It’s the weekly True Faith editorial, with Yousef Hatem (@yousef_1892) taking his turn in the hot seat. Starting – where else – by basking in the afterglow of two massive wins for the Champions’ League chasing Mags…
Life on Planet NUFC (Nep-Toon? I’ll get my coat…) looks a hell of a lot better now, after two massive wins in the last two games. Not massive in the sense either of the margin of victory (the odd goal in three, each time) or in terms of the opposition. Wolves, though capable of looking cute in the right light, aren’t really all that hot. Forest, meanwhile, seem to have no philosophy beyond buying platoons of ageing players, paying them crazy money, and hoping it’s just enough to scrape 17th, an approach last seen at QPR (it failed there).
These were two fixtures that a side with any realistic ambitions of a top-four finish needed to see as opportunities for maximum points. And yet, the manner in which they’ve been harvested has still been immensely satisfying. The Wembley debacle (and it really was) had the potential to throw our league campaign seriously off course. But the character shown by the team in the three games since – I include the defeat to City in that: we were no slouches that day at the Etihad – has been superb. Neither the Wolves nor the Forest games went according to plan. We conceded the softest of equalisers against the men from Molineux, letting them back into a contest that they had no right to be in. As for Forest, we went behind following a bad defensive error, and also found Paul Tierney and the Stockley Park shite-merchants in the mood to make our lives extra difficult. Never mind. On both occasions, we dug deep. We found a way. We got the win. Did we get a bit of luck? Yes. The Pope incident against Wolves. And getting a 93rd minute penalty, as we did against Forest, is always a stroke of good fortune. But let’s be clear: these are the kinds of wins that good football teams get, and we were the better team in both games.
Those narrow triumphs – especially the ones secured by late goals – are invariably the difference between those who are there, and those who are merely thereabouts, come May. Remember Man Utd in 1996? Cantona 1-0. Cantona 1-0. Fucking Cantona and fucking 1-0, every fucking week. By hook or by crook, they kept finding a way. We’re learning that habit now, too, and it feels great.
Gimme Gimme Gimme…a box-to-box midfielder from Walthamstow?
Isak will rightly take the plaudits for a man-of-the-match display at the City Ground. Two goals – one of them, the coolest penalty you could ever wish to see, as arses twitched nervously across the North East – a superb assist for a goal which should never have been chalked off, and an all-round Jaguar XK8 of a performance.
But for me, Joe Willock’s contribution cannot be overlooked. Since regaining full fitness, Willock has been a revelation. A man-of-the-match performance against Wolves, capped by a sublime assist for Miggy’s late winner at the Leazes, followed up by an all-action display against Forest where he was central to everything good that United did, and notched up another assist. Playing like this, Willock makes football look very easy. He can glide past opposing defenders with ease – whether with or without the ball – and must surely be one of the quickest players in the league over the first few yards, an attribute that he also puts to good use when tracking back. He is evidently growing into his central role in the side – increasingly vocal, calling for the ball, and directing team-mates around, he is playing the best football of his career. He needs to work on his finishing – Friday night would have been a lot more relaxing if he’d put that early chance away, and he’s been as wasteful as anyone in front of goal this season – but, so long as we’re scoring just enough goals to win games, as we are right now, I won’t moan about that too much. Joe, you’ll do for me!
Last week brought the news that the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough will have its capacity reduced from 4,700 to 3,700 for the rest of the season, following a review conducted into the unsafe conditions experienced by Newcastle fans at the FA Cup tie in January. I wasn’t there so can’t comment on the specifics, but will say this much. I’ve been in enough Newcastle away ends over the years to know that they tend not to be populated by shrinking violets. In fact, matchgoing fans (and not just ours – this isn’t an issue which pitches the fans of one club against those of another, as much as the Twitter algorithm may wish otherwise) put up with a lot of shit, to the extent that at times it can feel as though times really haven’t moved on very much at all. Football supporters are treated like a commodity, our fanaticism there to be exploited. Poor stadium conditions are part of it, but see also unwelcoming pubs (the lack of an away pub was specifically cited as a contributing factor to the overcrowding in January) and stupid kick-off times rearranged for TV at short notice.
As to this specific scenario, a lot of people raised concerns with the Supporters’ Trust, and both they – and Newcastle United – were right to listen to those concerns and pass them on. Although it is troubling that the situation in January was even allowed to develop, especially at that particular end of that particular ground, it is at least encouraging that football fans — for once – have been listened to, and action has been taken. Credit to Sheffield City Council for doing so: it would have been easier to have sided with Wednesday.
If you’re anything like me, you will be more than a little bit annoyed that there’s an international break this coming weekend. Just as Newcastle are building up a head of steam, too! I’d like to be facing Man Utd as soon as possible. I can’t wait for us to get our revenge for Wembley. At least England have two matches that, unlike so much of the landfill quasi-football that is served up in so many of these international breaks, might actually be worth watching: Italy away and Ukraine at home. Still, I’d rather watch a NUFC pre-season friendly.
With no Newcastle match, it’s a great opportunity to get your football fix elsewhere. Unless you want to spend Saturday 25 March being dragged around IKEA, searching for masonry paint at B&Q, or pretending to take an interest in soft furnishings, it’s best to have a plan in place now. The North-East non league scene is in rude health, and there are loads of tasty fixtures in the Northern League on Saturday, including Ashington v Newton Aycliffe (pretty sure that TF main man Scott Robson will be down there), Bishop Auckland v Sunderland RCA, Newcastle Benfield v Penrith, West Allotment Celtic v Heaton Stannington, and Whitley Bay v Tow Law Town. Newcastle U18s also face their Mackem counterparts on Saturday morning at Benton. Wherever you are, there’s bound to be some football worth watching, it’s more than likely to be a 3pm Saturday kick-off (noticed how we’re seeing a lot less of those, now that Eddie’s Mags are box office?!) you’ll be made to feel welcome, and whatever you spend on a pint, a pie, a cup of tea or a programme will go straight back into the club. If you find yourself at the Metro Centre, or at the tip, then don’t say you weren’t warned…
Have a great week.
Keep on, keepin’ on…