Sir Bobby - Gone but never forgotten - Part 2
Season 2001/02 was the season that defined Bobby at Newcastle however. Pre-season hardly saw a great deal of trading, with three players coming in. Robbie Elliott returned on a free from Bolton whilst the profligate Craig Bellamy came in underwhelmingly from Coventry. Finally the unknown Laurent Robert joined for a large £10m from PSG after much to-ing and fro-ing.
However the genius that was Sir Bobby galvanised the promise, the experience and the passion for NUFC that lay in his squad and did something that to this day, the likes of City, Spurs, Everton and Villa can only aim to replicate on a similar budget (or not in City's case).
An indicator was on the wall from game 1, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, where we battled away and Clarence Acuna bagged a point. September saw the likes of Robert and a fit-again Shearer kick into gear. Beating Boro 4-1 away was the appetiser to a classic 4-3 Newcastle special, this time against Man Utd. This time however we won.
Bobby had us playing the football of the Keegan era, had rejuvenated our flagging number nine and was loving the chance to manage his boyhood club. 3-1 wins at Everton and 4-0 at Bolton earmarked our status as dark horses before Villa were put to the sword 3-0 at SJP.
December 2001 was without a doubt my most special month following Newcastle. Finally finished my studies, I was earning a decent wage and could get home and away to every game. December was one of those months where all those trips to defeat after defeat come full circle and for once Lady Luck shined down.
Wins at Ipswich and v Blackburn were the start before four crazy days. December 18th saw us travel to Highbury in a humdinger of a match where O'Brien, Shearer and Robert scored in a 3-1 win that took us top of the league.
December 22nd took us to Elland Road against a decent Leeds side. Lee Bowyer had just been cleared of the Sarfraz case and it was a fired up atmosphere in West Yorkshire. Bellamy opened the scoring before our former rent-a-thug equalised for the Whites.
In a boxing match, we slugged it out from 3-1 down as Robbie Elliott and Shearer made it 3-3. Finally in the last minute, Dyer slipped Solano in behind Ian Harte in the channels. Solano slipped past Martyn to send us into bedlam and stayed top of the league. That level of football, that intensity, that pride - that was the hallmark of SBR.
Things continued in a similar vein in January as we kept beating teams to stay in contention. The Dabizas goal at Sunderland was particularly special for a Durham lad as we beat them 1-0 on Wearside. Every game seemed to be a drama, with 3-2 wins the norm.
Sadly it wasn't meant to be. Bergkamp scored one of the finest PL goals against us as Arsenal braved the cauldron and won 2-0. We were then trounced 3-0 by Liverpool before a 2-2 at Ipswich brought the title dream curtain down. However Bobby picked us up and focused on the Champions League.
Despite everyone hurting, SBR regalvanised the team. A 6-2 Good Friday win v Everton got the party started. Draws saw a slight stutter before one of my all-time favourite SBR games. Going down to Derby, we swiftly went 2-0 down by Christie and Morris and lost Shearer to a face smash with Rob Lee. However from adversity in the second half, goals from Robert, Dyer and then, again in front of a baying, mental mob, LuaLua cartwheeled away following the winner.
A thumping win against Charlton left us on the precipice before a dramatic 2-2 against Blackburn at Ewood meant we qualified in 4th.
Since then only Everton have broken that stranglehold with one top four finish. Since then the money and name of the Sky Sports Big Four has ensured a closed shop in those lucrative positions as Spurs, Everton and Villa continually falter in their pursuits. However we managed to do it again the next season, albeit one better!
Continued in part 3...