Punching a horse or biting a Serb, there’s always something to obscure real issues
But there’s no hiding the fact Brendan Rodgers and Alan Pardew both need a good result today
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew.
Newcastle United and Liverpool have been meeting on Tyneside since November 1893 but it is probably fair to say none of the match previews since have begun with this quandary: What’s worse, punching a horse or biting a Serb?
As they gather at St James’ Park this evening, the two clubs and their followers have much to ponder beyond this existential guff, but you have got to start somewhere.
After Newcastle’s last home game, the 0-3 defeat by Sunderland, quite a few punters emerged from various nooks and bars to express themselves via the medium of recreational rioting.
One, who later pronounced himself an animal lover, thumped a police horse. There were 55 arrests at the last count.
Tyneside hung its head, for a day or so anyway, and the game thought it had witnessed its most esoteric outbreak of violence for the season.
Today is Newcastle’s return home and a 5.30pm kick-off leaves plenty of time for a Saturday afternoon relationship with drink to develop.
This can have its upside as St James’ can get very noisy and supportive for the home players and very noisy and challenging for the visitors.
But the downside was seen a fortnight ago and Newcastle United, the club, responded swiftly, banning “fans” found guilty of disorder.
The authorities were aided by CCTV, and the guilty by rolling footage which decrees that after 24 hours mangling the daylight on one subject, it’s time for another one.
Thankfully in football, you generally do not have to wait that long. It means that just as you’re about to ascend to your moral high ground and deliver a verdict – we must all have a strong opinion on everything – another topic comes along to divert attention.
Bayern Munich produced a perfect example of this when on Monday the club president, Uli Hoeness, admitted to a secret Swiss bank account that allegedly appears to have enabled him to avoid tax. Germany reacted with outrage.
If only outrage was a currency . . .
Within 24 hours Bayern had let it slip they would be signing Borussia Dortmund’s beguiling young forward Mario Götze for around €30 million.
This had the twin effect of switching the spotlight from Hoeness to Götze and it did so the day before Dortmund faced Real Madrid.
Dortmund fans burned Götze jerseys. Hoeness sidestepped into the background.
Those in the game still trying to cling on to a moral compass were once again checking co-ordinates.
On Thursday, another reaction was required when Suarez was given a 10-game ban by the English Football Association.
This infuriated the player and his manager Brendan Rodgers, who said the punishment was for “the man not the incident”.
You could feel a pulse of initial sympathy with this opinion until you recall Suarez had become an incident waiting to happen.
The Newcastle manager Alan Pardew then called for clarity in the disciplinary process.
No-one was talking about today’s match. Yet it matters, greatly. Pardew, and a few others, have been alarmed by the response to the Sunderland defeat. The man who won Manager of the Year last season has suddenly found his abilities questioned, and forcibly so.
While Newcastle were making progress in the Europa League, supporters were prepared to take a lack of it in the Premier League or the FA Cup or the League Cup.
But when Newcastle went out of the Europa League to Benfica, three days before the Sunderland loss, Pardew felt a wave of anger from the fans.
It had been there all along, particularly among those who had travelled to Brighton for an early kick-off in the FA Cup to see a weakened Newcastle team beaten.
Sunderland removed its suppression spectacularly and Pardew could do with an early home goal today.
Newcastle are unlikely to go down, but they are fifth-bottom and their next two games are away. Newcastle have one away win all season.
Given this fresh pressure, you can imagine a week-long debate about Suarez, combined with his suspension, gives the Geordies an advantage.
It will also give Rodgers a get-out. It is one he would be wise to resist should Liverpool lose. His squad should be strong enough to go to Tyneside and draw or win without Suarez. Daniel Sturridge cost €14 million and is 23. Rodgers bought him in January. He’s not a stop-gap.
Rodgers’ need for the likes of Sturridge to shine today is twofold: the team and club must adapt to life without Suarez for some time, if not permanently; and Rodgers could do with a stimulating end to the season.
To be at Anfield in mid-February for the Swansea game was to witness a support on hold. Liverpool won 5-0 but the mood was subdued, sullen. Judging by his demeanour after, Rodgers understood this.
Liverpool are seventh in the table with four games left. On Sunday week it’s a Merseyside derby at Anfield. Rodgers’ team have 51 points, one less than last season’s total, Liverpool’s lowest since the Premier League went to 20 teams in 1995.
There will be a debate about this first season under the Carnlough man after the last game – at home to QPR – and he could do with 10 more points to show improvement and promise for next season.
Suarez’s ridiculous bite on Branislav Ivanovic will have an on-pitch impact at St James’ but it also acts as camouflage. So too does Newcastle’s horse-puncher.
And which is worse? God knows. Biting a horse?
Forgotten but not gone: Stephen Quinn’s lack of Ireland recognition baffling
Hull City are closing in on promotion to the Premier League and their four Irishmen will probably soon be celebrating. David Meyler, Robbie Brady and Paul McShane are Irish internationals. Stephen Quinn is not. Quinn was named Hull’s Players’ Player of the Year last week and it could be said his manager Steve Bruce is bemused at the lack of international recognition for the midfielder.
“Stephen Quinn’s been terrific,” Bruce told The Irish Times. “I think he can play at the highest level. I looked at him at Sunderland, a few did. He’s only this big, bright-white and thin. But he’s tough, fiery and takes the ball. A great lad. I’d love to see him in the Premier League. I’m convinced he could play at any level. He’s a clever footballer.”
Quinn’s omission from the squads of Giovanni Trapattoni – and possibly even his thoughts – will not surprise Ireland fans. At 27, Quinn still has time but his omission chimes with another this week – Celtic’s players from the Scottish Player of the Year shortlist. Victor Wanyama, for one, has been a great presence. His absence is remarkable.