Wednesday 4th January 2012
Newcastle 3-0 Man United
Newcastle United began the 11/12 campaign with an extraordinary eleven match unbeaten run that soon turned Alan Pardew’s team into the surprise package of an intriguing season. Early highlights included a 1-0 derby victory over arch rivals Sunderland, hat-tricks for new signing Demba Ba in 3-1 wins over both Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City and a fine 2-1 triumph against Everton where Ryan Taylor lashed home an amazing strike to win not only the match but also the 'goal of the month' competition. These fireworks on the pitch paid dividends and come bonfire night, the Toon were proudly sitting third in the premiership table with only the two Manchester teams above them. Unfortunately the next eight matches would bring something of a wobble with just one win and two draws seeing the Toon slip to seventh but still dreaming of a place in Europe if we could recapture our early season form.
The first match of 2012 pitted Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils against Pardew’s unpredictable black and whites. Thankfully I’d been a very good boy that Christmas and Santa Clause brought me the one thing I truly wanted. A ticket in the Leazes End for the big match. The Toon hadn’t beaten Man United for over ten years and would start the match as huge underdogs. The two teams had already drawn 1-1 at Old Trafford earlier on in the season but this night would belong to just one United as an incredulous St James’ Park was about to be treated to one of the highlights of the season.
For once I got my priorities entirely right and decided to take a day off completing my university dissertation to head into the Toon and soak up the pre-match atmosphere. The mood in the pubs around the town appeared to be split. Some black and whites were nervous of both our recent form as well as the fact Man United needed a win to get back on track after a poor defeat against Blackburn Rovers last time out. Other more optimistic fans pointed to Demba Ba’s fourteen league goals and felt that on our day, we could be a match for anyone. Only one thing was certain, if the Toon were to pull this off we’d need 50,000 voices combining to form the twelfth man capable of swinging the match in our favour. Getting into the ground was magical - bright floodlights and green pitch providing the ideal contrast to the black sky and freezing cold, swirling winds. A set of stimuli determined to disorientate even the most sober of supporters. The atmosphere built into a crescendo, getting steadily louder and morphing into an ear-splitting roar to greet the two teams onto the field. The fans were ready, the players were pumped up and the scene was set for one of the most dramatic and ultimately triumphant nights in our recent history.
Not for the first time when Man United were in town, the match took on something of a derby feel with every touch from the reds booed and jeered as both sets of supporters looked to goad each other in order to gain an early advantage. At one end of the pitch Manchester United thought they’d drawn first blood when they saw a header bounce off the post whilst at the other end Toon fans were screaming for a penalty after Rio Ferdinand clumsily bundled over Demba Ba. Boos swept round the stadium even more ferociously than the wind as text messages from a global TV audience confirmed a definite foul that should have seen the real United awarded a spot kick. Man U were struggling to find any sort of rhythm with Chieck Tiote repeatedly breaking up their momentum and NUFC winning key battles all across defence and midfield.
(Picture credit: NUFC blog)
Newcastle were playing superbly controlled football and took the game to their illustrious opponents, tackling firm but fair, not allowing them to settle on the ball and repeatedly building from the back. On thirty three minutes, the pendulum gloriously swung towards the magpies. Tim Krul launched the ball forward, Shola Ameobi flicked a header on to the path of Demba Ba who positioned himself perfectly between two defenders and hooked the ball on the half-volley past the despairing dive of the goalkeeper. The agony of being denied a penalty was turned into pure ecstasy as the delighted Toon army celebrated their new hero’s fifteenth strike of the season. This was his most spectacular goal so far and easily the most important. As I was in the Leazes End lower tier slightly to the right of the goal, I had the perfect view of the ball hitting the back of the net before being engulfed in euphoric and prolonged celebrations. As things began to calm, the curmudgeonly old gentleman in the seat next to mine (who’d spent the first thirty three minutes complaining about anything and everything) turned to me with a smile as wide as the river Tyne and said “that was a magnificent goal”. As an eternal NUFC optimist, this was music to my ears. I was now preaching to the converted - even non-believers were daring to dream! The rest of the half saw Newcastle pulling the strings without creating any other clear cut chances whilst our opponents looked lost and frustrated. Halftime saw the Toon one goal to the good and just forty five minutes away from a famous victory.
The second half began with more than the odd nervous glance between home supporters. Manchester United were famous for their never-say-die attitude as well as coming from behind to snatch important results. Those of a black and white persuasion were understandably concerned that the first half had been too good to be true and the second would see both Uniteds revert to type. We needn't have worried. Attacking the Gallowgate end, the half was just two minutes old when Shola Ameobi drew a foul thirty yards from goal. When the shout went up for Ryan Taylor to reprise his brilliant winning goal against Sunderland earlier on the season (his fantastic freekick ensuring United left Wearside derby victors), Yohan Cabaye had other ideas. The Frenchman stepped up and smacked a swerving effort that dipped at the perfect time and canoned off the underside of the crossbar to clearly cross the line. Unlike Darren Peacock’s effort that was just over the line against the same opponents sixteen years previously, there was no dispute about this one. Cabaye sprinted towards the strawberry corner, sliding on his knees in pure jubilation before being mobbed by his delighted teammates. For the second time that night St James’ Park exploded into the night sky as total strangers embraced, this was the perfect start to the second half and was an absolute hammer blow to Man United’s hopes of a comeback. Fans who had previously been reduced to singing songs of past glories under former talisman Alan Shearer now had a whole host of new idols to serenade. All around St James’ Park people were smiling, cheering and punching the air as chants went up honouring the contributions of Tim Krul, Ryan Taylor, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba. Every significant touch from a Toon player was greeted with shouts of encouragement whereas each and every mistake from the reds was mocked and ridiculed in an attempt to unsettle their players further. The Man United fans who had begun the match crowing about their recent record at St James’ Park and Newcastle’s lack of success over the years retreated further into their shells with no option but to sullenly and quietly watch a Toon Army masterclass - both on and off the pitch.
(Picture Credit: Premier League)
If Newcastle were expecting a Man United backlash after going 2-0 up, they didn’t get it. The Toon continued to run the show and were refusing to give even an inch to their illustrious opponents. To his credit, Wayne Rooney did manage to fashion a chance and had Tim Krul beaten only for former red Danny Simpson to clear his effort off the line. This was a rare moment of uncertainty for the Magpies who calmly and confidently went through the business of closing the game down and taking their most significant scalp of the campaign so far.
With the clock ticking past ninety minutes, Tim Krul attempted to use up a few extra seconds by absolutely belting the ball upfield. At this point it seemed just a matter of time before the referee blew the final whistle to ensure the three points would remain on Tyneside. What Krul didn’t realise however was that this hoof into the opposition half would soon turn into a rather bizarre goal assist. There seemed very little danger when the ball bounced towards the Man United defence especially with Toon substitute Leon Best both isolated and surrounded by red shirts. As their goalkeeper however came out to retrieve the stray ball, his own defender Phil Jones hilariously got his angles all wrong and managed to bundle the ball past him into the empty net. This effort has gone down as one of the most unusual Toon goals of all time and put the gloss on a simply superb result. With United now three goals to the good and the referee ready to put the reds out of their misery, the own goal sealed our success and was celebrated long into the night. The roar that went up in response to this last minute bonus was soon eclipsed by another even louder one that greeted the full time whistle. Newcastle had taught the reigning champions a footballing lesson and every single player was deserving of the prolonged applause afforded to them at the end of the match as to a man the Toon Army stayed to lavish praise upon their superstars.
All over Tyneside, landlords rubbed their hands with glee as glass after glass was raised to one of our most famous ever premiership victories. Replays of the goals were cheered again and again by happy punters. NUFC had upset the odds and proved that ambitions of European qualification were far from misplaced. Newcastle United were back and finally looking up rather than down the Premiership table.
Demba Ba flew out to the African Cup of Nations the following week and would return without a winners medal but with a new strike partner, a certain Mr Papiss Cisse. The two played with each other for Senegal and were now club as well as international teammates. Newcastle would continue to enjoy eye-catching results throughout the remainder of the season with impressive victories over both Liverpool and Chelsea ensuring the Toon came within a whisker of qualifying for the Champions League. Our fifth place finish means the season will live long in the memory as easily the best under Mike Ashley’s disastrous reign as owner and nights like this provide a constant reminder of why we continue to follow our magic magpies.
(Picture Credit: Daily Express)