I was just thinking a couple of days ago, if only we had a pause button for the Premier League. If only we could put our hands up in class and say “We don’t want to play any more this year. Can you come back and see us in January when we’ve bought half a team?”
But we can’t do that, can we?
Then I caught myself thinking, “well this new COVID doesn’t seem to be as bad as the others, what if there was an outbreak of Omicron round the Manchester / Liverpool area and their games had to be cancelled for say, ooh, I don’t know, maybe a couple of weeks until it cleared up?
Don’t get me wrong here, I had COVID before they started giving it Greek letters – version 1.0 if you like – so I wouldn’t wish that on anybody (or the hospital food that went with it!), but a couple of weeks with the likes of Mo Salah, Ronaldo and Calvert-Lewin confined to their homes with a scratchy throat and a few aches and pains would be almost bearable. Especially if you are a Newcastle fan.
Especially if four difficult fixtures could be pushed into next year. You know, after the transfer window.
As I said – I caught myself thinking that, but then I gave myself a good talking to and went and stood on the naughty step for a while. Actually, I sat in a comfy chair and watched the Leicester match again. That was punishment enough.
No Toon fan likes to see us lose and I’m sure we were all hoping for a Christmas Miracle at Leicester, but we ended up going Home Alone, looking like Macauley Culkin with our heads in our hands. Screaming.
I have had many a discussion with the missus about the difference between the concepts of “wanting” and “needing” stuff. When I told her I wanted a new bike she hit me with the standard WE don’t need one. Why did she throw that at me? I never said I needed one. I said I wanted one. Two completely different animals.
We compromised. I got a new bike and my darling other half didn’t speak to me for a week.
I mention this because, at the moment, as fans of Newcastle United, with a new manager and all that money, we need to be able to differentiate between what we “hope” will happen, and what we can realistically “expect” to happen. For example, I’m off down the Black Bull tonight where I hope that I’m going to bump into Scarlett Johansson, she’ll find me irresistible and offer to whisk me off to Maui for a few weeks. Realistically, I expect to meet up with a couple of the lads, have too much to drink, and have to get up an hour earlier than usual tomorrow morning to go back to the pub to pick up my car.
Hope versus expectation. It’s a bugger!
We hoped that having a new manager and being the richest club in the world would immediately make a difference, but realistically we still have the same squad of 25 players who between them couldn’t muster a win in almost four months.
It was Rafa who told us four years ago that our defence was not good enough to allow us to play anything other than five at the back to survive in the Premier League. This resulted in us being light in midfield, depending on long balls and Olympic sprinters for our goals. It also gave the opposition’s midfield space to push the ball around, retain possession and corral us back into our box a lot.
Rafa also said 3 years ago “these players are not good enough to stay in the Premier League”. And that was with five at the back.
Bruce, for all his faults did try to play a back four with disastrous consequences and immediately reverted to Rafa’s previous formation, pointing at the players and shouting “it’s their fault – they’re too set in their ways!”
Then we get bought by the Saudis and have sacks full of cash that we can’t spend until next year, yet we somehow think that Eddie Howe can work a miracle and do what Rafa and Bruce couldn’t, and conjure up a solid back four.
In case it slipped your mind, Rafa set up a team with hard scrappers to get us out of the Championship. Since the Spaniard joined us we have lost the likes of Coloccini, Mbabu, Atsu, Mbemba, Willems, Rose, Lejeune and Yedlin, with nobody coming in as replacements since Rafa left.
And we wonder why our defence is a bit wobbly. I still can’t understand why we let Lejeune go.
While we may hope that Howe can work his magic and plug the holes at the back, realistically we can expect to carry on leaking goals, and in larger numbers against the big boys.
I think our aim for the next four games should be damage limitation, and that means five in defence. It’s not pretty but we did manage to eke out a few results doing it that way, and against decent teams.
While I’ve enjoyed seeing us with more possession and having more attempts on goal that means nothing when the opposition knock four in and we can’t even score. Unfair as it may seem, you don’t get points for possession.
So until we can get one, or even two decent central defenders on board, an attacking midfielder, and a striker as good as, or even better than Wilson, I’d be happy for our new management team to just park the bus for a few games.
It’s no coincidence that the great Premier League teams all had at least one outstanding centre back. Adams and Keown, Ferdinand, Terry, Kompany, Desailly, Stam, Vidic, Van Dyk, and of course, my favourite and yours, Steve Bruce.
Despite all this doom and gloom, as I write this we are only a win behind Watford who are in 17th. Come January I would expect us to be maybe two wins behind. Yes, points are going to be hard to get, but it’s equally difficult for the teams around us. The first half of the season has been a disaster, but we have a war chest big enough to actually finance a war, and owners willing to dip into it. That’s really the only advantage we have over the five or six clubs around us.
I’m certainly not a glass half full kind of person but I see no reason why, with a few proven Premier League players signed up, we shouldn’t stay up.
It’s always interesting to see who the media claim we are after, compared to who actually turns up.
I hope high on the Staveley and Co. agenda is widening the gate at Darsley Park because, so far, according to the press we expect 43 different players to be our first signing. Or should that be “we hope”. There is a difference.
Now I’m off to sit on the naughty step again. I just Googled “Mo Salah scratchy throat”.