Following their last-minute 1-0 defeat at home to Blackburn at the weekend, Newcastle midfielder/striker Alan Smith has issued a rallying cry to his teammates. “We’ve got to show to everyone that we want to fight for the cause. It’s getting tight but you always knew it would do. We looked at our home games as ones that were winnable, and one was Blackburn. We’ve deserved criticism on occasions this season and we’re all big enough to accept that. It’s up to us as a team, as players, and as people to sort that out.”
Alan Smith is one of two renowned fighters in the Newcastle line-up along with Joey Barton. It is clear that Smith can ‘talk the talk’ but I don’t think Newcastle fans are quite so confident that he can ‘walk the walk’.
I have looked at various fans forums and websites and it seems that most of the Toon Army can’t decide who was the worst buy out of Smith and Barton. At a time when the team need to fight for every point you would think these two would be invaluable, but it seems they are not.
With the possible exception of fans on Wearside and Teesside Newcastle became everybody’s second favourite team back in the nineties during Keegan’s first spell as manager of the club. The football they played was exhillarating and entertaining. With Ginola, Asprilla, Shearer and Ferdinand, they were a joy to watch. OK, they never knew how to defend, but boy could they attack. For a neutral, it was always great to see that they were playing in the live game on a Sunday.
Now Newcastle are not great to watch. The last time I saw them playing live they lost 4-1 at Aston Villa and to be honest, they looked a total shambles. Since then they have lost two games at home, the 5-1 humiliation by Manchester United, and the unlucky last minute defeat by Blackburn. They have played seven league games under Keegan this time around and haven’t won any. They’ve scored three and conceded seventeen in that time. So what is going wrong?
Kevin Keegan returned to St James’ Park as the Geordie Messiah. His appointment was greeted with joy on Tyneside, cautious optimism by most pundits and surprise by some. It was clear that Big Sam Allardyce’s position was becoming untenable due to fan pressure and the fact that owner Mike Ashley hadn’t selected him in the first place. However, a look back will show that when Allardyce was fired, Newcastle were sitting in eleventh place in the table, nine points clear of the drop zone. That is a position that any Newcastle fan would swap for now.
Since Keegan took over there have been some very strange goings on at Newcastle. Particularly the appointment of Dennis Wise. The day before this appointment, Keegan seemed to suggest that he knew nothing about it. On the day of the appointment Keegan claimed he had been fully involved and had been an integral part of the process.
During the transfer window Keegan was linked with a move for Jonathan Woodgate, but he chose to go to Tottenham. Keegan was linked with several other players who never made it to St James’ Park. Somewhat bizarely, Keegan claimed at the end of the window that he had decided he didn’t want to buy anyone because he didn’t need them. Now, of course, he is saying he inherited this team and needs to get to the summer when he can bring in four or five new players.
We have had the ‘will he won’t he’ saga of whether Alan Shearer was going to join the coaching staff. Keegan seemed to be putting positive signals out which appeared to have no basis in truth, and had to be denied by Shearer.
I fear that the owner and the chairman were scared by the anger of the Toon Army earlier in the season and brought in Keegan in an attempt to pacify them. The very public moves to try to get Shearer on board may well have been for the same reasons.
Now after the latest defeat we have tabloid reports of crisis talks at Newcastle and an interesting interview with Chairman Chris Mort in which he gives Keegan the dreaded vote of confidence. “The board is 100% behind Kevin, and there is no doubt or worry that he will walk away,” Mort told BBC Radio Five.
With Keegan’s track record of walking away from jobs, and the fact that the Chairman has even mentioned it, I would guess that there have indeed been some ‘crisis talks’.
Recent reports suggested that the club’s finanaces are not looking good and there is now a public row about whether Steven Taylor, one of the genuinely bright prospects at Newcastle will be given a new contract. These items were covered by Ahmed yesterday.
So with the team sitting just three points off the drop zone and facing a game at Anfield, are they seriously in trouble? With Reading, Birmingham, Sunderland and Wigan all picking up points on Saturday, and showing some fighting spirit, I would say that they definitely are in trouble. They still have to play Birmingham, Fulham, Reading and Sunderland. Each of those games will be crucial for the Magpies.
The fact is that Newcastle are not ‘too good to go down’. It could happen. Derby are definitely down and Fulham look to be in some trouble, but the third place is wide open. If Newcastle do not sort things out quickly, they may well drop into that place.
The basic fact is that whatever managerial changes have taken place, whatever problems there are off the field, a team containing Shay Given, Steven Taylor, Joey Barton, Alan Smith, James Milner, Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen and other top, top players, should not be in the position they find themselves in.
Some of these players need to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and ask if they are doing enough. It’s time for the likes of Alan Smith to ‘walk the walk’.
It would be a shame to see a team with the fan base and reputation of Newcastle drop into the Championship, but I fear too many poor decisions based on the wrong reasons have been made. I truly hope that King Kev can rescue them and the players can do what they are paid to do. There is little sign so far that either of those things is going to happen.