I’ve been a Newcastle supporter since the heady days of Keegan in the old Division 2. So you can say i’ve had a roller coaster ride over the years supporting this schizophrenic team. From having the Premiership snatched from the jaws of victory, to the grandfatherly days of Robson, to the embarrassment of relegation two seasons ago, to the 100-point haul in the Championship last year. A grand mirage of highs and lows.
Then last week, the disastrous outing at the Theater of Dreams, started all the alarm bells ringing. Being so comprehensively drubbed by the Red Devils put the fear of the football gods in me — was this a sign of the season to come?
So i went into tonight’s game with a sense of dread. Another poor outing and all sorts of panic buttons will go off in the halls of St James’. I didn’t mind a loss (oh ye of little faith)… but please, not a bad one.
As it turned out, i had nothing to fear. Aston Villa came, they saw, and they were conquered in emphatic fashion.
Aston Villa started well, no doubt buoyed by their impressive spanking of West Ham during the opening weekend. Early 10-15 minutes were dominated by their confident play, direct balls to Young and Carew causing all sorts of worries. Then the normally unflappable Harper gave away a rash penalty. Ungracefully, Carew blazed it over with Harper diving the wrong way.
From then on in, it was all one way traffic in favour of the Magpies. Its as though the penalty miss deflated Villa like a busted beach ball and galvanised the Newcastle players to push just that much harder.
First goal duly came soon after with a wonder strike from Barton, 25 yard screamer into the top right corner. Its important to note that the opening came after some very determined wing play between Jonas and Enrique on the left. Little did anyone know that was going to be the order of the day — bombing, penetrating runs down the flanks, and a literal barrage of cruise missile type crosses from deep into the box or around it. The target man was Carroll and boy did he get it all right tonight.
Flicking it here, there, chesting it down, holding up play, smart distribution to the wings to bring Routledge into play, and making some determined runs himself to get onto the return passes. Amazing. The minutes ticked by and Villa just didn’t have an answer to his power, verve and determination.
Newcastle was playing like a real English team of old. Determined, hard tackling in the middle of the park, direct attacks down the flanks and a Goliath-type center forward with a touch of flair. None of this fancy-smancy Continental passing down the middle crap. To me, that was a real pleasure to watch — i just can’t remember the last time an English team played this way (certainly not the England team of WC2010).
The next two goals came in quick succession. Nolan getting onto a flick from Carroll (from, yup, a cross from Enrique on the left), and heading it in. Then from a corner, a high hanging ball glanced into the path of the well placed Carroll to swing it in. Two goals in 5 minutes. Villa were shell shocked. And, to be honest, so was i.
The second half started, and just like any long-suffering Newcastle fan, i still didn’t have the belief that they could pull this off. Too many leads thrown away over the years have dulled my sense of optimism, even with 3-0 up.
But, for all the pessimism i was feeling, it soon became obvious that Villa was feeling it much much worse. After 10 minutes of hardly trying, they seemed defeated, not even trying, and besides the incessant ranting of a frustrated Ashley Young, they were playing out the rest of the game.
The Newcastle of old would have said, “Thanks a lot, we’ll take 3-0 and go home.”
The Newcastle on show tonight, well, was hungry for more. The ruthlessness normally reserved for the Chelseas and the Manchester Uniteds seemed to be running through their veins.
After taking it easy for 20 minutes, the game came alive again. Another brief but brilliant exchange on the flanks, Barton slides the ball into the box, and Carroll is there taking a running one-time shot that buries itself into the corner. Under pressure from the defender, the young Carroll showed no nerves, it was such a cold clinical finish, you would have, for that instant, mistaken him for a young Dennis Bergkamp. 4-0.
This boy is tall, strong and dominates the aerial battle. AND he can make runs like that and finish with such accuracy? AND he’s English??? HERESY!
Goal #5 was just a few moments away. Another spell of wing play leads to a corner. Zoooom the ball comes in, is headed down and Nolan scissor kicks in it. St James’ goes wild in football nerdgasms! 5-0.
The game is truly dead, and both teams just stroke the ball around now. But Carroll is still sniffing for his hat trick and its duly delivered in the 90th minute. He makes a tremendous run in the box that completely loses his marker to latch on to a slicing ball from the left courtesy of Xisco, and calmly strokes the ball into the net for his 3rd. 6-0! Excellent finish to a sublime pass.
A day full of positives for Newcastle United. Its always important to win your home games in the Premiership, and to do so against such a good team as Villa on the back of a victory of their own speaks volumes about how different this Newcastle team is to the one that was relegated.
The players are mostly the same, except that this team just seems so hungry compared to the one with Owen, Martins and Beye of old. During the whole two seasons leading up to relegation, Newcastle has never played this well against such august opponents. A year in the Championship well spent, to blood the new talent and to remind everyone how good it feels to be a winner again.
Newcastle won’t win the Premiership this season. But with a few more displays like tonight’s, i think we’ll have earned the tag, “too good to go down” for real this time.
May the good times keep on rollin’.