As Eddie’s Mags travel to east Manchester, YOUSEF HATEM (@yousef_1892) recalls a miserable evening in an even more miserable season…
MANCHESTER CITY 2 (Wright-Phillips 17′ Bellamy 77′) – NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 (Carroll 81′)
City of Manchester Stadium, Attendance: 42,280
Man City: Hart, Kompany, Onuoha, Zabaleta (G. Fernandes), Richards, Bridge, De Jong (Elano), Ireland, Wright-Phillips (Caicedo), Bellamy, Robinho
Newcastle: Harper, Edgar, Bassong, Coloccini, Taylor, Enrique, Geremi (K. LuaLua), Barton (Lovenkrands), Duff, Owen (Gutierrez), Carroll
There are plenty of unknowns as we go into this weekend’s trip to Manchester City. Will Isak start? How will Gordon be accommodated? How will we react to the disappointment of Sunday?
One thing we do know, however, is that we will not start the match with four centre-backs, as was – quite incredibly – the case in this fixture fourteen years ago. Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, David Edgar and Sebastien Bassong all featured on this freezing Wednesday night in east Manchester, a sight almost as implausible as the identity of the man in the away dugout: Joe Kinnear, only a few weeks into the job, having been plucked from complete obscurity (in all honesty, I’d thought he was dead) to steer the not-so-good ship Newcastle in the direction of a first relegation in twenty years.
We lost 2-1. While that kind of scoreline is no cause for embarrassment for visitors to Eastlands these days, 2009 saw a different incarnation of Manchester City – a club roughly at the equivalent stage of their Arabian adventure then, as Newcastle United is now. That City team, in addition to including some who became the bedrock on which they began to build a title-winning side (Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta) also featured such luminaries as Nedum Onuoha and Stephen Ireland. Etihad was yet to replace Thomas Cook on the kit. The ground was still called the City of Manchester Stadium. Mark Hughes was the manager.
This was a bad performance in a season littered with them, ending in yet another defeat. It left us 18th in the league and saw supporters fighting with each other in a thoroughly unpleasant away end. Toxic is an over-used adjective, but it is an apt description of the atmosphere around Newcastle United in this disastrous car-crash of a campaign.
With no wins in six coming into the match, the outcome was unsurprising, even against opponents who were in mid-table and not pulling up any trees themselves. Almost as unsurprising as the sight of Michael Owen limping off injured after only 19 minutes. Something about a cracked ankle bone. Or a hole where his heart should have been. One or the other, anyway.
Man of the match was City debutant Nigel de Jong, who – when not going in knee-high on an opponent – could be a reasonably tidy midfielder. Newcastle barely got a touch during a first half in which De Jong and Ireland controlled the play, and the home side were full value for their 1-0 lead, given to them by Shaun Wright-Phillips. In truth, City should have been well clear by the break, and were denied two seemingly clear penalties early in the second half – this was, mercifully, before VAR.
The second goal was inevitable, the scorer – Craig Bellamy, like De Jong making his debut for a club which, much like Newcastle in January 2022, was having its first truly acquisitive transfer window in some time – even more so. Bellamy’s goal was a reminder of what a top player we had before Souness (the only Newcastle manager even worse than Kinnear) fell out with him: a sharp turn and finish from the edge of the box, leaving Harper stranded. Harper, incidentally, was only playing because Shay Given was in the process of finalising a move to – of course – Manchester City.
We threatened, sporadically, to get back into it. A 20-year old Andy Carroll scored a consolation goal. Peter Lovenkrands and Kazenga Lua Lua came on. Too little, too late.
Looking back, it was a strange time. I lived in Manchester back then, and, not least because away tickets were very easy to come by, I went to plenty of the nearby aways. Bolton – an 1-0 defeat to a second-minute goal, a dreadful non-event only slightly redeemed by the amusement which followed once Peter Reid was spied in a box adjacent to the Newcastle support. Stoke – a 1-1 draw in which Carroll equalised late on with a towering header. We thought our point at the Britannia would prove vital in our bid to avoid the drop – certainly, those Geordies who ripped up the red seats in the away end in jubilation thought so – only to discover that Damien Duff’s heel had other ideas.
If I’d wanted to watch football in a less toxic environment in 2009, I could have become a regular at City. For most matches, tickets were on sale in the students’ union for £15, while Robinho’s face was fly-posted up and down Wilmslow Road in a (vain) bid to fill the ground. I decided against: why go and watch a team you don’t even support, on the other side of town, for the price of ten pints at student prices? The time I did go to this soulless bowl – in fact, the only time I’ve ever been there – was on this bitterly cold January night, to witness a defeat as routine as it was dismal.
Going into the game, the teams were separated by only two points, and united by an aversion to silverware (City had not tasted any success since beating us in the 1976 League Cup final). In the fourteen years since, Man City have won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and six League Cups. I’d settle for that, come 2037. For now, I’d settle for us just giving a proper account of ourselves this weekend. We are owed that.
YOUSEF HATEM @yousef_1892