Pete Sixsmith witnesses a good, solid performance with more than a hint of Dick Advocaat’s ‘win ugly’ strategy but also a goal of the utmost quality. This was the sort of display that will, if maintained, keep the crowd on the players’ side and secure the necessary points before those dreaded final trips to the Emirates and Stamford Brdige …
As we bounced out of the East Stand on Sunday afternoon, with smiles as wide as the Nile Delta, the
cheeky young imp in charge of the phonograph played a selection of tunes to send us on our way.
Paint Your Wagon was followed by I Get the Sweetest Feeling and then So You Win Again.
But the piece de resistance came when the disc jockey played popular beat combo Manfred Mann’s 1964 hit 5-4-3-2-1. It’s a disc that Johnny Crossan might have bought to play on his Dansette before passing it on to George Mulhall to tape on to his Fidelity reel to reel.
And didn’t it just wind up the departing black and white hordes and send us out into a glorious Wearside evening with a spring in our step?
Once again a new manager picks up three vital points against our near neighbours in his second game.
Once again, we drag ourselves above a couple of our relegation rivals and begin to look at a springtime of optimism and a summer of rebuilding. Once again we can go to work, pub or meeting place and claim bragging rights for the fifth game in a row.
Marvellous though this feeling is, we have to temper it with the observation that we will not play a side as bad as Newcastle were between now and the end of the season, nay millennium. Our final three home games are all winnable but are against teams who will have a lot more than this insipid bunch of ersatz Geordies, led by a head coach who knows that he has just failed the interview and is probably realising that he isn’t the man for the job vacated by Alan Pardew in January.
Pardew will have an agenda of his own next week while Leicester are fighting for their lives. Southampton are looking tired and leggy but will want to get their excellent season back on track, so let’s beware of complacency as we celebrate five wins in a row.
Dick Advocaat has shown that football is a relatively simple game. Win the ball and get it up to your strikers and you have a chance of scoring and winning the game. If you have a player like Jermain Defoe up front, you always have a chance of scoring. Give him the ball and he will do it. And he did.
Nobody expected a strike like that though. The ground erupted when it went in with the occupants of the East Stand barely able to believe what they had seen; a great finish that’s for sure but a simple goal. Free kick from the keeper, ball headed on by Fletcher and Defoe catches it just right to leave Krul nowhere. I am amazed that the Dutch-born Geordie didn’t rush up and join in the celebrations as he appeared to be so enamoured by Jermain’s skills.
Under the previous regime, that free kick would have been moved from Pantilimon to O’Shea, on to Jones, forward a few yards to……. You get the picture. By the time it reached Fletcher or Defoe, the Mags would have been sat in the dressing room listening to John Carver’s no doubt inspiring rallying cry for the Geordie Nation.
Simple football. When you have a player up front who is effective in the air, give him the ball and give it to him early. How many times have we said that Defoe needs to play off Fletcher? How many times has Defoe been left alone up front, looking for scraps? 5? 4? 3? 2? 1? Or a few more than that?
But Advocaat and his coaching staff set the team up perfectly. Jordi Gomez, whose last appearance was at Bradford and was so awful that it looked like he would never be seen again, was outstanding in a midfield set up which allowed him to do what he is good at and not what the head coach thinks he should be good at. He cruised around the pitch, making tackles, picking the ball up, moving it on and getting in to excellent forward positions. There was no stifling, solid block of four for him to disappear into as he has done far too many times this season.
Cattermole was excellent at the base of the diamond, hardly committing a foul and standing up in a sensible way to the hugely overrated Sissoko, allowing him no space and making him a peripheral character yet again in a derby. Cattermole’s very presence seems to intimidate the Frenchman who is yet another average player bumped up by the Tyneside press into something that he clearly isn’t, ie a good player.
The whole team looked happier and far more settled. I groaned slightly when I saw Billy Jones was playing. His last appearance at Valley Parade was awful – slow, plodding and bereft of ideas. None of these applied as he pushed forward well, tackled brilliantly and read the game with consummate ease. Mind you, I could defend against the likes of show ponies like Caballere and Ameobi, two of the worst players I have ever seen in a Newcastle strip – and I go back to the likes of Kit Napier and Andy Penman.
Vergini and O’Shea, both spared the excruciating “to you John”, “back to you Santiago” routine so beloved by Gus, were able to do what central defenders should do and move the ball forward whenever they can. Again, they had nothing to mark as the lightweight Perez contributed very little, but they look as if they are going to be paired up for the rest of the season so it’s good that they look comfortable together – more Terry and June than Basil and Sybil Fawlty.
It could and should have been more. Fletcher had an excellent game, always involved and he set up the wonder goal, but he needs to score. I would imagine that Gibralter and the Mags are on a par but whereas he rattled in three against the men from the rock, he missed two excellent opportunities to send the 3,000 Mags home with a real cuffing.
That was the quietest assembly of black and whites I have ever heard. Usually, they are loud and proud as they should be, but they know that they have a poor set of players, a head coach who is clearly not up to the job and an owner who has no interest in anything other than mediocrity. Not for them the excitements of a relegation struggle or a cup run; middle of the table is fine so we can get our mitts on all that lovely money that is pouring into the Premier League. They honestly deserve better – but they won’t get it.
The atmosphere from our fans was brilliant, almost as if we were apologising to the players for walking out on them at the Villa fiasco. When a Sunderland crowd gets behind its team, there is no finer sound. It was as if the Roker Roar, which I first experienced half a century ago had been found in the corner of a dusty cupboard and brought out for the an airing. Let’s keep it out of the closet for the rest of the season.
After the debacle at Southampton, Pete Horan and I overcame a small element of our disappointment by seeing the Manfreds and an impossibly elegant Paul Jones at Salisbury City Hall.
One of the numbers they did was 5-4-3-2-1. What a pleasure it was to hear it again, this time under slightly happier circumstances.
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