Sid Lambert is a 43-year-old man playing Retro Football Manager on his iPhone. He’s gone back to 1995/96 to take over Newcastle United and put right what once went wrong: beat Manchester United to the title. And he’d love it if he beat them. Love it.
The last update saw us nestling comfortably in second place, before a hammer blow from Old Trafford where a billionaire owner had swanned into the Premier League and threatened to blow open the title race.
Still smarting from this bombshell, the fixture list brings us no relief. We’ve got a trip to Anfield in the offing. Roy Evans’ side are a strange old team. Fowler and Collymore are amongst the deadliest strike forces in the league and a midfield axis of Barnes, Redknapp and McManaman is good enough to compete with any of the title favourites.
The problem is their backline. Relying on the likes of Bjornebye, Scales and Babb to keep clean sheets at the top level is like inviting King Herod to your child’s christening. However, despite their obvious weaknesses (marking, tackling, positioning) I resist the urge to go too gung-ho. You never know with these things
So I decide to play it safe, playing Big Al up top on his own with runners from midfield supporting the cause.
The tactic works a treat as we boss the first 20 minutes. It’s like watching Johan Cruyff’s Total Voetball Dutch side of the 1970s, with a couple of reducers from David Batty thrown in. We get the reward our possession deserves when Shearer, on his own against three centre halves who are defending their penalty area like it’s littered with landmines, finds space to steer us in front.
Sadly, our own defensive woes continue. Darren Peacock’s got the concentration of a goldfish who’s just necked a pint of Stella. He leaves Steve McManaman with so much room I wonder if he’s developed an allergy against the Liverpool forward.
Our morale gets a boost immediately after the restart. I’m not one to speculate on Roy Evans’ half-time team talk, but judging by Stig Bjornebye’s demeanour I can only assume he stuck on Rambo: First Blood while the lads were tucking into their Lucozade Sport.
It’s an awful challenge from the Norwegian and suddenly we’re in the ascendancy at Anfield.
From then on, it’s a procession of chances. I bring on the extra striker to cause more mayhem in the box, but David James thwarts us at every turn. A point here would have been most welcome beforehand, but we know we’ve missed out on three points here.
Next up we’re at home to West Ham United. Selection-wise, I’ve got an easy decision to make. Peter Beardsley’s ageing legs make way for Tino Asprilla’s rubber ones. Bless Tino, he hasn’t really adapted to English conditions yet and rarely has the stamina to play two weeks in a row. Having said that, a touch more effort might help proceedings. I’m not saying he’s lazy but yesterday he turned up for training in a sombrero and flip-flops.
The Colombian starts like he has a point to prove. He creates the opener for Shearer who could park a bus in the gaping holes left by West Ham’s back line. We’re doing all sorts of damage from wide areas where Ginola and Gillespie are on fine form. Poor Steve Potts, normally a respectable Premier League professional, looks like a man whose feet have been surgically replaced with cauliflowers.
In the second half, Tino gets the goal his performance deserves after some nice work by Christian Panucci, who’s settling nicely into his role as our resident rampaging full-back.
Meanwhile, Pavel Srnicek enjoys one of those afternoons where he could pop home to redecorate his front room in between West Ham attacks. It’s a stroll in the park and three of the most comfortable points well earn all season.
I’m a big believer that complacency is a football club’s biggest danger. Players get a few wins together, their star shines a little brighter and then the distractions come. Before you know it, they’re out drinking with Britpop’s biggest names, and ploughing their way through FHM’s Top 100.
Well, not at my Newcastle United. The 90s might be in full swing, but we’re focused on one thing: the Premier League title. As such, it’s time to introduce a new face into the mix. Someone to keep everyone’s ego in check. A man with a left peg that could peel a satsuma, and a reputation that’s second to none.
Welcome to Tyneside, Wor Gheorge.
I decide to throw the £3m Romanian straight into the starting XI for our biggest game of the season. The build-up to derby days in this area are legendary. Everywhere I go, fans remind me of the importance of getting three points. I decide to take my mind off matters by popping down to Blockbuster and hiring one of the year’s biggest hits: Seven. It’s a movie about a psychopath who tortures and kills his victims to fulfil his morbid desires. David Batty took his wife to see it on Valentine’s Day.
On the day of the game, I’ve got no qualms about Hagi starting. He’s played on the world’s biggest stage, gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Maradona and Matthaus. I reckon he’ll be ok against Robbie Mustoe.
I’m sorry, Gheorge. So, so sorry. The game is an abomination. A disgrace. An affront to everything that Pele and Puskas and The Beautiful Game have ever stood for. The whistle blows and for 90 minutes the ball is an innocent bystander, an unintentional witness to a display of staggering thoughtless, shapeless thuggery that shames every one of the 22 players on duty.
There are no goals. No passes. No shots. Just a blob of humanity running and kicking, kicking and running. It ends a goalless draw on a day when football is unquestionably the loser.
It’s hard to know what to do after a performance like that. I should be happy that we’ve ground out two draws from two tricky away games and remain in touching distance with top-of-the-table Blackburn.
We may not always be entertaining, though we’re efficient at least. But is it enough to win us the title?
Written by Sid Lambert from A Funny Old Game
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