LEEDS, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Tributes are left at the Billy Bremner statue outside Elland Road football ground in memory of former player Leeds United Gary Speed on November 28, 2011 in Leeds, England. Wales Manager Gary Speed, 42, was found dead on November 27, 2011 in Cheshire, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Liverpool 3, Newcastle 1 was a disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic first half of football, at least by Newcastle's recent standards. At 8-6-5, Newcastle sit in 7th place with 30 points, well above most reasonable fans' expectations. That doesn't mean the journey to this point was all sunshine and roses; far from it. Because I'm the kind of guy who likes to hear the bad news first, in the hopes that the good news will then overshadow it, we're going to revisit the 10 worst moments of the first half today, then take a look at the 10 best tomorrow. Let me know what you think in the comments.
10. Blackburn Rovers 4, Newcastle United 3 (aet), October 26
Getting eliminated from the Carling Cup isn't a big deal; it happens to Newcastle every year. The way it happened this time was absolutely heartbreaking, though. The Magpies entered stoppage time of the second half down 2-0, with elimination a foregone conclusion, but Danny Guthrie and Yohan Cabaye weren't ready to concede the match just yet, as each found the back of the net before the whistle blew. It looked like it would all be for naught when Morten Gamst Pedersen pushed the Rovers back ahead in the first extra time, but Peter Lovenkrands drew a penalty and equalized once again. Penalty kicks looked like a sure thing, but Christopher Samba found the net with his head with just two minutes left. Hopes were lifted, and then dashed. Even more frustrating than the game itself was the fact that Blackburn drew Cardiff City in the quarterfinals, then decided to rest everybody and lost. Newcastle will have their chance for revenge on January 7 when they host the Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup.
9. Modibo Maiga Deal Falls Through Again, December 16
Modibo Maiga has done everything in his power to leave Sochaux for Newcastle other than sitting down on the pitch and holding his breath until he gets his way, and I get the feeling he would do that too if he thought it would actually help his case. His medical on December 16 was supposed to be a mere formality to cap off a transfer almost 6 months in the making, but team doctors saw something that prevented the move - either that, or Newcastle got cold feet and used it as an excuse, if Maiga's camp is to be believed. Now Alan Pardew says that the Toon won't be bringing in any strikers at all during the January transfer window.
8. Transfer Deadline Day, August 31
Of course, Pardew may be hedging his bets a little after being so roundly criticized for promising to buy players (plural) on the last day of the summer window, then failing to do so. Those looking for an excuse to be angry responded with some rather pitiful moral grandstanding about being lied to, which sort of obscures a decent point: The £35 million from the now year-old Andy Carroll sale still hasn't been reinvested, unless you really believe that agents' fees on a few small transactions cost that much.
7. Newcastle Supporters Invade Pitch at Darlington, July 15
Pitch invasions can be dangerous (anybody remember the Sunderland fan clocking Steve Harper last year?), and they're not really meant to be a joke. Just about every fanbase in Europe sings some variation of "If _____ scores, we're on the pitch," but that doesn't mean they actually do it if they get the chance...especially if said event happens in a preseason friendly against an opponent that is four tiers below you in the football pyramid. How embarrassing.
6. Joey Barton Takes On the Club, Every Day of the Summer
It started out like a typical negotiation: player demands a lucrative new contract that bucks the current wage structure, club declines, player requests transfer. Neither Joey Barton nor the Newcastle board were content to leave it at that, however. Barton took to the newspapers, where he gave endless interviews claiming interest from top clubs and saying the entire football world would take his side if they could only see how awful Newcastle is. He also used the outlet of Twitter to his advantage, bizarrely quoting Nietzsche and George Orwell, all the while taking the time to individually brand each of his haters with his favorite insult, #helmet. Newcastle responded by forcing him to train alone and releasing a list of grievances in the press. Supporters took Barton's side, but in the end, everybody lost. After several days of publicly asking another club to step in and save him, Joey signed with Queens Park Rangers on August 26, citing the club's ambition and ability to sign the players they want (Wayne Routledge notwithstanding). #Ouch.
5. Craig Bellamy Scores A Brace, December 30
Craig Bellamy has never been a candidate to honor the tradition of not celebrating after scoring against his former club. That's partly because of the way he left, and partly because he's Craig Bellamy, and Craig Bellamy does what Craig Bellamy wants. Newcastle had a chance to overtake Liverpool in 6th place at the end of 2011, but Craig Bellamy had other ideas, scoring two and celebrating like only a man with one sleeve tattoo can.
4. Jose Enrique Leaves, August 11
For many, this item could be about Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan (or Wayne Routledge, I guess). For me, the loss of Jose Enrique hurt the most. He's one of the best left backs in the Premier League (funny how many are just now coming to this conclusion), and his absence has left a gaping hole. More damaging than that was his there-are-only-six-teams-in-the-league-that-matter attitude. I'm well aware that this is very much the norm these days, but it still hurts when one of your favorite players so openly espouses it as well, even while he still wears the shirt of one of the Generic 14.
3. St James' Park Becomes Sports Direct Arena, November 10
Newcastle's home stadium managed to hold onto its historical moniker for 119 years...until now, when Sports Direct mogul and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley decided to name the park after his own company. The move was meant as a "showcase" for other companies interested in purchasing their own naming rights, but for most supporters, it was just confirmation that Ashley and company can't go more than a couple of months without creating their own public relations nightmare.
2. Steven Taylor Lost for the Season, December 3
Newcastle lost one of the pillars of their team and reasons for their early success when Steven Taylor went down with an Achilles' tendon injury in the waning moments of a loss to Chelsea. To add insult to injury, Alan Pardew suggested publicly that the injury occurred because he was forced to work harder on account of Chelsea possessing the audacity to field an 11-man team. Taylor's importance to the squad was underscored just a week later when Norwich City scored 3 headed goals en route to a 4-2 drubbing of the Magpies.
1. Gary Speed Passes Away, November 27
The football world was shocked to learn that former Newcastle man and Wales manager Gary Speed had taken his own life at the age of 42. I feel wholly unqualified to write a tribute on his behalf, so I'll link to this fine obituary instead. A dark day indeed for Newcastle and all of football.