May 16th 2008, the date that Alan Shearer managed the last Newcastle United team to lose at St James Park. Under the unassuming Chris Hughton a reinvigorated Newcastle squad went 16 months, 26 games and a little shy of 2400 minutes of football without defeat at home.
However, last weekend Ian Holloways Blackpool team, who finished some 32 points behind the Magpies in the Championship last season, put an end to this air of invincibility that had engulfed the Tynesiders.
Within the Newcastle camp they will be telling themselves that a 2-0 defeat to a well organised and highly motivated Blackpool team, inspired by an eye catching display from the their goalkeeper, is not the end of the world. However, the seeds of doubt have been planted as the fortress St James bubble was burst.
On the same September weekend of the 2008/2009 season, which saw Newcastle relegated, they lost in similar fashion, 2-1, to Hull City. The alarm bells were not sounded that day for relegation was an unimaginable fate, however 8 months later when the nightmare became a reality and they fell short of survival by just one point to Phil Browns Hull City, they lived to rue that September defeat.
In 8 months time I do not expect Newcastle to be cursing this loss to Blackpool as they did last time round; however, for this to be so their home form must not desert them as it has in years gone by.
As the great Roman philosopher Gaius Plinius contested; “the only certainty is that nothing is certain”. A theory that all football managers will agree with. No one more so than Chris Hughton; as he watched his side tumble from the dizzy heights of a 6-0 victory over Aston Villa to the sobering depths of a 2-0 defeat to Blackpool.
With Plinius’ theory in mind, Hughton and his team will appreciate that no team has a divine right to Premier League status.
Survival comes through cohesion amongst the team both on and off the pitch, something Newcastle teams of old have rarely mastered. Hughton does seem to have eradicated the egoism within the squad that proved the undoing for many the procession of managers who have gone before him.
Through appointing a panel of senior players to act as intermediaries between the team and the coaching staff he has provided an outlet for the players to vent frustrations without needing to challenge the managers authority. This has allowed problems to be sorted internally, enabling the senior player’s panel to put forward, in a more eloquent manner, only the most pressing of issues.
With their unbeaten home record spoilt by fellow relegation rivals and as Plinius notes; uncertainty most certainly lying ahead. The unity within the Newcastle ranks will be called into question. If Hughton continues to provide the glue that holds the magpie’s ship together it will once again be reflected on the pitch. Should this harmony desert them then they may just rue this September defeat once again.