appreciate he may be forced out)
Out the door
Barton (although he will no doubt be kept on despite his ridiculous wages and virtually zero contribution since he signed)
Pancrate (not a footballer)
Shola (has failed to prove himself Premiership quality despite countless opportunities)
Coloccini (massive wages, and still not proved himself a premiership defender)
Smith (seemed to be indispensable early this season, but then we managed fine without him later on)
Ryan Taylor (seemed out of his depth in the relegation season, but possibly worth keeping as cover)
Best (will obviously be staying though)
A job well done
For the Toon to achieve something is obviously a very rare event. To do so without some major trauma somewhere along the way is unheard of. And yet that's precisely what's happened this season! The only minor blips were a run of 4 games way back in September/October where we only picked up 2 points, and then the Carroll-Taylor 'incident'. At the start of the season I would honestly have been happy with just staying up. When you think of how poor we were last season, together with the players who'd moved on since then (Owen, Viduka, Oba, Beye, Bassong, Duff), it just didn't seem logical that we could possibly challenge for promotion. Having said that, when I saw the line-up in that first game at West Brom it did look that we had a stronger squad than most teams in the division. A good start then helped to build confidence. I was still though concerned that we didn't have much strength in depth and that injuries to key players (at that time specifically Enrique, Taylor, Smith and Shola) could see us struggle. Yet we've been without all of those players for long spells and have hardly missed them. A lot of credit for this has to go to Hughton for the players that he's brought in during the season. All of them, whether loan or permanent signings, have with the exception of the total waste of space that is Pancrate have come in and done a job. Not overpaid has-beens, just good professionals. Credit also has to go to the FCB who has apparently learned from some of last season's mistakes and realised that it was in his interest to invest in a few players during the January transfer window to improve our chances of going up.
The run of four straight wins after the Bristol City game, together with Forest dropping quite a few points, meant that promotion was secured earlier than most of us could have have anticipated. In the end it was all a bit of an anti-climax, certainly when promotion was confirmed by events elsewhere. Looking back it would probably have been better if we'd have drawn at Peterborough, leaving us needing to beat Sheff Utd. I'm not complaining though!
We now have to try to keep our good form going for the remaining five games. Partly to ensure that we finish top, which we deserve to after setting the pace for basically the whole season, but also so that we don't finish the season on a low. It would though be understandable if performance levels slipped a bit. And it'll be interesting to see if Hughton uses the games to give some of the fringe players the chance to show what they can do.
The Promotion Party heads for Peterborough
Like the good old days
Where's the fringe gone?
At half-time in the Bristol City game I was a worried man. Forest had won earlier in the day, and it appeared odds on that we were going to lose. That would see the gap between us and them reduced to 9 points. In the upcoming midweek fixtures Forest had a very winnable home game against Palace, whereas we faced a tricky trip to Doncaster. It was possible that we might go into the Forest game with only a 6 point advantage, in which case I suspect many of us would have been nervously thinking back to THAT match against Man U (when coincidentally we were also unbeaten at home all season going into the game) in the nearly season. However, the second half at Ashton Gate saw us come back strongly to get a point, and the rest is history. In fact, by the time the time the Forest game came around I wouldn't have been bothered if it had ended up a draw, because that would have been more than enough to kill off whatever hopes they had of overhauling us.
Going back to the Doncaster game, it was a bit of a novelty to have a midweek game that was so easy to get to by train, and quite a few of us took the opportunity to make a bit of a day of it. Myself, Alan H and JT met up in the Fox at Cookridge (that's Cookridge, not Bramhope, not Horsforth) at 3 o'clock. After a quick pint there we strolled down to Horsforth station to jump on a train into Leeds. JT was very smug as he bought his ticket, using the old fogies bus pass he'd got a couple of days earlier to pay only 70p as far as Wakey. Alan was even smugger because he could also get a third off the fare from Wakey to Donny with his Pensioners Rail Card. Being a youngster I of course had to pay the full fare for the whole journey. Once in Leeds we had another couple at the station while we waited for Tom to join up with us. As we set off for the train we bumped into Gary P, so there were now five in our little party. Once in Doncaster we were spoiled for choice for pubs. Based on the research I'd done I reckoned the top three options, all within about a hundred yards of the station, were the Leopard, the Corner Pin, and the Plough. We made for the Plough. And what a cracking pub it is! As well as it being a proper traditional pub, they serve a belting pint, and the bar staff and locals are dead friendly. There didn't seem much point in moving on anywhere else, so we didn't! Meanwhile Gordon, who'd arrived just after us on a train from York, dragged a stack of people into a nearby Sam Smiths pub, possibly the worst of the dozen or two pubs within a few minutes walk of the station. To be fair though, they did move on from there. Tom spent most of his time in the Plough in communication with the Cooks, who were en route by car. As far as I could work out he was trying to explain to them whereabouts we were and how it was no use them trying to get there and what their options might be. A bit of advice for future reference Cookies - read the Travel page before you set off. While all this was going on JT was backwards and forwards to the smokers area (which, by the way, surely cannot comply with regulations!), where he got into conversation with "The Professor", who apparently is massively well read. JT was so impressed with his depth of knowledge on a vast range of subjects that he said he might go down to the pub sometime in the future to meet up with him again! Anyway, all too soon it was time to go to the game. The lad behind the bar told us where we should be able to get a taxi, and off we went. He wasn't wrong, and a few minutes later we were on our way. Mind, it wasn't much faster than walking because of the traffic. But there was no way we were going to walk because it was lashing down! Eventually though the taxi couldn't get us any closer to the ground and so we piled out. The meter said £6.60. JT said "Give him a tenner, that's 2 quid each". A 50% tip?!! We gave him 8 quid, for a journey of just over a mile. The rain continued to lash down during the game, which was unfortunate for everyone except those in the very back rows as the wind was blowing it straight into the away end. Fortunately though it eased off a bit by the time we came to head back to the station. We had just over half an hour to make the 18 minutes past 10 train. Myself and Gary P set a cracking pace and ended up with enough time for a quick half in the Leopard, another fine pub I might add. As we walked out the door we bumped into Tom, and off we went together for the train. As the train pulled out the station Tom got a text from the OAPs saying that they were also on the train. This was a big surprise to me as I was certain they wouldn't make that train and would have to get the next one. Anyway, we pulled into Leeds a few minutes early, as is normal on trains via Wakey. I raced down to the bus stop on the off chance that my bus might be late, and it was! It should have gone 5 minutes earlier, but was running about 10 minutes late. That was a definite result - it meant I was in the house at 20 past 11 rather than the expected midnight. JT also caught a bus almost straight away. Alan though, rather than catching the same bus as JT, for some reason decided to instead wait 40 minutes for a train. Well I suppose he did save 35p!
So we can potentially get promoted on
Saturday at Peterborough? It's very reminiscent of the 83/84 promotion season.
That year we thumped Carlisle 5-1 on Easter Monday, which with results elsewhere
going our way meant that we could be promoted the next Saturday at Cambridge
(not very far from Peterborough....). Realising the invasion that might be about
to descend on them, Cambridge suddenly made the game all-ticket. They did though
give us three sides of the ground! It's worth mentioning at this point that
Cambridge had had an absolutely shocking season. They were rock bottom (like
Peterborough....), not having won for over 6 months and something like 30 games.
But this is the Toon we're talking about, and needless to say we managed to lose
1-0. As it happens we didn't even secure promotion when we beat Derby 4-0 the
next Saturday, and instead it was the 2-2 draw at Huddersfield on the May Day
bank holiday that did it. I somehow don't think it'll be as drawn out this time
around. I certainly hope not anyway!
Andy's Riverside rescue
The Boro trip ended up being a reminder of how away games used to be in the bad old days of the 80s. The local plod in their wisdom, contrary to what they'd said in the build-up to the game, held all the Toon fans back after the final whistle. Announcements during the game informed us that fans who'd travelled by train or car would be held in a cordoned off area behind the stand until the streets around the ground had been cleared of Boro fans, and then "escorted back to your transport". This is all well and good if you're on the train (but not, of course, if you absolutely have to catch a train at say quarter past 5), but as many of us know from bitter experience this can be a nightmare if you're in a car. The police take you so far but then you're on your own, and by this time all the home fans have ambushes set up all over the place and can spot the away fans a mile off. Why the hell the police couldn't just let everyone straight out I don't know. This has worked perfectly in previous seasons, with the police spread out along the route to the station and at strategic points in the town centre. That way people in cars can mingle in with the home fans within yards of the ground and shouldn't have any problems. Anyway, more on this later!
As I did last season, I opted to catch the train straight through to Boro, rather than doing what most of our lot do which is to have a few pints in Darlo and then catch the last train over from there. As I arrived at Leeds station I bumped into Fringo, who was stood in the ticket queue. He though was heading for Darlo to pick up his ticket from Mr Blacklock, and so we went our separate ways. Getting to Smogland just before half 12 I made straight for the Isaac Wilson, the Spoons pub close by the station. There were quite a few Toon fans in there, a lot of them wearing colours, and there was absolutely no problem with the locals. It was still reassuring though that there were two absolutely enormous bouncers on the door and occasional walkthroughs by the police. I'd only been in there 10 or 15 minutes when I was joined by Bryn and Ben, who'd driven up and parked in the town centre somewhere. They hadn't been able to get tickets in the Toon end and so were going to be infiltrating the home section. Hopefully they didn't celebrate our goals and avoided getting get chucked out! Later on Fringo also turned up. He'd had a couple in Hogan's in Darlo, but had decided to not to hang around there, partly because it was chocka but also because he didn't fancy being on the last train over (for the benefit of anyone who didn't read my Boro trip report last season, it's very crowded and very unpleasant).
We timed it really well to leave the pub because we passed the station just as the escort of the train lot was preparing to set off. A quick jog made sure we got ahead of them and so weren't held up at all. As for the game, the less said about our performance the better. Ultimately it's another point towards promotion, but I can't help thinking we could be be in an even stronger position than we already are if Hughton was more positive. I'm sure he'll have seen Forest's score at half-time and decided that a point would be enough from this game. But that approach very nearly cost us when he brought on Butt to supposedly shore things up. A couple of minutes later Butt gives away a free-kick with a trademark trip and all of a sudden it's looking like we're going to lose the game. Fortunately though we managed to get an equaliser out of nothing, and then looked like possibly winning it when we actually had a go for the first time in the game. For me we shouldn't be basing our approach to games on what West Brom and Forest are doing. We should simply be trying to end up the season with as many points as we possibly can and making it virtually impossible for anyone to overhaul us. Ultimately though you can't be too critical of Hughton, and coming out of the game with a point can't be bad considering that the totally useless Pancrate was in the team and that the defence all over the place for most of the second half after Taylor came on for Collo and Simpson moved to left back.
When I heard the announcements about getting held back at the end of the game I thought "No way!". My plan was to tell the police that I had a train to catch and needed to get straight away. In reality my train wasn't until after 6 and I simply wanted to get back to the pub in time for a pint or two. However, once we got out the ground it was obvious that the police were very serious about keeping everyone back. Myself and El Fringo got as near to the front of the Toon fans as we could, but there was no way that I was ever going to persuade them to let us through. As we waited there was quite a bit of pushing and shoving, but not much. Then all of a sudden we started moving forward. I honestly thought that we were setting off in the escort, but it soon became clear that it was just that the police line had temporarily broken. I didn't hang around for a second and weaved through the police and was away, closely followed by Fringo. Incredibly, I didn't see anyone else who managed to get through! We'd only lost a few minutes and so made it to the pub in good time. A couple of pints later we wandered over to the station expecting the place to be quiet and to walk straight onto our train. Wrong! There were police and Toon fans everywhere, and there was no sign of our train. There was a Bishop Auckland train packed with our lot waiting to pull out (I'm guessing this was the 5.25 service which had been held back - fantastic if you're just a normal passenger trying to get somewhere), and then there was going to be another Bishop Auckland train coming in straight after it to pick up the rest of our fans. It turned out Brendan and Gordon were amongst those waiting on the platform. Around quarter past 6 our train, which was supposed to leave at 7 minutes past, suddenly disappeared off the departures screen, which had us a bit concerned. Only a bit though because there was another train at 7, and the pub was just over the road after all. However, when we made enquiries we were assured that the train was definitely running but was queued outside the station. And so it turned out. Although the train was busy, it was nothing like the Bishop Auckland trains had been, and we managed to get seats ok.
Who knows if/when we'll be playing at Boro again. Going straight there is in my view miles better than drinking in Darlo. But if there's going to be all the same carry-on at the end of the game again then I suspect I'll just give the whole thing a miss. I did all that enough in the 70s and 80s and don't want to do it again thank you.
Toon 3 Preston 0
Well, wasn't it nice to have a home game at 3 o'clock on a Saturday! Clearly a lot of people felt the same way, based on the fact that over 45 thousand turned out for it, a massive increase on the Coventry gate. In fact, there was even a good turn-out of Yorkshire Mags in Spoons before the game for once, including Keith no less! He wasn't happy when his lunch arrived though. His double veggie burger though was supposed to come with a "large, flat mushroom" according to the menu. It might have been flat, but it definitely wasn't large, and so back it went. The mushroom that is, not the burger. Of course, most of us wouldn't have even known that the mushroom was sub-standard because we would just have scoffed the burger without dissecting it. Not Keith though.....
While the three-nil scoreline definitely flattered us, it's good that we can pick up a comfortable win without getting out of second gear. Jonas had put so much into the Coventry game that it was hardly surprising that he had a quiet game against Preston, and without his penetration down the left we were always going to create less. It was good to see us score early and late again - yet more goals missed by the arrive late / leave early brigade. The gate may have been one of the highest of the season, but the atmosphere all game was just about the worst. At the start of the season it seemed that the players and the fans were really up for it, and there was a real togetherness around the place. Now though the fans at least are turning up to games expecting the team to win, both home and away. The result is fans fighting amongst themselves at away games and crap atmospheres at home.
It's interesting that Hughton is saying that we need to carry our home form into away games. Perhaps if we adopted something like the same approach away from home as we do at home then we'd have more chance of winning the odd one. And we desperately need to pick up a couple of victories away from SJP between now and the end of the season. The alternative is that we'll have to potentially win every home game, and we don't want to be putting ourselves under that sort of pressure. For instance, we'd ideally like to go into the Forest game thinking we'd be happy with a point rather than it being a must-win game.
The Great Escape
I don't know how badly we played at Derby, but against Swansea we were absolutely dire. Quite how we came away with a point will forever remain one of life's great mysteries. We started the game so lethargically you would have been mistaken for thinking that it was the players and not the fans who'd spent most of the night travelling down. And it didn't get any better. We couldn't control the ball or pass it. One incident summed it up for me. We had a free-kick about 20 yard inside their half, wide on the left, on about 75 minutes. We were one-nil down and had created nothing all game, and there's 15 minutes to go, so obviously we had to lump it into the danger area. Wrong! Guthrie told whoever was stood by the ball to knock it short to him. He ran three or four yards with the ball before before tripping over it and going sprawling, allowing one of their players to take the ball off him. Unbelievable.
When I'm at a game I never slag off players. Well, apart from Bowyer and Barton of course. That's one good thing about watching at home, you don't have to feel guilty about shouting "F**k off Carroll/Guthrie/Nolan you f**king useless twat" at the screen. Nolan and Guthrie were shocking, getting caught in possession time and time again. Routledge, despite having loads of possession in potentially threatening positions, didn't once manage to create anything, as often as not running too far with the ball and losing possession. The defence weren't much better. Up front Carroll looked like his head's not right. In fact, I would have dragged him off long before the end. So it's just as well I'm not the manager then! Possibly the only player who looked at all sharp and up for it was Lovenkrands, so naturally it was him that made way for Best. I don't know why Jonas wasn't in the team, I'm guessing some sort of injury with him not even being on the bench, but we really missed him because we had no threat whatsoever down the left.
Our long unbeaten run had to come to an end sometime. You mightn't have expected Derby to be the team to do it though. But better Derby than one of our promotion rivals. I myself was amazed that it didn't happen sooner considering that we hadn't been playing well for a while and then had to make wholesale team changes. The Cardiff result in particular was incredible when you think that we basically had half a new team. The downside of the Cardiff result was that people started getting carried away. I hoped that Derby would be a big wake-up call all round. Apparently not judging from Swansea.
With 5 minutes to go against Swansea I was expecting to be seriously depressed for the rest of the weekend. Then we get an equaliser from nowhere, Forest lose, and Albion draw and so have a replay that they could well do without. All of a sudden things are looking up! Realistically though we have to start playing much better otherwise we're looking to another team, probably Forest, dropping enough points to put us in the top two at the end of the season.
Walking back to the station after the Leicester game, getting colder and colder with each step, everyone seemed to be in agreement that this was definitely a case of two points dropped. Before the game most people would probably have settled for a point, and it seems that that was also Hughton's view considering that he included Butt in the team while leaving Lovenkrands and Jonas on the bench. And I suppose a cautious approach was possibly quite sensible when you think that our defence included two basically new players and also a second choice right back. However, we really should have taken the initiative once Leicester went down to ten men with an hour left. Surely that should have been the signal to replace the extra defensive midfield player with someone who could cause Leicester problems further up the pitch. Well clearly that's not how Hughton saw it, and the sending off made no discernible difference whatsoever. This is of course so often the case when teams go a man short. We seem to be the exception to this though - we invariably replace a front player with an extra defender and proceed to fall further and further back, desperately trying to hang on to whatever we've got. Anyway, it wasn't until the last 15 minutes or so that we had any sort of a go at Leicester. By then we could have easily been behind - Van Anaholt was dead lucky that Fryatt shot straight at him on the line after he'd turned his back, and then Leicester should have had a penalty when Carroll blocked that free-kick with his arm. Mind, it's about time we had some luck with penalties after what's happened in recent games.
I was down in Leicester reasonably early, just before 2, but most of the other Yorkshire Mags who ventured down by train were there before me. Rather than meeting up with them in the city centre, I opted to instead hike to our normal pre-match haunt in Leicester, the Western. It's changed hands and had a lick of paint since we were last there, but the beer was as good as ever. Despite it being such a good pub and being one of the closest to the ground, it wasn't as busy as I expected, and certainly not as busy as it used to be. Perhaps though that's because of the shortage of YMs in there! In the past we've had some big turn-outs, but on this occasion there was only myself and Hamish & Bernie.
The first train back north after the game was just after 8, which obviously gave us time for a quick one. The plan was to call in the Hind, just over the road from the station, then to get a carry-out from the Tesco Express right next door to the station. Well that was the plan anyway. I walked into the Hind and saw that the labels on all the hand-pulled pumps were turned around. Thinking they couldn't surely all be off I checked with the landlord. He informed me that they'd been drunk dry by Toon fans before the game. I didn't bother to point out to him that he'd had three hours to get at least some of them back on, instead just asking for a pint of John Smiths. "That's off as well - we've only got lager, cider or Guinness". I walked straight out the door in disgust, Round Boy and Fringo trailing behind me. We went straight over the road to Tescos to get some beer for the train while we were there, only to find that the place wasn't open for some reason! Plan B then. Fortunately I was already aware of an alternative pub and off licence. The pub was the Barley Mow, a belting little traditional pub only a couple of hundred yards away, and the offy was just over the road and, as it turns out, sold cheap cans of strong Polish and Czech lager. Even that wasn't strong enough for Stevie - he went for K cider, at 8.4%!
The journey home was fairly uneventful, as far as I remember anyway. The train back to Sheffield was bang on time, which was just as well because none of us had a lot of time to make our connections. Most of the Newcastle fans headed off for a Doncaster train, while us YMs jumped on the lovely warm Leeds train. Fringo was really looking forward to meeting up with Paul McKenna for a few pints when he got back, and he texted him to make arrangements, only to discover that he'd been stood up - Paul was out on a date. At least that's what he claimed anyway. Anyway, we said goodbye to Fringo and Round Boy at Wakey, while the rest of us carried on through to Leeds.
Another long day, and yet another away game that I've attended that we haven't won. I really have been a jinx this season - that's only one victory in seven away games now. The good news though is that I'm giving the next few away games a miss in a bid to boost our promotion prospects.
A win against West Brom would have been fantastic as it would have given us a decent cushion over them. But it wasn't to be, and in the end we were pretty lucky to come away with a point. Certainly they were far and away the best team we've seen at St James' this season. Their touch, passing, and movement were streets ahead of ours on the night. One or two other teams have played some lovely stuff against us, but mostly with little goal threat on the end of it. Albion, however, looked dangerous every time they went forward, and our supposedly solid defence were all over the place most of the night. Simpson in particular was given the runaround by the very tricky Thomas - an unfortunate way to end his spell with us, if that turns out to be the case. Scorer of their second goal Bednar also proved to be a real handful until he was thankfully replaced by the much less effective Miller. In partial defence of our defence, the stroll against Plymouth last week wasn't very good preparation for the this game and they were probably a bit rusty. Although Albion were the better side over the 90 minutes, it could all have been very different if the ref punished their 'enthusiastic' tackling with a few more cards. There were at least two of their players who were lucky to be on the pitch at the finish. One offence that went totally unpunished was the pulling back of Shola early on as he was trying to get clear on goal. It went on for about 20 yards, and even if the ref didn't see it the linesman had a great view. As far as I was concerned it was a definite sending off offence.
Speaking of Shola, it was worrying to see that he was back to his frustrating worst in this game. He really needs to start scoring again soon because if not, and if we don't bring in another striker, then it puts a lot of pressure on players like Nolan and Guthrie to score more than their fair share.
Happy New Year
Goodbye to the nightmare that was 2009, and welcome to a new year which will hopefully a much better year for the Toon and their fans. Although the last few months of last year were a big improvement on what had gone before, the results in the final two games were of course a big disappointment. No doubt a lot of people will be looking back on the draws against Sheff Wed and Derby and thinking that if we'd won those games we'd now be sitting 12 points clear going into the new year. While that's obviously true, everybody can play the "what if" game. West Brom fans, for instance, can look back at the home defeats against Cardiff and Swansea and think how they'd now be top with a game in hand if they'd managed to win those two games. Instead of looking at individual games, you have to look at the bigger picture. It's a fact that we've picked up 27 points from our last 11 games, and if we can reproduce that run anytime between now and the end of the season then we'll be promoted. Whether or not we can though remains to be seen, particularly if we don't strengthen during the transfer window. I was disappointed that we didn't extend Marlon Harewood's loan. I know he didn't win many people over during his stay with us, but his goals per game ratio is miles ahead of anything Carroll and Ranger are liable to achieve. It'd be nice to think we've got a striker lined up (Beckford would surely be a fantastic signing, but will Leeds let him go?), but I'm not holding my breath.
Speaking of the bigger picture, once again I won't be too disappointed if we lose at Plymouth on Saturday. A victory would be good for confidence, but a cup run is something we could well do without. Progressing past the 4th round in particular is bad news as it means we'd end up with extra games in Feb and March when we're already scheduled to play six games a month. So perhaps beat Plymouth on Saturday (no replay thank you!), then a narrow defeat against one of the big boys in round 4.
A day out in sunny Barnsley-by-the-Sea
If Barnsley's game plan was to be so hopeless in the first half that they'd lull us into complacency then it certainly had me taken in. I just couldn't see any way that they were going to score if they'd played until midnight. But then they came out a completely different side in the second half, and we can have no complaints about the final result. It was only a matter of time before our run of winning games without playing well came to an end, and at least we still kept our unbeaten run going. At the same time, the failure to win was as much down to ourselves as to anything Barnsley did. Bringing in Taylor for Simpson at right-back just didn't make any sense unless Simpson was carrying some sort of knock. I've never been a fan of player rotation, and you definitely shouldn't make changes at the back when they're playing well, unless of course you're forced to. Retaining Butt in the team was also a bad move. I know we won at Coventry when he played, but that should be viewed as a victory despite him being on the pitch. The lack of any creativity in the centre of midfield at Oakwell meant that we resorted far too often to lumping long balls forward to Carroll. On this occasion we actually got some joy from it, but you can't expect that to happen very often.
Despite Barnsley being the closest match of the season for most of us, it wasn't that easy to get to, certainly not for myself anyway. Usually I catch a bus down to the station, but the strike meant a change of plan. I instead walked the mile and a half to Guiseley station to catch the 9.54 train. This would leave me loads of time in Leeds before jumping on the 10.37 to Barnsley, time I intended to use to pick up some food for the train, and I needed to eat having had nothing since grabbing some toast at half 6 on my way to swimming. Well that was the plan anyway. By the time the train eventually limped into Guiseley 20 minutes late it was touch and go whether or not I'd even make the connection in Leeds. Fortunately though we made decent time into Leeds and I was able to link up with Gordano on the Barnsley train.
There was a heavy police presence in the station when we pulled into Barnsley thirty odd minutes later. It appeared that they were attempting to funnel any Toon fans out the back exit of the station. We weren't having any of that, so we sneaked past them and out the front entrance towards the town centre, where we bumped into Brendan, Paul Blacklock, and others. They'd arrived 10 minutes before us and had had no luck finding a pub that they could get into. I had no intention of drinking anywhere near the station anyway and set off vaguely in the direction of the Outpost and the Dove, with the rest in tow. We passed a few pubs along the way, but most of them had bouncers on the door and were clearly home fans only. After a few minutes we passed a bloke who told us that the Outpost was the place to head for. Apparently it had been in the local paper during the week that the people who run it are Newcastle fans! He pointed us in the direction, but then along the way we came across the Silkstone (Wetherspoons) which looked sound enough, and we piled in for a quick one. For most of our group it was just a quick one, as they'd decided to move on to the Chicago something or other just up the road. Well I knew that there was absolutely no chance of getting a decent pint in a place with Chicago as part of the name, so myself and Dean and Joanne stayed where we were for another one. By now there were a few police hanging around outside the pub as a precaution (as they were with most of the pubs), and there were only a few Barnsley fans actually in the pub, so it would have made sense to have stayed for quite a while, and in my case to have got some food, but instead we just had the one more and moved on to the Outpost.
Suprisingly the Outpost was very quiet when we arrived, only a handful of our fans and about tan equal number of theirs. We got on talking to the Sand Dancer landlady and she told that they'd only been in the pub for 5 weeks, and that she'd been wearing a Toon top earlier on until the police had made her to change out of it! Unfortunately the Outpost didn't have anything at all going for it - no food, crap beer, and not enough staff on when it did eventually fill up later on. I really fancied moving on to the Dove, especially when I received a text from Alan H saying that it was pretty quiet in there (even though it was closer to the ground - bizarre!), but we stayed put because various people were on their way to the Outpost to meet up with us. The landlady may be a Toon fan, but she was a miserable cow when a handful of people started singing. The Barnsley fans certainly weren't bothered, but she said she was going to stop serving if people didn't shut up. Quite what she expects a pub full of away fans to be like shortly before kick-off I'm not sure. Anyway, a few minutes later, after a couple more outbreaks of singing, she shouted "That's it, yous have spoilt it for everyone. I'm shutting the bar at quarter past (two)". Anyway, quarter past came and went, as did 20 past and 25 past, and they were still serving.
The first train back to Leeds was at 12 minutes past 5, and we could have caught this quite comfortably if the match had finished anything like on time. But what with kicking off the second half well late, and then having 5 minutes added time, the train was well gone by the time we reached the station. Well, I can't actually be sure of this, it might have been running late for all I know. But myself and Paul Mck and Aaarrrrooonaa just assumed we'd missed it and walked straight past the station into the town centre in search of a pub where we could kill the time waiting for the next train half an hour later. Again, the pubs around the station were no go, and by the time we'd got to the Joseph Brannah (Lloyd's No 1, very nice) and got served, it was virtually time to set off back to the station. It seemed a waste to knock back a full pint in 5 minutes, so we agreed to take our time and catch the next train. Half-way through the second pint my accomplices decided that they were in no hurry to get home and would catch a still later train. I, on the other hand, was keen to get home (and to get some food! - I still hadn't eaten a thing all day) and was determined to leave, but in the end I allowed myself to be persuaded to have another pint and to catch the train with them. We had some good crack with the Barnsley fans in the pub. They were more than happy with the point and said that they thought we'd played well (what game were they watching?), and that they were really looking forward to their trip to St James' later in the season. Anyway, we did draw the line at three pints and headed to the station. Paul and Aaaarrrroooonnnaaa jumped off the train in Wakey, while I obviously stayed on through to Leeds. Of course I still was far home, with the train to Guiseley and the long walk from the station ahead of me. It had been a long day by the time I eventually walked through the door!
Yet another strange game. Once again we won without playing well and after surviving some fairly intense pressure in the second half. We largely had ourselves to blame for it being as hard as it was though. At the time I thought Nolan's dismissal was a joke, although when seen again from the reverse angle the tackle that earned him his second yellow didn't look good. Anyway, I still expected us to see the game out comfortably. For a few minutes after going down to ten men there was indeed no noticeable change in the balance of play, but then we began to sit further and further back, not helped by the introduction of Butt. People will no doubt point out that Hughton was spot on with our tactics and the substitutions because we won. However, I think he was lucky because on another day Watford could easily have scored two or three from the same chances.
Arriving pretty early in the Toon, I thought I'd have a quick pint in the Forth to see if the beer's as good as people are claiming it is, and also just to check out the pub generally. I have had a few pints there over the years, but it's a long time since I was in there and the place could have changed a lot. So anyway I strolled up Pink Lane and up to the door, eagerly anticipating some good beer. Except that I couldn't get in the door. It took a few attempts, thinking I must have been pulling when I needed to push or vice versa, before I realised that the pub wasn't open. A lad who was stood a few feet away informed me at this point that they don't open until 12. A pub that's on the way from the station to the ground that doesn't open until 12 on a match day? What's aaal that aboot!! So anyway, off to Spoons I went off for cheap beer and food. Incidentally, you can take a look at the Forth's food menu here. It's a bit up-market for pre-match food if you ask me!
Toon 3 Swans 0
What a bizarre game! Three goals in half an hour, then we hardly had a kick for the rest of the game. People will no doubt look at the last hour of the game and say that we were lucky to win based on the possession and chances that Swansea had in that time. However, that overlooks the fact that the game was as good as over by then as a result of us battering them in the first half hour. Unfortunately we then played like the game was won, and it was only three top class saves and some last ditch defending that maintained our advantage. Who knows what would have happened had Swansea managed to pull one back, but they didn't so it remains academic.
This day was a potentially momentous one in Yorkshire Mags history! Some of our hardcode members gave Spoons a miss before the game, choosing to sup in the Forth instead. They gave it a thumbs-up, so you never know, perhaps the Forth is set to become our 'HQ' in the Toon. While Spoons has its good points (one of them being its size, which has been important to us when we've had 30 or 40 people turning up before the game, not so important now though), we've been going there an awful long time and I'd personally be more than happy to give somewhere else a try. What do people think? Comments on the message board please.
We could have got a better cup draw! It's bad enough having to go to Plymouth once, but twice in a season is a bit much. And early January could be a nightmare if the weather's bad. I had been thinking I'd probably go to the league game, possibly making a long weekend of it. With that in mind I suspect I might just give the cup game a miss.
I just wanted to get that in before Keith did. Yes, we didn't play at all well at Preston after a bright start, but this ultimately has to go down as a good win considering that our opponents had only lost two out of something like the previous 24 home games. It was ironic that it was Nolan who scored because I seriously was beginning to wonder if he was still on the pitch. It's slightly worrying that he had our only two attempts on target, but I'm confident that other players will start to chip in before long. Ranger for one will I'm sure get his fair share once he breaks his duck. And of course we'll have goal-machine Shola back soon!
The results in the weekend's games went better than we could reasonably have hoped (although it was a shame about Swansea's and Leicester's late winners), and I though it would be just like the Toon not to take advantage of it against Preston. I was happy to be proved wrong though. We've got two home games coming up. Two wins would be fantastic, but I'd probably settle for four points right now.
So that's 36 points from 17 games. We didn't manage that many in the whole of last season!
Toon 2 Posh 1
This probably should have been a much more comprehensive and comfortable victory than it turned out to be. Certainly it was a real opportunity to give our goal difference a boost. Instead we eased off after setting out like a house on fire and then getting the two early goals. One reason for this could have been the departure of Spiderman. He can be very frustrating, and the end product has invariably been in short supply, but we usually look better going forward when he's in the team. Hopefully now that he's finally broken his duck he'll be able to chip in with his share of goals. Also scoring his first goal for the club was Danny Simpson. It'll be interesting to see what happens to him once his load period comes to an end. I'm sure his ultimate ambition is to break into the Old Trafford first team, but that's unlikely to happen in the short term, and you've got to think that he'd be more than happy to extend his loan and be playing in our first team rather than heading back to Man U's reserves.
The latest international break is followed by some interesting fixtures. The trip to Preston doesn't look as tough as it would have done a few weeks back. After that we've got two successive home games, where you might think we should be looking at 6 points, but they could be two tricky matches. Swansea will be full of confidence due to not having been beaten in ten games and after beating Cardiff. And Watford are one of many teams on the fringe of the promotion battle, with a more than decent away record.
Maggie is our hero!
I'd naively thought that the anti-Ashley campaign might have become less pronounced following the announcement that the club has been taken off the market; let's face it, the bloke's not going anywhere for the time being. How wrong I was! Queuing up to get into Bramall Lane it appeared that the ground renaming business had fanned the flames, with "We're gonna have a party when Ashley dies" getting a lot of airing. Once inside the ground though most people contented themselves with mainly getting behind the team. Not so the lad three seats to my right. He hardly paid any attention to what was happening on the pitch, instead concentrating all his efforts into shouting abuse towards where he reckoned Ashley was sitting in the stand to our left. It wouldn't have been so bad, but this bloke was loud, not to mention a canny size. Twenty minutes of this and he was really starting to piss me off. I was close to saying something (and I probably would have done if I'd had one more pre-match pint!), but I knew the result would be a load of abuse, and quite possibly a few missing teeth. I bit my tongue. Ten minutes later though I couldn't take any more and moved myself right to the back of the stand where I couldn't hear him. Next thing I know though Maggie, who had the misfortune to be in the seat right behind him, had obviously had enough and said something to him. He didn't take it well and was having a real go back at Mags. "At least he won't hit a woman though", I thought. But then I wasn't so sure when things were clearly getting even more heated. Someone else (a mate of our Paul's) then got involved, and the lad offered him out down the back. Then our Paul (who I suspect knew the lad and had got him his ticket) came over and tried to calm things down, but no avail. In the end it took the lad's mate to drag him off down the back of the stand, still shouting "Come on, me and you, down the back". A couple of minutes later and it was half-time - an action-packed first half then! As everyone took their places for the second half, with me back in my proper seat, there was no sign of the lad. I presumed his mate had persuaded him to move to another part of the stand, or back to the pub. After about 10 minutes the pair of them re-appeared though. I feared a repeat performance, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The lad apologised to Maggie, and was then meek as a lamb for the rest of the game!
I'd expected there'd be a pretty intimidating atmosphere for this game. On the contrary, the home crowd was pretty subdued. This might have had a lot to do with the fact that they're on such a crap run. Whatever the reason, it probably contributed to our victory - it was only right at the end of the game that they managed to put together some really sustained pressure. Mind, we probably didn't help ourselves here - bringing on two strikers for a defender and midfield player when we're holding on to a 1-0 lead was quite bizarre, and it destroyed what little balance we'd had up to that point.
It doesn't take a genius to realise that we need to play a lot better than we did against Sheff Utd if our promotion push is to keep on track. I reckon a nice comfortable win is needed to get us back to playing the confident possession football that we were earlier in the season. Well, either that or Nicky Butt to be left out the team anyway.
I've yet to hear any stories of numbness by Steady at Sheffield. But if anyone has any then feel free to share them with the rest of us!
Toon 2 Donny 1
I didn't go to the Scunthorpe game and so can't comment on the performance. However, I've seen the highlights, with their keeper pulling off a string of top saves. I've also checked out the match stats on the Beebs's web site - eleven shots on target to Scunthorpe's four, eight corners to Scunthorpe's none. While I accept that stats don't tell the whole story, I'd happily settle for having eleven shots on target in the rest of our away games this season. Anyway, it seems to me that there couldn't have been that much wrong overall, and so it was disturbing to hear the stories of Toon fans fighting amongst themselves at the end of the game. It's all so different to the start of the season when there was a real togetherness amongst the fans. I can only think that the string victories that we had early on has led to raised expectations from some. And of course there's an element who just don't live in the real world - they seem to think that the size of our club, our history, the fact that it's not so long ago that we one of the top two teams in the country, gives us some sort of divine right to beat 'little' teams like Scunthorpe, and they can't deal with it when it doesn't pan out that way. Which brings us to little Doncaster Rovers. I must admit I expected us to get back to winning ways against Donny. I didn't though expect them to roll over and hand us the three points. Some 'fans' obviously did though judging from the booing at half-time. Do these people honestly think we're going to go all the way through the season without having the occasional setback at home?
Fun and games getting back after the game. I was on my "usual", the 18.42. I left Spoons with ample time to catch it (although nearly without my jacket - thanks Si!). As I walked through the station I was surprised to bump into Gary 2k and his lad Darren. Surprised, because I knew that they were booked on the 17.42. It turns out though that they hadn't been allowed to get on that train because it was so full. Anyway, we strolled over the bridge to platform 4, where the 18.42 always leaves from, to discover that it wasn't going from that platform this time! Checking the screens revealed that it was in fact leaving from platform 1, which is of course as far as you can possibly get from platform 4. We raced over there, along with quite a few other people, with by now not much time to spare. We arrived to find a mob trying to fight their way onto the train, while at the same time some polisses had decided it would be a good idea to check people's tickets. This didn't go down well as checking tickets was liable to cause us to miss the train. It was particularly infuriating for Gary and Darren who had of course already missed out on one train, and they proceeded to let their feelings be known. One of the coppers took offence to what Darren was saying and dragged him to one side and informed him that he wasn't getting on the train. Gary actually managed to sneak onto the train, but another copper followed him on and pulled him off again. While all this was happening the idea of checking tickets went out the window, so I legged it up to the next door where things were a bit less chaotic. I just managed to jump on board before yet another copper arrived and stopped anyone else getting on, even though there was still room. Not much room admittedly, but enough for a few more. And then of course, as is always the case, by the time we'd stopped at Chester-le-Street and Durham the train was half empty.
A day out in sunny Scunny
A contribution from Big Issue:
Me and Steady have just returned from a completely uneventful trip to Scunthorpe. We checked into our digs at 2.30pm and had a pint in the bistro next door prior to heading off to Wetherspoons on the main street. When I say “main street” it gives it more glamour than it actually deserves as it largely consists of charity shops, Job Centres, Victim Support, legal aid solicitors, etc, etc. Wetherspoons is more a community centre than a boozer with half of the quarter wits that were in the place sat there drinking nothing, and they appeared to have turned up just for a warm and a chat. Steady was ever so proud of his new phone that he was showing off to everyone.
Whilst in Spoons we ran into the legendary Haddock, and six pints and six chasers that were called “Buffalo Breath” or something like that we got a taxi to the pub next to the ground . It was at this point that Steady discovered that he had arrived at the ground but that his phone hadn’t. Several unanswered calls (and a half bottle of Tesco’s vodka) later we assumed that it was somewhere in Spoons.
Everyone knows how much fun we had in the next ninety minutes.
After the match we went to a “night club” and I gave up after a couple of hours leaving Steady to continue drowning his sorrows re lost match, lost phone etc.
For some reason at this point I thought that I had given Steady the room key and therefore when I got back to the hotel (which had no night reception) found myself stood on the pavement in the pi$$ing down rain with no means of getting in. Fortunately a guest arrived in the hotel next door so I went in there and promptly fell asleep in reception.
Circa 4 .00am my sleep was rudely interrupted by some tw^t hammering on the windows outside and shouting like a beserker. At this point I must have had a momentary lapse of concentration as I went outside to see which ba$tard was making all the noise and let the hotel door shut behind me. As a result I had joined the pi$$ed up, pi$$ed off and pi$$ wet through Steady on the pavement. It turns out that I hadn’t given him the key and because he had no phone he couldn’t ring me.
Steady then decided to ring the hotel emergency number and informed the guy at the other end that we’d lost the room key and would he therefore please pop out of bed and let us in and we would be very grateful.
20 mins later (4.45am) a large chap arrived in a four by four. Compared to Steady this guy was really, really pi$$ed off. He was even more pi$$ed off when he found the room key on the bed inside the room.
Funnily enough the landlady was extremely keen on waking us up at 9.00am the next morning and telling us what tw^ts we were. I sort of got the impression that we won’t be welcome back there next season.
Back in Wetherspoons at 10.00am Steady finally gets an answer on his phone. Turns out that some a$$hole called “Bob” has it in Gateshead who spent an enjoyable twenty minutes taking the pi$$ out of Steady, informing him that he had no intention of giving it back and hanging up. Steady rang back only to be told by some bint to “stop ringing this number” because she was trying to get some sleep (which after four hours kip didn’t improve Steady’s mood much). I rang fifteen minutes later and was told to “fvck off and leave us alone”. So much for Geordie solidarity.
After that we had an uneventful pint in Donny.
Just an average night out these days………………………
Forest 1 Toon 0
It looks like I'm going to have to ban myself from going to away games in an attempt to get our promotion push back on track - that's two I've been to this season, and we've lost them both. Alternatively we can stop wearing that horrible third strip which has got the same 100% record as me. I'm guessing that we've got an agreement with Adidas to wear only the second and third strips in away games. It's the only explanation I can come up with for never wearing black and white. And yes I know that we wore black and white at Portman Road, but that was a special one-off strip.
My trip to Forest didn't get off to a very good start - I missed the train. I'd forgotten that I had to buy a ticket (I virtually always buy in advance, before you ask) and didn't allow extra time for it. And naturally there were massive queues, both at the windows and for the machines, when I got to the station. I ended up changing queues three times, which probably wasn't very clever, and by the time I was finally in possession of a ticket the train was long gone. However, I did just have time to jump on a later train which would conveniently get me to Sheffield before the train that I'd missed got there, even giving me enough time in Sheffield to get some beer. I'd expected to travel the rest of the way to Nottingham with Fringo as he was on the earlier train from Leeds, so I was surprised to say the least when, as I was getting on the train, I saw him getting off! His explanation was that he'd decided to have a pint there and then catch the later train that Maggie was aiming for. I left him to it and climbed on board.
As the train pulled into Nottingham I discovered that the earlier arrivals were in a pub called the Canal House. I hadn't come across this in my extensive research into potential drinking holes and so didn't have a clue where it was, although the 'canal' bit of the name was probably a bit of a clue. However, very precise directions from Berwick Daz took me straight there. I can't believe that the Canal House has got a safety certificate. Quite apart from the two floors up and down a steep, narrow metal staircase that you have to negotiate each time you want to go to the Gents, there's the small matter of the canal that runs through the place! I mean, you can't tell me that no one's fallen or been thrown into it since the pub opened. Anyway, the beer was good and the crack was canny, so I was happy.
Several pints later and we reluctantly had to set off for the match. When I say 'we' I'm talking about myself, Maggie and Fringe. The Youth Squad (TYS) still had full pints and ended up missing the first ten minutes. Kids!! As for the game, I'm sure anyone reading this will have seen at least the highlights. And even the highlights tell you everything you need to know about the game - the first half was all Forest and then we were all over them in the second half. A draw would have been a fair result, but it wasn't to be. As at Blackpool though, Forest and their fans were treating the game like a cup final, and it's something we're going to have learn to deal with.
After the game we raced the mile and a bit back to the station in time for the 20 to 8 train. I made a detour into the Tesco Express over the road to stock up on beer, only to find that they don't sell alcohol. And there was nowhere in the station that sold beer either. Incredible! Fortunately Round Boy had got a couple of bottles from a nearby pub and very kindly offered me one. Canny lad! On arrival in Sheffield Stevie had to head straight for his scenic train to Huddersfield, but myself and Fringe had a good half an hour to kill before the Leeds train so we had a quick pint in the Old Queens Head (where we all went before the Sheff Utd game that time), accompanied by Maggie.
The last few results mean that we could really do with getting three points at Scunthorpe. For some reason I feel strangely confident about the game. Perhaps it's because I'm not going. Or perhaps it's because we can't wear that third strip.
A canal in a pub; quite normal I suppose
Not a particularly clean canal mind
Everyone who knows Gordon (and that's most people likely to be reading this) will be aware of the dedication he's shown for many a year. Until recently he never missed a game. His devotion has though been gradually on the wane for a while, like a couple of seasons back when he missed a home game to go and see Robbie Williams, and being away on holiday for the vital final two games of last season. But over the last few weeks there's been a total transformation in him. On Wednesday, for the QPR game, he came up with Big Issue on the train. But whereas Ish came straight to Spoons from the station, Gordon wandered off to "get a programme" and never showed his face in the pub. Then on Saturday he didn't leave York until one o'clock. His train was due in at 2, which became more like quarter to 3 (not good when you're bringing up a ticket for someone!) when a tree got blown onto the tracks somewhere south of Darlo. And remember, this is the same person that invariably used to be the first person in the pub at 11. Gordon's explanation for all this bizarre behaviour is that he's "lost the buzz" for home games. Personally I think there has to be a woman involved somewhere.
There was a lot of vu to the Bristol City pre-match - a club from the south who brought a stack of fans, many of whom had clearly come up the night before, and Toon fans heavily outnumbered in Spoons until quite late on. There wasn't the same friendliness as when Plymouth were up though. It was obvious that the Green Army were there first and foremost to have a good time, regardless of the result, and most of those in Spoons were wearing colours. Not so with the City fans though, with more of them displaying Stone Island badges than colours. I found this slightly disconcerting when I first got to the pub, but to be honest never felt uncomfortable, and there were no problems. I'm not sure if things passed off trouble-free everywhere else though judging from the number of police present around the Bigg Market and outside many of the pubs after the match.
Against QPR we were pretty fortunate to pick up a point after being outplayed for much of the game. Bristol City was the opposite though, and on another day we would have won by two or three goals. For some reason the highlights on The Football League Show didn't include the nearest we came to scoring, when we hit the bar during a big goalmouth scramble in the second half.
If we'd have beaten QPR and Bristol City then obviously we'd now be sitting seven points clear going into the latest international break. I've got to admit that I can't help feeling disappointed that we're not in that position. Realistically though, being so far ahead would just have meant that we'd be even more of a scalp than we already are in every game we play. And let's face it, we've had big leads early in the season before and ended up by missing out!
Sold out away section
Heavy police presence after the game
Tractor Boys trounced
I thought the Ipswich fans came out of the game with a lot of credit. If we'd have played as badly as they did and been 4-0 down early in the second half then the ground would have been empty long before the end of the game. Their fans on the whole stuck it out though, and there was no mass exodus until the last few minutes.
So how will we get on against QPR? Not a clue! What I do know is that they've got an impressive away record - only two goals conceded in four games. That statistic, together with us only having conceded one goal at home suggests a tight game. So it'll probably be 4-3.
Toon 3 Green Army 1
A Saturday 3 o'clock kick-off, a stack of beer, three points, and a defeat for the Mackems. What more could you ask for! Well, I suppose a half-decent performance would have been nice. Still, one sign of a good team is supposed to be getting results despite playing badly, and that's certainly what we did in the Plymouth game. We started brightly enough, but the goal probably came too early - we hadn't conceded a goal at home, Plymouth had lost five in a row, so obviously it was game over. Wrong! From this point on we faded quite badly. Of course it didn't help that Barton and Geremi had inexplicably started ahead of Guthrie. All I can think is that either Geremi is fcuking brilliant in training (no, I can't see it either!) or Guthrie wasn't 100% fit. We did manage to pick our game up again after the Plymouth equaliser, helped by the introduction of Guthrie and Ranger. In the end we could have won by a bigger margin, but that would have been very hard on Plymouth and the Green Army.
I couldn't believe the number of Plymouth fans knocking about the Toon when I arrived just after 11. Presumably they must have all travelled up on Friday to be there so early. If that's the case then they did really well to get hotels with the Great North Run being on. Some lads I was talking to said that they'd flown from Bristol on Friday morning, and had booked the flights and hotel as soon as the fixtures had come out "because it's the biggest game of the season for us". They were lucky then that the game wasn't changed to the Monday night!
West Brom's thumping of the Smoggies stopped us going back to the top. While part of me would like us to be up there, the more sensible part of me thinks that not being top takes a bit of the limelight and pressure off us. That same part of me won't mind if we lose to Peterborough tomorrow night. Let's face it we're not going to win the damn thing, and we could certainly do without the extra games a cup run would bring, so I think we have to do an Arsenal and give a load of kids a run-out. No doubt most of the Toon fans who are going to the game will want to see us putting out the strongest side we can, but that just wouldn't be wise.
If we're going to have a chance of getting promoted this season then we have to be up for games against smaller clubs in pokey stadiums. However, we turned up at Blackpool displaying loads of complacency, both on and off the pitch. All the things that the players had been doing well in previous games - passing it about, closing down the opposition all over the pitch, keeping it tight at the back - went right out the window. Straight from the kick-off Blackpool put us under pressure and created a stack of good chances, and only poor finishing and a series of smart saves from Harper prevented them from building up a comfortable lead. We, on the other hand, just couldn't get going. We couldn't string two passes together on the rare occasions that we actually tried to pass it. Mostly though we just resorted to hopeful (or should that be hopeless?) long balls up towards Carroll. One reason that the players struggled to find their team-mates could be that they simply couldn't see each other - the floodlights were feeble (surely there must be a minimum level of lighting that has to be conformed to???). To make matters worse we were wearing our third strip (all black and navy blue), which meant the players were invisible against a backdrop of the crowd. Blackpool were of course sensibly wearing their virtually fluorescent tangerine and white.
We took the lead totally against the run of play following our first decent bit of inter-passing, and you couldn't help but start to think that it's fated that we'll win the league. This didn't last long though, because it was only a few minutes before Blackpool brought to an end our long run of not conceding and deservedly drew level on the stroke of half-time. We picked up our game a bit after the break (it would have been hard not to really), but then went behind to a scruffy goal. This triggered a double substitution. Bizarrely Guthrie, for me our only half-decent midfielder up to that point, was one of those who made way, when Butt and Barton had both had absolute shockers. One of the players to come on was Geremi and he was asked to play wide on the right. I don't think he can have ever played that far forward in his career before. Certainly he clearly has no concept of the off-side law. Anyway, we forced a few decent chances late on and could have grabbed an equaliser in stoppage time. This though would have been undeserved and would only have papered over the cracks. A defeat on the other hand will hopefully give the players (and fans, many of whom were clearly there primarily for a day on the beer by the sea) a good kick up the arse. Certainly the response to this result will tell us a lot about our prospects for the rest of the season.
Getting a pint before the game was harder than it might have been. Quite a few pubs, including a number that are supposed to be away fan friendly, were only allowing home fans in. One of the places that was happy to have Toon fans in was the awful, awful Manchester on the front. I have to say found it pretty ironic that they were so welcoming - on my first ever visit to Blackpool (not for a match I should add) we ventured into the Manchester for a pint on the Saturday evening and they wouldn't serve us. "Couples only" or something was the reason given. This was difficult to understand given that the place was totally empty at the time. Thirty years later I've come to realise though that they were actually doing us a favour.
The Manchester beer garden
So far, so good....
Firstly, apologies for not updating the main page since my waffle following the Sheff Wed game. Apart from anything else though, all I've seen of the Palace and Huddersfield games are the goals and so I can't really comment on the performances. By all accounts we were pretty comfortable against Palace. The same can't be said about the League Cup game! I wouldn't have actually been that bothered if we'd lost to Huddersfield because a cup run could be bad news considering our minute squad. And it's not as though we've got a chance of winning the thing! At the same time it was nice to see us come back from 3-1 down to win, and of course it can only be good for the players' confidence.
I wasn't too concerned about our lack of available strikers going in to the Leicester game, the reason being that our midfield had suddenly re-discovered how to score in the previous two games. For the past couple of seasons we've had to rely virtually entirely on the strikers to get the goals, with the midfield not managing double figures between them. One reason for the apparent change this season could be the different style of play we've adopted. Instead of hoofing the ball up to strikers (Owen, Martins, Shola) who couldn't do anything with it, long balls are now an absolute last resort if the Leicester game is anything to go by, with the ball on occasions being played back to Harps rather than punted aimlessly upfield. Harper himself used the defenders for distribution whenever he could, which is definitely something that didn't happen last season. Anyway, the players certainly seem comfortable playing this possession game, and it gives them more opportunities to get into the box, as demonstrated perfectly by Guthrie for our goal. Leicester were rather unfortunate to be behind at that point, but from then on they never really threatened. They couldn't even take advantage of us losing all our shape after making three substitutions (unwisely in my view with the score still at 1-0!). I take this as further evidence of the massive gulf between the Premiership and the fizzy pop league - we've lost our two best defenders and yet kept four clean sheets in a row, compared to seven clean sheets the whole of last season.
Anyway, that's 13 points in the bag, which I could never have dreamed of us achieving by this stage. I'm still looking on it as 13 points towards survival though. However, I have to confess that I'm starting to believe that we may be able to think in terms of more than merely staying up this season. Our prospects of potentially being involved in the fight for the promotion places has been helped by not losing any further players at the end of the transfer window. While it would have been good to see our massive wage bill cut further, it was getting to the point where it would have been madness to have offloaded anyone else. In fact, the squad was strengthened at the last minute rather than weakened with our re-signing of Lovenkrands. He's no world-beater, but he showed last season that he can chip in with the odd goal. Just as importantly, he gives us the option of a bit of pace up front.
Changing the subject completely, some of you will recall Yorkshire Mag Brian Ferries running a few marathons to raise money for Tiny Lives. Well he's at it again! Except this time he's set himself a much tougher challenge - three marathons and three half-marathons during September and October. He must be mad if you ask me! Anyway, you can do sponsor him here if you wish to do so.
Despite what you might think based on the lack of updates of the site, your webby has in fact been quite busy recently! I've been moving all the video clips from where they were (Google) to YouTube. The reason for doing so is that the viewing quality is much higher on YouTube. While I was on I edited out some of the more boring bits from the longer ones which should hopefully make them more watchable - click on 'Video' on the menu on the left to judge for yourself!
Toon 1 Owls 0
We've got to be happy with seven points from three games. To be honest, before the season started I would probably have settled for five points from the first four games. I always say that confidence is a massive part of success on the pitch, and this was demonstrated by the way that we started out against Wednesday. Straight from the kick-off we passed the ball round well and created numerous openings. If we'd got the penalty that we should have had for the blatant foul on Carroll then the game could have been virtually over by the end of the first half, but it wasn't to be. I've no idea what the thinking behind keeping the players in the dressing room for so long at half-time was, but it back-fired spectacularly because we just never got out the blocks in the second half. It's hardly surprising really - the longer the players are sat down the more their muscles will tighten up and the harder it'll be for them to get going again. At least Harper had the sense to get back out on the pitch and do a work-out. Despite all Wednesday's possession in the second half they actually didn't threaten at all until the last 10 minutes when it needed a couple of smart saves from Harps to keep them at bay. While we couldn't have complained too much if they'd sneaked an equaliser, it would have been a bit harsh based on the 90 minutes.
I'm still looking at our seven points as seven points towards staying up. However, the longer we can keep our unbeaten run going then the more confidence will build and we may eventually start to be able to think about more than mere survival. We'll probably get beat at Palace now that I've said that!
The Sheff Wed game was notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Ryan Taylor finally managed to get a free-kick on target after 6 months of trying. Also, we won despite Massimo from Italy being over for the game, and we virtually always lose when he's there!.
The season may be only three games old, buy Steady (who else!) is already a strong contender for the Numbness of the Season award. As many of you will know, the Stead works weekends and can normally only get to midweek games. When he can make it to a game he likes to make the most of it and so often stays overnight. For the Sheff Wed game therefore booked himself into a hotel in the Toon and drove up early looking forward to a good session. He was therefore taken aback when he turned up at the hotel reception to find he didn't in fact have a room - he'd got the date wrong and had booked Tuesday night! Paul Blacklock saved the day by letting Steady stay at his.
The Shola show
I have to confess that I set off for the Reading game with no enthusiasm whatsoever. I feared that I'd be drinking in a half-empty pub, then watching the match in a half-empty ground probably devoid of any atmosphere. Plus there was of course the possibility that we'd get beat. Well, I'm pleased to say I was completely wrong on all counts! Spoons was pretty much the same as ever, with most of the usual faces in attendance. Notable absentees though were Gordano (preferred supping in North Shields!) and Brendano (no idea where he was).
And then it was onto the ground. Ten minutes before kick-off the place was virtually empty and I was resigned to it being an embarrassing attendance, but then the place suddenly filled up and in the end it wasn't far short of what we had for some games last season if you ignore the 'executive' areas. Certainly where I am in the East Stand there weren't a lot of empty seats, and the same goes for the Gallowgate. Directly opposite me though the lower parts of the Milburn were almost totally empty - didn't we just know that the band wagon jumpers would desert the club as soon as things started to go wrong. The people who were kicked out of their seats to make way for them must be well and truly p!ssed off.
As for the atmosphere, for me it was just the same as last season, and better than at some games. I suppose that's not surprising really considering that the people who stayed away never contributed to the atmosphere anyway. The Sheff Wed game should for various reasons see a bigger gate and better atmosphere. Let's hope it ends up with us picking up another three points!
I'm not getting carried away by our start to the season, especially after we had the same number of points at the same stage last season, but there are reasons to be hopeful. Apart from anything else the Reading game suggests that there's a massive gulf between the Premier League and the Championship (or second division as I'm calling it). Our current squad, despite its shortcomings, is probably as strong as anything in the division. What that squad will look like next month is of course anyone's guess. It's a financial necessity that we get rid of some of the players on ridiculous wages. If would be nice if the ones who went were the ones we would prefer to see go (B****n, Geremi et alia), but no doubt it won't work out that way.
Apparently Alan H said after the second goal that if Shola got a hat-trick he'd show his arse in Fenwick's window. We're still waiting Alan.....
New season, new league, same old problems
The draw at The Hawthorns was a pretty fair result overall, although they'll probably consider that they created enough good chances to have taken all three points. We had the lion's share of possession, but as ever there was little end product. This was partly due to the final ball not being good enough, but also down to the front two's inability to get shots on target. Shola and Carroll are never going to score many, even at this level, so it's vital that midfield chip in with a few. However, most of our midfield have forgotten where the goal is! That's if they ever knew where it is. The biggest disappointment to me is Nolan. Not only does he hardly get forward, but he can be totally anonymous for long periods. It's incredible that someone can be involved in play as little as he was in the first half against West Brom.
If we're going to struggle to score then it's vital that we're tight at the back. Unfortunately that's unlikely to be the case - Coloccini continues to look like he's not a defender, and Ryan Taylor continues to look out of his depth. Unfortunately we haven't got many options after arguably our best two defenders from last season moved on in the summer, as was fairly inevitable. I was surprised and disappointed at how little we got for Beye though. I'd be more then happy if we got the same for Coloccini, but let's face it who's going to want him!
One positive to come out of the West Brom game was the performance of Alan Smith, easily his best game since he signed for us. If he can continue to do the same and also take a big pay cut then I'm happy for him to stay at the club. Who knows if he'll be around for much longer though as the club continue to try to reduce costs. Selling those on big wages is understandable, but at some point we're going to need to get some bodies in; with everyone fit our current squad should be good enough for us to stay up without too much problem (which is good enough for me at this point!), but if anyone else goes without being replaced and/or we get a few injuries then it looks like being another long hard season.
A point from an away game against a team who will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season is at the end of the day a decent result. Don't forget though that that's exactly how we started last season!