The reason we all love football so much is because of days like these. The wildly unpredictable nature of the greatest sport in the world can afford the most fantastic of surprises in even the most unlikely of circumstances. That’s why we trooped out of St James’ Park after the game smiling and shaking our heads in sheer bafflement at what we had just witnessed.
In the hours before the games yesterday, I’d spent time exchanging opinions with fellow Mags about the “ethics” of placing bets on football that might generate winnings from United set-backs and described a bet against United as “free money”. Such was the lack of belief in the team achieving anything against Liverpool that me and my Mag comrades were in no rush to leave the warm glow of the Percy Arms and its delicious cold Irish stout and traipsed through the turnstiles a good 5 minutes after KO. . In my head I’d already planned a disillusioned early walk-out at another inevitable gutless performance of the type we’ve seen so often from these players and a post-match analysis which once again discussed the prospect of relegation and dark thoughts towards Mike Ashley.
Brilliantly, it didn’t turn out that way. With hindsight you might say there were seeds of victory in Liverpool’s high intensity game-plan being something difficult to replicate twice in four days and the debatable complacency in leaving Sturridge et al on the bench. Added to that is the habit this team has of showing up with a decent performance against more celebrated and glamorous opposition where perhaps some of our maddeningly dilettante players might fancy a move to at some point. That’s Newcastle United I’m talking about for the avoidance of doubt.
Then of course there is the small matter of United saving their best performances this season (or elements of good performances) against teams where the expectation is we won’t enjoy the lion’s share of possession and where we’ll be at our best playing without the ball, namely doing the pressing, covering, shepherding and all the rest of it for much longer periods than we might be expected to against the likes of say, West Brom, Sunderland et al. We’ve seen United perform very well this way at Man U, Arsenal and Chelsea in varying degrees – even at Man City before the roof fell in.
So, we won a game where no-one gave us a chance. Frankly if anyone predicted a United win they kept very quiet about it because such a forecast would have been completely irrational. But sometimes in this wonderful game we love so much, logic goes flying out of the window and the gloriously human elements of graft, courage, endeavour and discipline which were on display from the home team playing against superior opponents. Not to mention good fortune.
For a team with such a lamentable defensive record we looked solid at the back, well-organised and for once a central defensive midfield pairing of Colback and Anita didn’t look like two men doing the job of one. The infuriating routine of Anita dropping back and taking the ball off the ‘keeper had been dispensed with and the little Dutchman was no longer sitting on the toes of the central defenders. It was a progress.
I’ll confess to impatience with Siem De Jong. His arrival in the summer of 2014 was heralded by Pardew and all the talk was of a clever, refined player who could give us new dimensions missing since the departure of Yohan Cabaye. Injury and illness have stalled his progress and I hear many writing him off as a crock (I’ve done so myself in angrier moods) but I saw flashes today of what he perhaps might be capable. Okay, he isn’t fit enough to play any longer than an hour – in truth he looked to be blowing out of his arse well before he was substituted just after the hour and some of his distribution was iffy but there were hints here and there which hint at better days. I hope so because within his natural elegance there might be a good player for us but it has to be delivered.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive Jack Colback fan but I do think the team is better with him in it on days like these.
Clearly the headlines will go to Wijnaldum and possibly even Sissoko who was involved in both goals but my belief is this was a result which is less attributable to individuals but more to collective effort and a change in attitude albeit against the type and profile of opposition which should inspire players but also does something to our crowd when it sees its team competing all over the park. Many of us at St James’ Park are of a generation which was often in awe of Liverpool Football Club before Graeme Souness took an axe to everything that was great about that football institution and from which it has never fully recovered. For that reason these wins are all the more satisfying given the history and fame of the club from Anfield.
St James’ Park was something like its best on Sunday afternoon, engaged, committed and determined – even if as every minute passed by with us defending a 1-0 lead the thought never left me that it could all turn to shit in a couple of minutes. But it didn’t and we added a second in the dying moments to leave us dancing in the stands, hugging strangers and shaking our heads in sheer disbelief.
Football? Bloody hell.
Newcastle United: Rob Elliot, Daryl Janmaat, Paul Dummett, Chancel Mbemba, Fabricio Coloccini, Moussa Sissoko, Jack Colback (Yoan Gouffran 77),Vurnon Anita, Gini Wijnaldum, Siem de Jong (Ayoze Perez 68), Papiss Cissé (Florian Thauvin 82).
Unused Subs: Jamie Sterry,Kevin Mbabu, Alexandra Mitrovic, Karl Darlow.
Our Fans: Took time for us to see where there was a team playing in a manner of worthy of Newcastle United but when we did they got good support. Fair play to the lad in the Gallowgate who told those attempting the “Sign On” shite to “shut the fuck up you Tory bastards”. We like you. (7/10)
Their Fans: Good numbers. £55 a ticket but it seems it is Liverpool Football Club that is knocking back the offers of the reciprocal deals. They have been in better voice at SJP previously (6/10).
Good match report in their excellent digital fanzine, the Anfield Wrap – just click here.
The Ref: Marriner didn’t get a lot wrong. He dished out a couple of yellows to Cisse and Colback for offences he seemed to let ride for those in Red but as we appear to have got out of jail with their goal it would be churlish to complain too much.
MICHAEL MARTIN – Follow Michael on @tfeditor1892
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