Spurs became the latest side to humiliate Newcastle United on the field as they strolled to victory on Sunday afternoon, extending the club’s losing sequence to six games that mirrors our previous worst run in the Premier League.
Twelve months on from reaching that unwanted record under Alan Pardew’s command, his successor John Carver was equally powerless to prevent a wholesale surrender from a disheartened and disjointed group of players – calling them a team would be grossly inaccurate.
This latest setback took place against a backdrop of supporter unrest that was planned in advance of our latest derby defeat, but gained added impetus as the financial results of the club were delivered and yet another demoralising defeat was recorded at Anfield.
Rather than the protests inside the ground that made a for a poisonous atmosphere against Cardiff City a year ago though, the call to boycott the game was heeded by a cross section of fans including season ticket holders prepared to leave empty seats they had already paid for.
Hundreds of fans assembled outside the Gallowgate End before and after Sunday’s game to call for the owner’s departure, but thousands more stayed away entirely – opting to watch it on live TV at home or in pubs, or do something completely different instead.
That left the game to be played with around 10,000 empty seats scattered across all four sides of the stadium, although an official attendance of 47,427 was announced – that figure based on match tickets sold.
As a result, the subdued and subversive St. James’ Park had all the atmosphere and anticipation of a pre-season friendly and United’s fitful performance did little to stir those who had ignored the boycott from their slumbers.
The season’s lowest crowd at St.James’ Park was still the weekend’s highest domestic league attendance, but the absence of passion, commitment or interest was surely unsurpassed anywhere – even the 1,351 at Accrington.
Missing from his seat – although presumably not joining the boycott – was owner Mike Ashley, with the club’s PR guru Keith Bishop present alongside MD Lee Charnley.
The visiting team enjoyed a comfortable afternoon in the sunshine and did just enough to collect their first win in three games, although the glaring opportunity to improve their goal difference in the second half was missed.
For United there were a handful of decent displays from a side showing worrying signs of rigor mortis. Goalscorer Jack Colback refuses to lie down and roll over, although his clear frustration with the failings of those around him resulted in his twelfth yellow card of the season.
Lacking support and seemingly perceived as a diver by the refereeing community, Ayoze Perez continues to show flashes of promise up front and there was a welcome return of captain Fabricio Coloccini to the defence.
That allowed Daryl Janmaat to resume right back duties in a back four that looked a little less brittle and again featured Vurnon Anita in the left back role.
Ryan Taylor moved up into midfield with Moussa Sissoko banned, while Yoan Gouffran was included at the expense of Gabriel Obertan in the only other starting XI change.
Absent from the squad completely (although he later confirmed his availability on social media) was Jonas Gutierrez, with youngsters Olivier Kemen, Jamie Sterry and Adam Armstrong bulking out the subs bench.
However, the majority of the Magpies on display were short on confidence, ability and application and this squad of players is simply not good enough for this division.
If not this year, then relegation in 2016 looks a good bet at the current rate of decline. It’s hard to think of a side who possess less physical presence and at times, Spurs were able to mark up at set pieces by merely standing in front of their opponents and blocking out their view.
You’d also have to go a long way to encounter players who less uncomfortable in possession than this lot, are woefully short of pace and lack the intelligence to make runs or pick out the movement of their colleagues.
After a mundane opening half hour when Perez and Remy Cabella got on the end of low crosses to have shots of a fairly unthreatening nature, Yoan Gouffran’s error allowed Nacer Chadli to push on before shooting past Tim Krul for his second goal in as many visits to Tyneside.
Carver made a double change at the break, with the unfortunate Mehdi Abeid making way for Obertan and Gouffran thankfully replaced by Sammy Ameobi.
And as had been the case at White Hart Lane earlier in the season, United found an equaliser within a minute of the restart. Good work from Perez gave Janmaat a shooting chance but as his initial effort was deflected, Colback was on hand to smash it home.
Sadly that proved to be only a fleeting relief for those present of a home persuasion and Spurs were back in front within ten minutes, Christian Eriksen’s free-kick somehow eluding everyone and ending up in the back of the net.
That saw some fans to abandon their seats as another lost cause loomed and others gradually drifted away as further feckless attempts at creating a goal failed to do so – Obertan and Ameobi unable to supply any form of service from the wings and Cabella equally slipshod.
With Newcastle unwilling or unable to build up a head of steam and threaten a second equaliser, Spurs should have increased their lead long before Harry Kane’s added time breakaway strike – the one true moment of football quality from either side in the match as he bore down on goal before effortlessly finishing in the manner of that bloke currently doing the Barclays Bank adverts.
And so ended another dispiriting display that still leaves United searching for the points that would secure their Premier League status and all that lovely lucre. As the performance proved, football just doesn’t come into it anymore and the indifference is infectious.
Rather than rebellion though, the over-riding feeling is one of worrying indifference, of people falling out of love with their club and just quietly voting with their feet.
Counting the number of dissenting banners on show doesn’t reflect the depth of disaffection that is felt round these parts and the disinterest that has bred due to on-field neglect.
Looking across the almost eerily silent ground, it felt like the clocks had been turned back to when we played out meaningless end of season games in front of pitiful gatherings, hardly any of whom owned season tickets. Then as now, the real action was a million miles away from this backwater.
Even the modest and justified expectations of our fans, nothing more than putting a team on the field fit for purpose and making a genuine effort to win the game, have proved to be unrealistic under the iron grip of the present administration.
Be it the derby defeats, the silverware surrender policy, sub-standard recruitment, the lack of leadership or the financial shackles that saw the team willfully weakened this season, every absent fan has reached a point where logic has overtaken romantic notions of support. By placing a value on everything, he’s forced people to evaluate NUFC in those terms – and conclude it’s not worth it.
Before the boycott was mooted, that mindset was evident among fans of our acquaintance who in the words of Kevin Keegan had travelled the length of the country to watch awful sides. The actions of Ashley have had the effect of stripping away their black and white sentimentality, leaving them to make logical decisions about rationing their support.
That mindset means that there’s no value in attending cup games because they don’t try to win and that those tricky midweek games on TV can be viewed in comfort, sacrificing their season ticket cost for the night (because you can barely give them away) for the saving in travel costs and sleep. Once upon a time it was worth the time and effort, but no longer.
Despite the desperate loss of form, it would still take an outlandish series of results to see at least four teams sitting below us get past and consign us to the drop. That’s of no comfort though when looking ahead to the final five games of another desperate season – and for an increasing number of fans, far further than that.
In seeking to alter football for his own purposes, the owner has fatally severed the thread binding fans to the club. No longer parading around in the stripes, he’s not fit to sell the shirt.
From hotbed to death bed, you’ve got to hand it to Mike.