Whoever was enlisted to turn back the clocks
last week at St.James' Park looked to have been a little too enthusiastic,
with the result that we were transported back to a time of defensive dithering
and a home crowd who were anything but supportive of their own side.
After a smart Milner drag back drew applause in the opening moments, it was a
case of gone in 197 seconds for our unbeaten home record as Portsmouth netted
with one corker and two gifts.
In the comedy world that is Newcastle United, Claudio Cacapa had spent a day
leading up to this game experiencing the practicalities of blindness by being
That was part of the Premier League Creating Chances initiative, but obviously
someone forgot to tell the defender that it didn't actually extend to covering
one's eyes at work - or handing gift -wrapped presents to Premiership
The consternation of the crowd, paucity of our defending and tepid response
memories of last January's FA Cup humiliation here by Birmingham, but in
fairness that was partly due to Taylor's dismissal at 1-2. There wasn't even
that excuse today.
The visiting bench could hardly believe it, while the travelling support were
in raptures - and uncharted territory, unless there were any Hampshire
Septuagenarians lurking up in Level Seven.
Although messrs Adams, Jordan and Redknapp have been no strangers to success
here over the years, Pompey had failed to win on Tyneside since a 3-1 victory in August 1949.
A great many of their subsequent visits have seen the Fratton faction indulge in exactly
the same sort of meek showing that we served up today,
with Redknapp himself presiding over a muddled, hollow rag-bag of a side that
gave Glenn Roeder a winning start to his Newcastle reign in 2006.
This was Harry's game though - with the flexible 4-5-1 that saw him win 7-4 at
home to Reading recently remaining as potent up front and marrying it up with
a little more solidity, most notably from the unflappable Distin.
And it was hard to
begrudge the celebrations and songs of the Portsmouth fans, who know only too
well about 4am starts, dashed hopes and long pointless treks home across half
the length of the country. Not that
fecker with the bell though - not him.
Last week's error-strewn defeat at the Madejski had ultimately seen us
punished by one defensive cock-up too many, after numerous let-offs. Today
though there was scarcely time to blink before Portsmouth punished us further
with more clinical finishing.
Three down and we were reeling, with Allardyce making his way to the dugout to
tinker in an attempt to stem the blue tide.
But before he'd had the chance to drag off the bewildered Brazilian, Sol
Campbell had followed in the steps of Duberry last week, gifting us an
undeserved route back into the match by registering a goal in our favour.
That left us two goals
behind with more than three quarters of the game left and a home crowd
surely requiring only limited encouragement in the form attacking effort to supply vocal support.
And what did we get in the following hour of play before Portsmouth put us of
our misery? Nowt.
In the welter of post-match recriminations
and talk of inquests etc. that followed, our defensive inadequacies were at
the centre of things - with certain newspapers delighting in publishing lists
of the deadbeats we'd shelled out mega millions for in the last decade.
Once the anger, bewilderment and
embarrassment subsides though, it's not the goals conceded as much as the 60 minute gap between the visitors scoring their third and fourth (at
the intended end) and our failure to mount a convincing response
The match stats show that we had 49% of play and that James made stops to deny
Taylor, Smith and Owen. Overall though, there was a lack of conviction about
our comeback on and off the field.
It's not as if we haven't indulged in this sort of thing before after all -
overturning a two goal deficit here in January against West Ham, or as we were
today, being 3-1 down with a quarter of the game remaining a decade ago when
Leicester were in town.
Had Viduka limped into the fray something might have stuck up front, but as it
was Owen looked a forlorn figure up front.
Comparisons with Peter Beardsley during our "Land of the Giants"
Cuningham and Reilly phase were obvious - save that we were still serving up
the sort of high balls even they would struggle to reach, never mind the
diminutive forwards we currently deploy.
In midfield meanwhile Barton was getting fit the hard way as Pompey dug in
with their numerical advantage in that area and were content to watch us waste
possession time after time.
There's been some furore about Zog and Milner being deployed on the
"wrong" wings - but in reality it's nothing that they haven't done at
various points in other matches - Milner's finest strike in our colours to
date coming when he cut inside from the left flank to net against Man United.
More difficult to fathom was the favouring of
Smith over Martins - our best guess being that the Yorkshireman had bent the
ear of his manager non-stop for a fortnight while suspended to be given a go
up front alongside his occasional England striking colleague.
Nothing the former Leeds man did here though justified his inclusion or
remaining on the field for the duration. Still don't see this one at all,
Once the local skirmish is out of the way, we
then ramp things up with a double home test of Liverpool and Arsenal,
sandwiched by a visit to form side Blackburn - three fixtures requiring
decidedly more skill and determination than the shallow waters of the opening
part of the season, where we've found sharks lurking nonetheless.
Things should become a good deal clearer then by the time Birmingham appear
here in a month - with that old adage about only ever being two games away
from a crisis holding good - at least in the minds of the huffy elements of
our fanbase, stoked up by irresponsible media f*ck wits.
A victory over the mackems or at least a continuation of our unbeaten run at
the dark place would be a colossal shot in the arm ahead of the time when this
season really kicks into gear. Defeat though would give the whingers and
wailers a field day.
The SJP crowd's collective failure to interact or show genuine empathy in the
form of support throughout the game today was as depressing as it was
expected. Short memories, lads.
Sh*t-stirring papers claimed that hundreds of fans had left at 0-3 and while
that's just not true, the ease with which Newcastle supporters can be
separated from their seats is becoming bewildering - turning up now seems to
be enough of a gesture of support for many.
It's been obvious for some time that people's attention spans have dropped to around
25 minutes per half, but tolerance levels now seem to be roughly akin to the
average chocolate fireplace.
The only logical conclusion is that Allardyce has backed a loser by coming
here and has failed already in the hearts and minds battle with elements of
the rank and file.
Nine goals and nine points in our previous three home games counted for
nothing today to those people, who seem to take a perverse pleasure from
seeing us fail - and bring only poorly-masked contempt to the party. Surely
you should be used to losing by now? Get over it - and grow up.
We're not in Europe, we're not playing wonderfully, we've not won a proper
trophy since 1969.
But surely there's at least now the chance of seeing something turn
around here and a club at least trying to re-invent itself, rather than spiral
further into the pit that we found ourselves in last season.
At that point, any sort of hope had been almost totally extinguished and the name Mike Ashley meant nothing to anyone.
Had we not screwed this game up completely, a draw or win would have extended
our unbeaten home start further - a start that's already one of our best this
Instead though, we lose and flavour of the month Mark Hughes is mentioned in
connection with the job by the papers. After eleven league games the
knives are out in some quarters for the manager and his team. Even by our
standards that's mad.
Maybe we're totally off the mark though and the only way to ultimately move
forward is to dispense with the last major part of the Shepherd administration
and chop out Sam.
The big imponderable in all this is that we know the script almost off
by heart - that familiar circle of pressure, impatience and reaction.
People had the measure of hire 'em and fire 'em Freddy, but nobody yet knows
how the new owner will react to being part of this boom or bust
madhouse - least of all Allardyce.
With home support like
this though, what chance has anyone got of succeeding here?