May 24 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
“Have you enjoyed the Premier League?” I was asked by a fan of another club this week.
Silly question… but then you remember the total mismatch between top and bottom, the lack of atmosphere in away fixtures, kick-offs being completely messed around for television…
But for all that, though, the answer has to be yes.
As much as you dislike certain plastic Premier League clubs and their fans, you still want your club to play at as high a level as possible.
At least when you’re giving it a go, that is.
There haven’t been many similarities between the ultimately unsuccessful 2004/05 campaign and the present season, but last weekend’s match against Wigan brought the memories flooding back.
A home match against struggling opposition which we ought to win, but didn’t. How many times did we see that seven seasons ago?
But the one difference this time is that we already have enough wins in the bag to make up for such slip-ups. By this time in 2005 we couldn’t afford anything other than victories.
We have adjusted to the step up far better than I thought we would.
At the start of the season I’d have settled for going into the final-day Aston Villa game knowing that if we won we’d survive.
Now, even allowing for the last couple of weeks we remain comfortably above the bottom five. They can’t all catch us.
You sense that the way this last fortnight has gone that our fans in the media have now deserted us for Swansea and it’s not hard to imagine that there will be an ever-growing clamour for Brendan Rodgers to be named manager of the season.
No matter. I know what a state this club was in back in August 2009 – and even the completion of that near-three-year project probably won’t tip the balance in Paul Lambert’s favour as things stand.
But seven months ago there were 10 things I wanted the Canaries boss to achieve, and I have to say that, so far, he’s managed a perfect nine.
Get an away win: Just for breaking the duck I have to say that Bolton on September 17 remains my favourite victory.
Shrug off lazy national media coverage: There have been plenty of clichéd and ill-formed reports around, but after a while you just become immune to them. Can’t imagine how the visit of Manchester City next month is going to be previewed.
Get past Derby’s 11 points: Achieved in style with a 1-1 draw at Anfield on October 22.
Record a second away win: A tactical triumph at Loftus Road on January 2 – and we didn’t stop there either.
Get a significant number of points on board by the end of November and the visit of QPR to Carrow Road: Beating Rangers 2-1 gave us 16 points from 13 fixtures – twice as many as the same stage in 2004, when we’d just been outclassed 4-0 at Charlton, too.
Strengthen if needs be in January: Didn’t really need it for this season, but encouraging signings made with a view to the 2012/13 campaign.
Do something away to Fulham: I’ll get back to you on this one in a fortnight’s time.
Avoid being beaten 9-0 to at least equal the existing Premier League record: Managed to hold out away to a rampant Manchester City in December; surely they won’t be as potent when they come to Carrow Road.
Learn from past mistakes: Beaten at home by West Brom; deserved winners at The Hawthorns four months later. Enough said.
Enjoy it: Having given the MoTD-Swansea City love-in on Saturday a miss, but caught glimpses of The Football League Show, it makes you think when you see highlights featuring the likes of Leyton Orient and Tranmere that these were teams we have struggled against in the last couple of years.
When it’s put like that, how can this season have been anything but enjoyable?
• PLAYING FOR PLACES WILL BE A WELCOME CHANGE
It’s going to be a different last nine games of the season compared with recent times.
While there’s still the small matter of £800,000 per place to play for the run-in won’t have the same tension of the last three seasons.
This time last year we’d just drawn at Hull to be hanging on in second place by a point and wondering whether we’d need a loan signing and get pegged back by the chasing pack. We didn’t and we didn’t.
Two years ago we just been denied victory at Swindon but were still eight points clear of Leeds and the chase was on for as many points and goals with 100 a not-unreachable target for both.
And then there was three years ago we’d just had an encouraging draw at Birmingham. Surely, on that showing, we’d stay up. Unless, of course we won one and lost five of the last six fixtures, that is.
There might not be the same drama as before, but there remains a danger that the rest of this season could continue to fall away somewhat, casting a slight cloud on the results up to and including the victory at Swansea.
Our season didn’t end – or shouldn’t have ended – at Swansea on February 11. We still have a lot to play for.
You’d like to think we can put a couple more nails in Wolves’ relegation coffin, although I am sure this will be billed in public at least as “our hardest game of the season” because we all know that’s what you’ve got to say as a manager in front of the Sky TV cameras.
And after that perhaps at the very least we can lose by a smaller margin at Craven Cottage and try for a statement win against one of the top sides…
Above all, we must arrest our current slide – a recent run of 1-2, 1-2, 0-2, 1-1 and 0-1 has been a high price to pay for our heroics at Swansea.
• TYNESIDE TRIP LIVES DOWN TO EXPECTATIONS
You can’t fault the performance, but we got what I expected us to do at St James’ Park – nothing.
Plenty of effort, but just not enough chances.
We made life hard for ourselves by giving the home fans something to get excited about very early on – but after that we did fight our way back into contention and subdue them.
In the second half it was a bit like roles were reversed from a week earlier against Wigan, the home side hanging on a bit at 1-0 up, but we just couldn’t take our limited chances in the way that the Latics did.
Our cutting edge has been blunted and we’ve been lacking a bit of inspiration.
We have to now rebuild our confidence in our second successive home game against the bottom side – who have, let’s not forget, conceded 19 goals in their last five fixtures.
You can’t help but think that losing to Leicester City has somehow sparked this slight slip down the table.
And in the same way we have to hope that a convincing win against Wolves – such as a repeat of the scoreline from their last visit to Carrow Road – can start things moving again.
• The fixture rearrangment meant that I didn’t join the 1,900 City fans at St James Park.
I hope you enjoyed the view from the nose-bleed block – my recollections of 2004 are that the far goal was such a distance away that it might as well have had a different postcode from my seat.
But quite apart from a return visit to Newcastle again next season it looks like such rope-and-tackle climbs are going to become a more common theme of away games.
Manchester United are testing moving away supporters to the top tier for the forthcoming match against Aston Villa, and Sunderland are also looking at following Newcastle’s lead. It’s all a very long way from standing against a metal rail at Paulton, that’s for sure.
• ARE FOXES SO FORMIDABLE?
Reading the Wigan programme last Sunday evening I discovered the reason for our FA Cup exit.
Leicester were, apparently an “expensively-assembled” team, or so the official line of thinking would have you believe.
Phew, just as well we don’t play many outfits like that in the league, or else Derby’s 11-point record might be in some danger.