BY NICK WELLS
For the first time in months, I forgot about the despicable owner, the inept manager and the uncaring players. For a brief moment, I remembered what it was like to actually feel like a football fan.
Newcastle United, the club I grew up supporting (albeit from halfway across the world), is dead. It’s an empty husk of advertising signs, cheap tracksuits and bargain bin tactics.
Newcastle’s leaders – namely Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley – have taken away the purpose of the team. Mid-table mediocrity? Beautiful. Trophies? Distracts from mediocrity. Free manager? Even better. Players? Who needs them.
But for a brief moment on the final day of the 2014-2015 season, I celebrated and acted like a football fan ought to.
As Jonas Gutierrez tore off after tucking away the goal that preserved Newcastle’s place in the Premier League, I found myself hugging my dad and jumping around the living room revelling in the joy of the moment. Truthfully, I haven’t really cared about any goal Newcastle have scored since January.
But to see a player like Gutierrez come back from a horrendous set of personal circumstances, put out more effort than half the team combined and go mad when he scored, touched a nerve and brought back memories of the better times of being a Newcastle United supporter. He’d finish the game with a goal and an assist.
In reality, Newcastle’s season could be summed up in a 30-second span against Leicester City on May 2.
Leicester, coming in with four wins in the last five, were looking for a win to boost their survival hopes. Newcastle, under the magnanimous management of John Carver, needed points for a similar reason. Opening kick-off and Newcastle concede possession in the early seconds. On the 36-second mark, Leicester scored and never looked back.
The sheer incapability of getting even the basics right summed up what has been a truly awful season.
If you think Alan Pardew is a great manager, look away now. If you admire Mike Ashley’s business model, look away now. If for some reason you’re a huge Mike Williamson fan…then the above applies.
Picking up where things left off
The start of the season was eerily and unfortunately similar to the end of the 2013-14 season.
Newcastle beat Crystal Palace back in March 2014, going winless and only scoring one goal in their subsequent six fixtures, before a 3-0 win over Cardiff. That was followed up by a loss to Liverpool.
Emmanuel Riviere, Siem de Jong, Daryl Janmaat and Ayoze Perez were brought in to bolster a small squad. Janmaat was brought in to replace the outgoing Mathieu Debuchy with the others bought to reinforce Newcastle’s attacking depth.
Hatem Ben Arfa, the mercurial French attacker, was shipped out after rumours of a bust up with Pardew.
United started the season without last season’s top goal scorer – Loic Remy – and with both de Jong and Papiss Cisse out injured, goals looked to be at a premium.
When you can’t score goals, then the importance of a strong defence becomes highlighted.
The raw but talented Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, a centre back arguably brought in to replace Fabricio Coloccini, was loaned to Roma. Yanga-Mbiwa seemed to never gel with the management and despite captaining French national youth teams as well as Montpellier as a centre back, was inevitably used as a fullback.
So in summary: Newcastle’s defence, which was middling beforehand, got rid of defensive depth and didn’t replace the player they lost.
Winless in August, the month ended with a 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace. Mike Williamson – more on him later – had seemingly sealed a comeback victory for United only for Crystal Palace to equalise in injury time.
Who was to blame? The fans of course. Pardew went on record after the game saying the players had been too caught up in the fans’ emotion to push for another. In fact: “Our fans got a bit mad and we got dragged along a little bit with it.”
From the opening three months of the league campaign, United had seven points out of a possible 27. Complete relegation form.
Fans rightly turned on the only visible man in charge, with protests and chants being aimed at Pardew.
It culminated in a windswept game against Stoke on Sept. 29. Seemingly on the verge of tears, Pardew stood trying to direct his team as they trudged their way to a 1-0 loss. Yet the board continued to back him.
For once, the Carling Cup provided brief respite as United followed up their win over Palace with a victory over Manchester City.
Papering over the cracks
Autumn turned to winter, and Newcastle remembered how to play like professional footballers.
Papiss Cisse returned from the treatment table to secure goals and last minute points as Newcastle gathered three wins out of four in November, followed by a win against Chelsea which had Alan Pardew back in swaggering form.
Of course, Newcastle would go on to lose the next four including a derby loss to Sunderland.
Before Pardew had arrived, Newcastle hadn’t lost two games in a row against Sunderland since 1966. Under his reign, United won one out of eight.
A 3-2 win over Everton would be the last time ‘the King’ graced the dugout with a move to Crystal Palace materializing in the New Year.
New boss, same as the old boss
Pardew’s departure should have been a good thing. He played negative football where the aim was to not concede. The main problem was that Newcastle did concede and stumbled around like a bunch of drunks trying to aim the ball at the net.
He was able to turn some mediocre players, such as James Perch, into able performers but was unable to really harness any attacking players.
He had his favourite players and would continue to pick them regardless of form. When the losses piled up, the blame would be shifted to the players, the local media and of course the fans.
As compiled by the fine folks at SackPardew.com, Newcastle scored 114 goals at St. James Park but conceded 104. On the road, they scored a meagre 84 and conceded 134.
His record at Newcastle was 74 wins, 41 draws and 73 losses.
Despite rumours of foreign managers being approached to take over, John Carver was handed the interim manager’s position.
Now, Carver doesn’t have the best managerial record. He’s been fired from Toronto FC with a win record of 30 per cent and had muddling turns as a caretaker manager at Sheffield United and Leeds.
He promised a change from the ways of Pardew. The FA Cup would become important, players would be made to care about the club and there would be an emphasis on attacking football.
Newcastle were promptly dumped out of the FA Cup in an insipid loss to Leicester. No problem. “FA Cup, what does it matter?” had been the board’s mantra since promotion.
A 1-0 win over Villa provided some balm before an eight game losing streak that lasted until early May.
Papiss Cisse would also be handed a seven game ban for spitting at Manchester United’s Johnny Evans. For a team starved of goals, losing your top scorer is a concern.
In the 2014-15 season, when Cisse was involved Newcastle had eight wins, six draws and eight losses in 22 games. Without him in 16 games, they had a record of two wins, three draws and 11 losses.
What made matters worse was the lack of a game plan in matches. Every attacking dead ball routine was the same (aim for Williamson) and the attack lacked cohesion.
The same players, regardless of performance, were picked time and time again. Ryan Taylor, who seems like a decent guy, was picked in a midfield role. He can’t run, he can’t tackle and for someone heralded as a dead ball specialist, failed to make an impact there as well.
Mike Williamson was continuously picked more out of necessity than skill level. He can’t judge a ball; he lacks the basic awareness of passing and offered no attacking threat. When he had the ball, opposing teams would offer a bit of pressure and he would panic and kick the ball aimlessly upfield.
Carver would later astonishingly blame Williamson for being purposefully sent off against Leicester, drawing a sharply worded press release from the player.
Newcastle’s season was saved on the last day as mentioned at the start. It was actually a decent performance, the type that were few and far between this season.
During the course of the season Ayoze Perez, signed from a second division Spanish team, showed more skill and maturity than the majority of his counterparts, and Daryl Janmaat was a more than capable replacement for Mathieu Debuchy.
Part of this season’s failure does rest with the players. The amount of games I watched where no one seemed to care quickly passed double digits. John Carver and Alan Pardew both deserve blame for playing a brand of football that made you want to gouge out your eyes.
But the majority of the blame lies with ownership. All of this was tolerated and condoned by an ownership that has separated Newcastle from being a football team.
Ignore Ashley’s two-minute interview ahead of the final game of the season where he talks about “investing in the club” and wanting to win things. It’s a lie.
Under his tenure, the club has only bought players when others were sold. Every player is bought with the idea of selling them on already in mind.
Ashley cares about the bottom line and that alone. He and Charnley were arrogant enough to assume the club was safe in January and both were content to write off the end of the season under the guise of “finding the right appointment.”
The truth is, Carver will be given the job. At most, a handful of players will be brought in to add some semblance of depth and the sorry saga will repeat itself.
Roll on next season.
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