John McCormick writes: Monday morning’s radio, on the drive home, said they were our first back to back derby wins since 1967. I’ll have been there then, so is it back to back wins for me too, only 46 years apart? Probably not, I must also have been at some of the drawn and lost games between 1967 and 1970. Whatever, it’s certainly a hell of a long time since I’ve been to a derby, and this was my first one at the SOL, one of the benefits of retirement.
Despite all of the pessimism following our collapse at Swansea I had a good feeling on the journey up. Not totally confident, I have to say, but confident enough that Fletcher and Altidore could harass their backs and Cattermole could patrol the midfield enough to avoid the pasting many forecast, and with radio reports providing a backdrop to the journey I began to relax into fan mode.
First Arsenal and Palace vied with Huddersfield and Leeds for airtime and then the three o’clocks took over, with goals being announced at just about every town I passed through between Brough and Birtley. The few miles between Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor were crucial for Liverpool, that’s where the game was won, but Man Utd had to wait until Durham to overcome Stoke.
And the relaxation continued in the evening, where being drafted in as a bingo caller’s assistant (or possibly it was just the beer) helped the process, to the point that Ed and I could tell a couple of black-and-white barmen we’d be back on the morrow and we’d see who was grinning then.
Don’t you hate early kick-offs? Sunday games are OK but they should all kick off at 3pm. That’s the proper time and anything else confuses Ed, which is why we found ourselves waiting for a lift an hour early. Nothing to do with the clocks going back, the man just can’t tell the time.
So we went back to the house for an excellent bacon butty, and then off to the match again. This time things ran smoothly and we found ourselves in the bar with time for a couple of pints and a download of the team sheet. Fletch and Altidore were playing, as was Catts, with the return of Cuellar and a move into midfield for Jack the lad. Not a bad side, we all agreed, although we wondered about Dossena, and where on earth had Cabral gone?
Not that his disappearance mattered, as it turned out. We got the ball forward quickly, Altidore won a corner, a nice one-two gave Johnson space to chip the ball across the goal and there was Fletcher doing the business. One-nil up, seven minutes gone, and that’s how it remained for the rest of the half. Fletch and Altidore put themselves about but few chances came their way, it was that kind of game, Catts and Jack did a tremendous job in midfield and the rest of the team chased and dropped back to make sure the Mags couldn’t build a rhythm or get forward in numbers.
Was that one goal going to be enough? Although we’d negated Newcastle’s attack in the first half we hadn’t created many chances of our own and we remember Swansea, don’t we, and Liverpool and Man Utd. How would we respond to the pressure we knew would be applied in the second half?
Well enough, it transpires. Newcastle did get the equaliser about 15 minutes after the restart when Johnson got lost in the box, or stopped running, or thinking, or something inexplicable, and Debuchy tucked away an easy chance at the far post. With that encouragement the Mags began to play higher up the pitch but we kept them out of the box and limited their chances to a few long-range efforts. A draw looked on the cards, then Gus made some substitutions as time began to run out. Johnson came off for Borini, Cattermole for Ki. It didn’t change the shape of the game although Ki looked a little awkward, not moving the ball forward quickly and appearing hesitant when he was given it.
Which proves I know nothing about football. With five minutes to go Fletch played a quick free kick to Ki, who moved it ahead of Colback, who eased it forward to Altidore, who stopped the ball and got out of the way for Borini, who took it on and then let rip with a terrific shot.
A few minutes of trying to simultaneously bite nails and scream for the whistle, with O’Shea coming close to an own goal just to ramp up the tension, but we got the ball forward and won a series of corners which let us run the clock down. Two-one and our first win of the season. What a game to do it in.
And yes, we did call in for a pint on the way home. Smug mode, there’s nothing quite like it, when you’ve stuffed the Mags.
So thank you, Barclays, for the tickets. Thank you, Monica, for the food and the bed. Thank you, Paul, for the lift. But thank you most of all, Gus, for putting out the right team at the start and changing it at the right time in the game. We’ve a long way to go but you’ve taken the first steps for us.
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