There was good news and bad news for Newcastle fans watching their team at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth on Saturday.
The good news, they won. The bad news, they were so thoroughly outplayed by a newly-promoted Bournemouth side who can rightly feel aggrieved that their depleted team didn’t come away with at least a point and probably all three.
Fans who make the Premier League’s longest trip for an early Saturday-lunchtime kick-off were treated to a lacklustre performance from their side, but did at least have three points to celebrate on the way home.
Newcastle fans have learned to be thankful for small mercies, but they’re also notorious for being ‘over-demanding’. It’s games like this one that make them seem that way. If they’re not happy with three points away from home in the Premier League they get tagged as hard to please. Understandable, really. But in this case the fact that Steve McClaren can point to three points on the board doesn’t mask the fact that he’ll be incredibly worried behind the scenes.
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Any bad team can pick up a few points here and there. It’s only a fool who sees a win as proof that your team is on the right track. It’s the performances that decide that.
There are some teams in the Premier League – Newcastle, Manchester United, Tottenham to a certain extent? – who want to see their team play nice football above all else. They care about results, of course, but that’s not the be all and end all. They just want to be entertained.
Newcastle may have been entertaining to a lot of people over the past few seasons, but they certainly haven’t been entertaining to their fans.
The one game that sticks in my mind was the FA Cup third round in 2014. Newcastle had a good start to the Premier League season, even after a bad league position the year before, but had tailed off slightly before Christmas. They were pretty much safe from relegation by this point, enough points ahead of the battle below, but too far from the pack ahead to mount a really serious tilt at a European place.
Having no European competition to deal with themselves, you’d think that an FA Cup run would have been the perfect target for the rest of the season. Instead of prioritising an FA Cup tie against a struggling Cardiff City, who were on their way to relegation, Alan Pardew made seven changes and lost the game 2-1.
It almost seemed antagonistic. It seemed like he wanted to lose the game just to rub mediocrity and stagnation right into the faces of Newcastle fans already angry with the way their club was run.
Coming back to this season again, and Newcastle are in a much worse league position, but they’re now out of the relegation zone. Even if they’re not already safe from the drop, McClaren can still use this win to build on. Even if wins don’t mean positivity, they can still give you a platform to build upon.
And so will Newcastle fall into the same trap this season as was set for them in previous seasons? Will Newcastle worry so much about simply keeping their place in the Premier League and securing a place in mid-table that they’ll forego the chance for cup glory again this season? Their squad might not be good enough or strong enough, even after all the money they’ve spent. But surely sport is about trying to win things?
Perhaps the Magpies can’t target actual cup success as the goal for this season. But at least giving it a go would be a successful season. It sounds like the least ambitious season objective ever: ‘just go out there and try your best, lads’. But that might just reflect Newcastle’s most successful season in years.