With Yohan Cabaye having done enough in the first half of the season to prove his worth, suggesting that being without the France international for three games could be a good thing might sound a tad odd.
Ever since the dreaded African Cup of Nations began, we’ve been discussing the so-called ‘spine’ of our team and the players that it consists of. Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba are two of the first names on the team sheet. Without them the spine has looked, at times, a little… boneless?
Joking aside, we’ve missed the pair of them, and – while the lads that have been tasked with temporarily filling their boots have done all they’re capable of – we’ll all be delighted to have Demba and, eventually, Cheik back in the side. Those two, along with the outstanding Tim Krul and captain Fabricio Coloccini are, for me, the four players that make up our spine.
I believe a fifth player ought to be added to that list, however. Together, Cabaye and Tiote make one world class player. Fortunately for us, there is room enough for both of them in the middle of the park. For me, Yohan compliments Cheik perfectly, and is just as much a part of our spine as the other four players I’ve mentioned.
That said, Cabaye has been (by the standards he himself has set with some fine performances in his first season in English football) off the pace these past few weeks. He has been carrying a knock, that much is certain. The fact that he was willing to shake it off and play in the Fulham game speaks volumes – the bloke is a class act, as committed as he is talented.
Seeing us dumped out of the FA Cup was disappointing after once again hearing of Alan Pardew’s love for the competition, but it was unsurprising. I watched the game with six mates (one of whom is a Middlesboro fan, but we were united in a mutual hatred of the Mackems that weekend) and each one of us at one stage or another complained that Cabaye was getting no protection from the referee.
He was battered throughout, and it was easy to see that his lashing out at El-Abd was born out of frustration – not only at the score line, but at his lack of influence on the game. He simply couldn’t grab the game by the scruff of the neck as he would have liked, as we know he is capable of.
I think this little rest will do Yohan (and subsequently the team) a world of good. He will be able to keep his training light and get back to full fitness for the last 12 games, by which time his other half with be back from Africa.
If the spine breaks again during the run in we could easily tail off, though I have a gut feeling the lads will stand tall and see us over the finish line.