Date:Monday February 7 2011
...even for a gobsh*te like me. How do you begin to wax lyrical about that game on Saturday? I'm not sure there are appropriate superlatives to truly describe the emotions Newcastle fans went through in just under 95 minutes on Saturday.
Against my usual better nature and totally unplanned, I didn't get back home until 9.30 Sunday morning, facing the good-natured wrath of my loving family. Instead I partied with fellow supporters and players in the bars of Collingwood Street until the early hours. And we didn't even win! Perhaps that sums up best what kind of day it was.
I`ve read some great reports from articulate and creative writers and read words like 'astonishing`, 'unbelievable`, 'breathtaking` . They all undoubtedly suggest the feelings but it was genuinely Roy of the Rovers stuff, as if scripted by a particularly excitable Newcastle fan. Quite simply you almost couldn`t have written it. If that Nolan chance had gone in at the end, I might have spontaneously combusted, just disappeared in a puff of smoke.
As it was, there were literally tears of joy when Tiote`s stunning equaliser hit the back of the net and grown men almost wept at the inexplicable comeback of all comebacks. Many of us with some years on the clock have watched a few classics over the years and I don`t need to recount them here, you`ll have made comparisons already. But personally, given the circumstances, I`m not sure I`ve enjoyed a result quite as much. The fact we didn`t even take three points make it`s all the more ludicrous.
The inevitable tide of emotions, however, meant that initially in the first half it was as low as Newcastle supporters have felt in recent years. Off the back of the unpopular sacking of Chris Hughton and the more recent sale of Andy Carroll without a due replacement, fans were already on the brink of mutiny once again. By the 26th minute and Arsenal`s fourth goal, it seemed like Premiership freefall had already begun. The very near future looked pretty bleak.
Forced into changes by injury and an ill-advised gamble of reducing an already threadbare strike force, Pardew went with the recognised 4-5-1 option and Nolan playing off the lone Leon Best. Perhaps surprisingly, Peter Lovenkrands filled in for Joey Barton who tucked into the middle, while Danny Guthrie predictably made way for the return of Cheick Tiote from suspension. Other than that, the line up was the same as the Fulham game.
What transpired was summed up perfectly by Pardew in his post-match interview, when he said the players had felt sorry for themselves. That was exactly what happened, as an undeniably potent Arsenal played out a training ground display around a hapless and dispirited home side. The tone was set in under a minute, when Walcott raced onto a through ball between Coloccini and Willamson and slotted home to make it 1-0.
Nobody wanted the ball and half the Newcastle players looked like they wanted to be elsewhere. So it was no surprise when Djourou extended that lead moments later with Williamson nowhere the defender as he headed powerfully into Harper`s top corner. Van Persie looked to have put the contest beyond doubt with two goals before the half hour mark, and it simply looked like game over.
The fourth goal was met with a thunder of discord and plenty of home supporters streamed out in disgust. Whether they will ever forgive themselves for missing that second half, only they will know. For those that stayed, half time was a surreal soul-searching fifteen minutes of reflection, following a round booing of their side as they trooped off dejectedly.
The players too had obviously done some soul-searching as they upped the tempo noticeably in the first few minutes of the second half. The best we hoped for was pride, but there was much more to come and nobody could have predicted what followed.
Undoubtedly, the sending off was the pivotal moment. Diaby`s needless dismissal following a robust but ultimately fair tackle from Barton, proved to be the turning point as the home side somehow smelled blood despite the deficit. It took the supporters a little longer but when Leon Best was bundled over, Joey Barton`s casual finish from the spot unbelievably stoked feelings of renewed hope but still it seemed implausible.
Even when Leon Best side-footed in a second, it appeared the best we could expect was to give them something to think about. Nile Ranger had certainly done that with his pace and energy, having a similar impact to those appearances against Liverpool and Man City. And he nearly broke his Premiership duck after a great bit of play between him and Gutierrez, but his effort was pushed away well by the keeper. That for me was where the real belief began to filter through to the crowd that something special could happen, and supporters I had never seen quite so animated produced a guttural urge to those in black and white.
And eight minutes later desperate hope turned to unpredictable belief as Barton converted a second penalty after a soft penalty decision, to bring us to the brink of an astonishing fight back. When the equaliser came, fittingly it was as unpredictable as the game itself, arriving from the most unlikely source. Cheick Tiote has hardly looked like hitting a barn door all season, but a mammoth display from him was capped perfectly as he met a clearance, and his text book left volley flashed into the bottom corner.
Cue delirium, most home supporters unable to properly express their emotions, some running along balconies (me), some just hugging and kissing anyone and everyone, others standing simply stunned. Tiote managed another monumental effort in running the entire length of the pitch, followed by his team mates and ending up in a heap just in front of Harper`s box.
And the game wasn`t over, as Nolan almost grabbed an inexplicable winner. Cliched or not, the roof would have come off, but his shot went narrowly wide. Van Persie almost claimed a cruel winner at the other end, but the offside decision was (just) the correct one and home fans breathed a sigh of relief.
When the final whistle went, it wasn`t just the players who were exhausted. In that final quarter, I`ve hardly known an atmosphere like it. Songs were indiscernible and it was simply a white noise. Quite how the Gooners who were in our company for the day felt, being hugged and kissed in the Gallowgate at 4-4, I`ll never know but even they said it was a memorable match to be at.
In the Leazes Corner, I managed to be at a game with eight goals and none of them at my end. Completely outplayed in the first half and staring into a potentially bleak relegation battle, to that in the second half, the players went from villains to heroes, and in some case perhaps legends. Simply unforgettable.
Harper 6, Simpson 7, Enrique 8, Willamson 7, Coloccini 8, Lovenkrands 7 (Ranger 8), Tiote 10, Barton 10, Nolan 8, Gutierrez 8, Best 8 (Guthrie 7).
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Date:Monday February 7 2011
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