Newcastle United 3 v West Brom 3
Perhaps time will throw some perspective at this game. Perhaps there will come a point where we can look at the final table for the 2010/11 season without thinking it tarnished and squawking “9th, we could have finished 9th” like we haven’t been able to stop doing in the 24 hours since this game ended. 3-0 up and cruising against a rotten West Bromwich Albion team Newcastle didn’t so much take their foot off the gas as get out the car, throw the keys in the sea and start contemplating the contents of their handkerchiefs. In a collective act of idiot wastefulness our season went from “bloody brilliant actually” to “pretty good I suppose” and a sour taste was left in the mouth.
But hasn’t that been Newcastle United this season; capable of sparkling vitality and heroic resilience but also prone to unfathomable ineptitude and chronic shitness? With cold hindsight we have never been in danger of the relegation so many predicted for us and we turned out to have been mathematically safe since beating Wolves on the 2nd of April. That’s six weeks before this match even kicked off but we have rarely felt comfortable because we have had to watch games like Blackpool, Stoke, Wigan, Blackburn, Fulham, Everton and Bolton at home and Stoke, Bolton, Villa, West Brom and Fulham away and we could see first hand how bad we could be. That’s 13 games, including this one, against mediocre opposition (which is over a third of the season) where we gathered 4 points. If we had made all those games draws and seen this game out to a win we would have been 6th, ahead of Liverpool. That’s if you also take away the goal we don’t want to talk about. The sickeningly ill-deserved one that bounced into our net off Asamoah Gyan’s stupid bloody face in injury time down in sunderland’s litter strewn pig-pen. A goal that we tried to tell ourselves didn’t matter because we still had that delicious 5-1 in our pocket. It did matter but fitting that scabby luck should earn our neighbours their third top flight, top half, finish in 55 years. And while we’re on the subject that’s the third top half finish in 55 years by the way. Massive club? Oh aye.
The first port of call in the quest to gain perspective came on seeing the poor suffering buggers’ faces on Match of the Day as the bare-knuckle bloodbath that was the relegation fight unfolded. The difference between 9th and 12th was of little concern to them and good to be well away from it. And we were well away from it because we can play like we did in the first half of this game; smart passing, intelligent movement and organised defending. I say organised defending, Jose Enrique Sanchez Diaz had a shocker in his eye-throbbing orange boots. But such was the quality of those around him that it didn’t seem to matter; Shane Ferguson despite only being 9 years old is tough, quick and clever, Coloccini imperious and Steven Taylor inspired and probably man of the match. Taylor cleared two West Brom shots off the line in the first half and put us 1-0 up, swivelling in the six yard box to smash home after the panic inspired in the home defence by a Ryan Taylor corner. Shola, clumsy and infuriating, had a shot cleared off the line and Guthrie had a shot tipped over before Lovenkrands made it 2-0. Carson may have looked mortified that the goal was given but after batting Lovenkrands’ shot up he clearly grabbed the ball back from well behind the line.
Jonas Olson should have been sent off up here last season, so nice that he should pop the ball into his own net at the start of the second half. 3-0 and on the way to the 6 goals we needed to overhaul Fulham in 8th place should they lose at home to Arsenal. (They didn’t).
But no, we switched off instead. Switched off to the point that the worst player on the pitch scored a hat-trick while our players dozed about and our manager dismantled our formation with baffling substitutions. Danny Simpson played Tchoyi onside for his first and was nowhere as Coloccini flinched out of the way for his second. Enrique capped off a wretched afternoon of carelessness by being entirely absent as Tchoyi headed in the equaliser in injury time.
There was booing at the end and many fans chose to leave rather than stay to applaud the lap of appreciation. While understandable it was something of a shame because with the slow onset of perspective we will appreciate the mental resolve of our players and we will recognise that 12th is bloody good for the first year after promotion. Some of our favourite ever games have been this season; 6-0 against Villa, 3-1 against Liverpool and 1-0 and 4-4 against Arsenal. Seeing our team earn creditable draws against Manchester United and Chelsea (twice) was something and we scored more goals than Spurs who finished 5th. But our firmest grasp of perspective came as the first gloating texts arrived from friendly mackems. All we had to do was send “5-1” back and we have all the perspective we need to last us until August.