Martin Samuel: Nowhere men say goodbye: Newcastle are over-rated and now relegated
25 May 2009 09:29
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The falsely maligned novices of Manchester did their job. So, too, the old sweats from Stamford Bridge. It was to no purpose, in the end.
The nowhere men of Newcastle were beyond redemption, beyond the reach of local heroes and saviours empowered by tired old myths from an era that matters less with each passing campaign.
Newcastle are a thoroughly modern club in that they embody all that is soulless and uninspired in the 21st-century game. And that is how they went down at Villa Park. An over-rated and over-valued collection of players, stitched together by a series of moribund managerial teams and posturing, useless owners, offering nothing by way of resistance, and little of remorse.
When Chris Foy, the referee, brought their Premier League tenure to an end, several of the group, including the defender who came to sum up the malaise, Fabricio Coloccini, disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel with barely an acknowledgement of the travelling fans who, along with temporary manager Alan Shearer, if he stays, are all the club has left.
Shearer intends to meet Mike Ashley, the owner, this week and tell him what is wrong with his club. Ashley should schedule a long session and perhaps book a room for the night, plus breakfast. He should also make keeping the manager a priority.
Shearer has won a single game in eight and his players can hardly have been less impressive on their final Premier League outing. Yet while this is hardly the standard recommendation for employment, it must also be recognised that he inherited a squad that would have tested managerial genius.
If he was to leave, where would Newcastle go without him? This is a club in rudderless turmoil. Apres moi, le deluge, in the words of Louis XV. At least the weather turned out nice at first. In keeping with the misplaced optimism, the supporters began the day bathed in sunshine but as the game wore on, were increasingly shrouded in shade, nature writing its own metaphors for their plight.
It would have been fitting had a small cloud hovered, raining only on them, like the one that used to follow the Addams Family car.
There would have been a time when the players and supporters would at least have been united in misery on an afternoon such as this, but at the moment when all hope disappeared only Shearer seemed aware of the enormity of the event.
He walked forward from his dugout, slowly, as if in shock, like a battle- weary soldier emerging from the trenches after ceasefire. It may have been that he expected to meet his players half-way as they also made their way over to the supporters; instead he stood alone, the traditionally intrusive television lens thrust in his face.
As players passed him on the way to the dressing room, to switch on mobile phones and contact agents to facilitate the next move, Shearer tried to corral them to the rightful place. Like errant sheep, they avoided him, or made to take one path, then veered off.
A few, like Nicky Butt, offered applause by way of thanks, or apology, but the days of empathy between those on either side of the pitch-side hoardings have passed. Many of those that took Newcastle down will not be around to suffer the consequences.
The loyalists, meanwhile, will report for duty in the Championship on August 8. 'Hexham Mags on tour' read one banner. Who would have thought that next year it would include stop-offs at Scunthorpe and Peterborough? Survival Sunday was the television billing, but this had more of a suicide pact about it.
There was little drama on the day, because the teams at the bottom were too poor to take charge of their fate and would have dragged each other down like puppies in a sack had numbers allowed.
All four lost, Sunderland by a significant margin to a coasting Chelsea bidding farewell to Guus Hiddink (and manager Ricky Sbragia resigned immediately), Middlesbrough after fleeting resistance at West Ham United, Hull City to a Manchester United team that had little on its side except mystery.
A goal from Darron Gibson was enough to inflict defeat but that did not stop Phil Brown, the Hull manager, turning the celebrations at the end into an impromptu karaoke session, ignoring the fact that his team won one match in the last 23.
Ultimately, that was enough. This was not a vintage year. Despite the achievements of Manchester United and the summit that may be reached in Rome on Wednesday, this campaign will not be recalled with great satisfaction by the majority in the Premier League.
The worst teams went down, as Shearer manfully admitted, but some pretty poor ones stayed up, too.
Newcastle are flattered having made it to the final day of the season. One would have to wind back five seasons to find a year in which a total of 34 points would have kept a team up. The total that West Ham were relegated with in 2003, 42 points, would have placed a club 13th this season.
Yet Newcastle were relegated by a tiny margin, a single point, for want of a goal. That was all it needed yesterday. One measly goal. A tap-in, or a deflection of the type that Damien Duff afforded Aston Villa for their victory. It never came, nor did it look like coming.
The statistics on the Villa Park scoreboard told of Newcastle's three attempts on goal and slightly more off, but maybe the analysts were just being polite. Brad Friedel, the Villa goalkeeper, would have had few quieter games this season.
Gallows humour: Newcastle fans keep the faith
The paucity of invention from Newcastle was demonstrated when a wayward cross from Jose Enrique, a lacklustre substitute, drew cries of excitement and frustration normally reserved for a true scoring opportunity, of the type that used to be conjured by Newcastle strikers.
It is an irony that a club defined through history by its iconic No 9s should be relegated in this way; it is shameful that a squad that includes Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Shola Ameobi should find itself short of firepower.
So no alarms and no surprises, as the song goes. Newcastle were shut out, overwhelmed by Villa's midfield, picked off by their defenders. This from a team who have hit relegation form themselves of late. Villa were there for the taking yesterday had there been any fight in the opposition.
Newcastle, though, were damned and doomed long before the mathematics of relegation were confirmed. Shearer fumed on the touchline, but it was impotent fury, the frenzy of the powerless. 'Each day we delay planning for the future another room burns down,' he said, later. The firefighter had arrived too late. There was nothing left to do except turn off the sirens and go home.