So it turns out, after all, that Alan ‘Neil Lennon headbutted my foot’ Shearer’s installation as Newcastle United’s latest manager, their fourth this season, was not an April Fool’s joke. Honestly, it’s true. And, what’s more, his decision to appoint Iain Dowie as his right-hand man wasn’t a joke either! But then, what more can one expect from a club as tumultuous as Newcastle United? The sleeping giants (in other words: a rubbish team with ‘loyal’ supporters; a bit like dirty Leeds) have churned through managers this season with approximately the regularity with which they have churned through centre backs over the years. King Kev’s (possibly the only person who could rival Shearer’s legendary status in the North East) honeymoon period, which would probably have lasted forever, was brought to an abrupt end with his resignation in September of last year. Joe Kinnear arrived from the wilderness, swore a lot, and then needed a heart bypass operation. Perennial stopgap Chris Hughton, Christian Gross’s assistant manager at Spurs, stepped in to save the day, but hasn’t secured victory for the barcodes since his very first few hours in the role at West Bromwich Albion in early February.
The Newcastle hierarchy obviously decided enough was enough and in a desperate attempt to save face opted to play their joker, the card they had kept up their sleeve for when relegation genuinely loomed. And loom it does. Newcastle lie in the bottom three, two points from safety, in poor form and with a very tricky run in. After Saturday’s game they travel to Stoke and Tottenham. The ‘Shearer effect’ must take an immediate stranglehold on the team if they are to get out of their current dire predicament. However his squad is the same that have returned just six wins all season and scored a measly 35 goals. With Michael Owen surely opting to focus on the Grand National this weekend the Barcodes may turn to Mark Viduka to provide some salvation. Elsewhere, injuries to Steven Taylor, Sebastien Bassong and Damien Duff look to have healed in time for tomorrow’s clash. Chelsea have injury doubts over Jose Bosingwa and Nicolas Anelka, who will almost certainly be unavailable. Bosingwa’s injury could see Branislav Ivanovic handed a rare start, while Kalouda will fancy their chances of replacing Anelka.
After what feels like an eternity it will be great to see Chelsea in action again. It has been two whole, and extremely painful weeks after the defeat to Spurs meant we went into the international period on a sour note. Let’s also hope that Liverpool’s stupendously good run of form prior to the internationals will end abruptly at Craven Cottage tomorrow. If Fulham again take points of one of our rivals, like they did so brilliantly against United, and Chelsea fail to win then any glimmering hopes of lifting the Premier League come the end of May will finally have been extinguished after a tortuous league campaign that at one point threatened to ignite.
Chelsea’ recent record at St James’ Park isn’t anything to write home about, although our comfortable 2-0 victory there last season should end any thoughts that this is one of our bogey grounds. That day Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda scored the goals that kept our title dream alive to the very last day of the season. How the much maligned duo would love to have a similar affect in tomorrow’s clash. Indeed, Ballack will be hoping for a third wonder goal in as many games, having netted a couple of gems for Germany against Liechtenstein and Wales respectively. The midfielder is yet to register for Chelsea in the league this season, a remarkable statistic considering he netted five times last term in the last five months of the season alone.
After Saturday we travel to Anfield for our annual Champions League clash with Liverpool, a game which, dare I say, could possibly be quite exciting. Ok, maybe not. But it does herald the start of a midweek football fiesta with Chelsea, if successful against Livepool, playing three times a week well into May. With so many vital fixtures coming thick and fast building up a head of steam is a necessity if Chelsea are to end the 2008/09 season successfully, which to happen will have to include a trophy (the FA Cup will do). So a win coupled with a decent performance at St James’ Park could well be the start of something much greater. And you know what? It will burst Newcastle and Shearer’s bubble too, and what a bonus that would be.