The Toon, The Show and The Pardrobbery
Hardly a month ago, Manchester United had a fine outing at St James’ park and bagged all three points. It was a morale booster, taking into consideration the defeat at home to Spurs. But in a league of 38 games where the points awarded remain the same, be it a win over a title rival or a relegation-battling club, you don’t expect a fan to go overboard to the extent of writing a blog. However, the game had a few interesting talking points and post-match reactions, and I could not really resist the temptation of jotting down my thoughts.
As the title suggests, this piece of writing is about The Toon or should I say the Toon Army? The Toon Army is the nickname of Newcastle United FC. Man United vs Newcastle has always been a compelling encounter, a neutral spectator’s delight; however this is not a tale about the heroics of the Shearers and the Scholeses. It is about the journey of Newcastle and their return to top flight after relegation in 2009. The defining moment for The Magpies in their return to the Premier League had to be the home fixture with Arsenal. Arsenal had scored no fewer than four goals past the home side going into the break, and few would have put their money on Newcastle salvaging something in the second half. When Chiek Tiote slammed in a long ranger in the dying minutes of the game, the score line read 4-4; the dream comeback was indeed complete! This match is perceived by many as the catalyst to Newcastle’s ascendancy to the top tiers of the league table in the subsequent season. The solid centre back partnership of Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini, arrival of quality players like Yohan Cabaye and evolution of players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Tiote laid the foundation for sustained success over the last couple of years.
Now it is time to bump up memories of Premier League clashes involving Red Devils and the Toons over the previous season. Injury to promising youngster Tom Cleverley had left the Red Devils devoid of options in midfield and the heaviest of losses to none other than their noisy neighbours had cast the dark shadows over their title ambitions. United were still recovering from the 1-6 debacle when The Toon Army made the trip to Old Trafford. United were far from the fluent side of the initial couple of months, and they did struggle to fashion opportunities against a well drilled unit in Newcastle. However they did score from a set piece midway through the first half and after that were content in allowing the opposition to come at them hoping to score on the counter. Opportunities did come and United were not clinical in front of goal, not to forget Tim Krul’s impressive show in the Newcastle goal.
The lack of sharpness in front of goal would prove costly for the Red Devils, when the referee misjudged what was arguably one of the tackles of the season from Rio Ferdinand for a foul on Ben Arfa and awarded a penalty in the favour of Newcastle. When Demba Ba converted the spot kick, United had clearly lost the game of chances. Newcastle survived the customary last ditch onslaught of Old Trafford in the final 10 minutes and secured their point. There was a lot of spice in the post match reaction when Pardew’s claim about Newcastle being the better team in the first half was met with SAF saying ‘I am not sure as to which game he is watching’. The two sides would meet again post New Year at St. James’s park when Tiote and Cabaye literally owned United in the midfield and the 3-0 rout was triggered by an excellent piece of opportunism by Demba Ba who was in red hot form. This would turn out to be Newcastle’s biggest win after their return to the top flight in 2010. The game had far reaching implications on the title race, and back to back defeats for United would soon force Paul Scholes to come out of retirement. The game also created new stars for the English tabloids a la Tiote and Cabaye.
Now it is time to return to the present i.e. 2012-2013. St James’s Park was venue to the first league meeting between the two sides in early October. United’s situation was very similar to the one they had during New Year 2012, only this time they had lost at Old Trafford to their favourite rival Tottenham Hotspur, the first defeat to Spurs in nearly 20 years! The preview of the game featured the pundits predicting a repeat of the Tiote and Cabaye show. There were talks of Ben Arfa running rings around Evra, and the Senegalese striking duo of Ba and Cisse tormenting the centre back pair of Rio and Evans who had a howler of a game with Spurs. The epic failure of the midfield trio of Carrick, Scholes and Giggs in the Spurs game had finally forced SAF to experiment with a different strategy for the away fixture at Newcastle. The absence of wing man Valencia (returning from injury) and the woeful form of Nani forced the Gaffer to scrap the classic wing play formation of United for the Diamond. The move would yield rich dividends for United as the three man centre midfield of Carrick, Cleverley and Kagawa dominated the possession. Cleverley was a thorn in the flesh of Newcastle, he passed the ball well, linked up well with Carrick who was the defensive screen in front of the back four and with Rooney who in a withdrawn role was the playmaker in chief for United.
The most impressive aspect of the lad’s game was his relentless pressing in the opponents’ half which warded off potential threats from counter attacks. The impact of Cleverly was massive as Chiek Tiote who was the defensive midfielder had a frustrating afternoon. It was a miracle as to how Tiote escaped a sending off for stamping on his tormentor, prior to United doubling their goal advantage. The sight of Tiote throwing himself on the pitch and swearing at Howard Webb after losing an aerial battle with Rooney, towards the end of the first half was the first instance of complaining on the pitch.
Tiote was not the only player who was outclassed and out passed by the midfield show of Cleverley & Co. There was the curious case of Yohan Cabaye who remained an invisible entity until the 83rd minute, with the score standing at 0-3. With United breaking forward through Valencia (substitute) and Van Persie making the run into the box to receive the pass, Cabaye could nothing but stand in the way of the United striker who could have done without the raised left arm elbowing Cabaye in the process. It was interesting to watch Cabaye tumble to the ground after a brief pause of couple of seconds, clutch his face in sheer pain and sob as if he had been hit by a high speed truck. It made sense on the part of the referee not to punish the United striker with a second yellow. However it did take a while for the Frenchman to get back on his feet, and his agony would be voiced by none other than his Gaffer in the post match conference.
Cabaye is undoubtedly one of the hottest properties in the Newcastle ranks, and deemed to be the next big transfer for the club after Andy Carroll. This was a game in which his reputation did take a beating and he did not do himself any favours with the theatrics. However that would be enough to gain the slightest of an edge over his teammate Tiote.
Alan Pardew, a.k.a Pards is the man who deserves the credits for turning around the fortunes of a team that were once relegation battlers into an outfit which could give the top teams a run for their money. The Manager of the year award for 2012 is a testimony to his efforts. The 3-0 trouncing of United at St James’s Park in New Year was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It was ironic that the power wielders at Newcastle United had extended the contract of Pards by another six years on the eve of the league fixture at St James’s Park this season. United, after the Tottenham debacle at their home ground seemed like the team which were ready for a roasting at the hands of Pards’ lads. There were no surprises when the critics ignored the cardinal rule of football in the Fergie era: ‘Never underestimate Man United’.
The decision of Sir Alex to ditch his all-time favourite wing play formation in the favour of the diamond did baffle pundits and opposition managers alike. The bigger surprise had to be the tactic of playing a very high line into the opposition half. The successful implementation of the same demanded the presence of a total footballer and Sir Alex did have an ace up his sleeve in the form of the versatile Wayne Rooney. Inspired by their talisman, United went on all out attack right from the start and Pards was caught out cold. United had scored twice in the first 20 minutes through set pieces, and it was always going to be a tall order for The Magpies after that. Rooney was the fulcrum of every United attack, but in this game he did everything that you would expect from a total footballer, a key moment of the game was him back tracking all the way to the D and executing a perfect tackle to win the possession back from Ben Arfa who was poised to take a shot after nutmegging Rafael.
At the end of the match, all Pards could do was lament the goal bound effort from Ba which had crossed the line as shown by the television replays. Only goal line technology could have made the difference in the situation which would have been tough for any linesman. That does not change the fact that Newcastle was clearly second best in the contest. However Pards would go beyond the post match conference, to the extent of complaining to the FA for the so called ‘assault’ on Cabaye by Van Persie. The FA had no hesitation in dismissing the allegations as Cabaye had absolutely no intention of winning back the possession from Van Persie who was poised to cut a swath through the Newcastle back line and pile on the agony. It was an act of desperation from the Frenchman to send off the opposition player and gain the numerical advantage for his team. Pards for all his whining and whinging resembled another Rafael Benitez but without a FACHT list.
At the end of it, the Manager of the Year Winner of the 2012 season portrayed the picture of a man who had been thoroughly robbed of ideas and of course the so called justice, which sums up the crux and climax of the story which is The Pardrobbery.