How David McNally ruined Easter. And emotional battles with Newcastle, past and to comeMon 28 Mar 16 by Stewart Lewis
If only we hadn’t hired David McNally.
When he arrived in the summer of 2009, we’d just gone down to League 1. Given that we were also broke, disorganised and demoralised, with a pile of loan players and Bryan Gunn as manager, we looked set for an extended stay there.
But McNally had other ideas. He professionalised the club from top to bottom, brought in Paul Lambert, and the rest is history.
Which is why we didn’t have a league game over Easter.
No offence to anyone, I hope, but the meaning of Easter has always been clear to me: a biting east wind and two league games. We’ve had the wind, but it’s Leagues 1 and 2 who have the games. Even with an unexpectedly heartening England performance, it just doesn’t feel right.
I’ll accept international breaks as a necessary evil, but that’s as far as I can go. Even when England play well, it’s just not…well, exciting. For me, what gets the blood coursing is Norwich City.
Which brings us back to the rollercoaster temporarily suspended in mid-ride. Man City gave us fresh heart, but we knew from bitter experience that our hearts might be broken again at West Brom; only this time they weren’t.
For now, at least, we’re clearly on the up. Isn’t it great to have a deserving candidate for March Player of the Month? In fact, better: one good candidate (Jonny Howson) and two absolutely outstanding ones (Timm Klose and Gary O’Neil).
I suspect Klose will win the award, and who could deny him? Rarely has a player got to grips with the Premier League so quickly and effectively (only hope I’m not cursing him by saying so).
Yet – if we go on to pull it out of the bag, I think I know what the enduring image of our survival will be: the head-bandaged O’Neil – someone who we expected to be a bit-part player this year, but who’s turned into the general leading, organising and inspiring our troops.
Next up, of course, is the Newcastle game – “everything”, according to Jose Mourinho. Well, it’s certainly an important one, but perhaps we should resist the temptation to see it as be-all-and-end-all. A lot happened over the course of the last seven games a year ago, as Leicester (16 points from the 7 games) leapfrogged QPR (5), Burnley and Hull (7 each).
It’s far from just one game.
Much as I’d love us to beat Newcastle – and I’m sure we’ll set up with that aim – I wouldn’t be distraught at a draw. I’m not a fan of late-season managerial changes and certainly didn’t share the fatalism of some of our more skittish fans at the news (“Toon to stay up for sure” and “We’re doomed now” rapidly appeared on Twitter).
However, replacing the hapless McClaren with Benitez will undoubtedly help them in the sense of bringing in some shrewd organisational skills. In the limited time at his disposal I’m not sure how far Rafa can impose his ideas, but it won’t do them any harm.
The same, of course, is true of their late equalizer against Sunderland. I was delighted (OK, delirious) at the time, because City must almost certainly finish above both. The downside we have to accept is that it will have raised the spirits of Newcastle, and of their moody but talented striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It would be fantastic to win on Saturday, worrying to lose. But nothing is decided this week, or probably this month. Whatever the outcome this weekend, we’ll have to keep our concentration – and our nerve.
To help pass the time, a memory and a quiz. Saturday’s game will give us grey hairs – in the case of some of us, more grey hairs – if it’s as dramatic as Newcastle’s visit to Carrow Road during our relegation fight in April 2005.
Everyone remembers Safri’s 40-yarder to give us a first-half lead. We thought we’d hang on – especially as Shearer missed chances – until an 89th minute equalizer from Newcastle substitute Patrick Kluivert. But desolation turned to ecstasy as Dean Ashton turned in an injury-time winner.
1. Who was Newcastle’s manager? And,
2. Who (still a familiar figure at Carrow Road) came on as an 89th minute substitute for City?
Prizes for wrong answers (within reason), proving that you haven’t Googled it.