After two fairly sound displays against Everton away and Manchester City at home, both producing satisfactory 2-2 draws, we face Sunderland away tomorrow with the expected return to action of controversial midfielder Joey Barton. The scene is set for yet another classic derby match, and I cannot help but admit that this as fearful as I have ever been going in to one. Joe Kinnear today announced that Michael Owen is only 40-60% chance of being fit for the game, and Jonas Guttierez is also unlikely to start. With this in mind I feel we may well struggle tomorrow, although it has to be said that Shola Ameobi looked a different player against Man City last Monday night, and credit must be given to the manager if this is to be the re-invention of a footballer who has always, in my eyes, failed to meet the demands of the Premier League. Perhaps Sir Bobby Robson burdened him when he famously said watching him was like watching 'Bambi on ice'.
I have always wanted Shola to make it at the top level, as there is no doubt that he has potential, but just when this potential will be realized is another matter. Here's hoping that he can score for the second game in a row and prove most people wrong about his goal scoring abilities. I have also noticed that we have a prolific youngster playing in the reserves at the moment by the name of Nile Ranger, who is scoring goals for fun at the moment. This has been noticed by many up here in geordieland and many, like myself, believe that youngsters like Ranger, should be thrown in at the deep end as oppose to persistent non-events such as Ameobi, amongst others. However, this is Shola's big chance, and having scored against Man City, I get the impression that this really is make-or-break time for the Geordie born striker and he will be keener than anyone to put his lethargic displays of the past few years behind him.
As for Michael Owen, the once formidable England International is now as vulnerable as glass on an elephants back when it comes to injuries, and I am increasingly becoming frustrated with the injury-prone but prolific goal-scorer. I simply have no faith in him staying fit though. When times are hard, the last thing we need is our only world-class finisher out on the treatment table. His contract is up at the end of the season and depending on how long he can stay fit for during the rest of this season, it may not be such a bad thing if he was to leave, considering that for every goal he has scored for us probably works out at about a million pound in wages per goal.
If Joey Barton is to start tomorrow I feel very tempted to take a trip to my local bookies and put a bet on the inevitable; a red card. Joey spoke out last week claiming to be a changed man, having not touched a drop of alcohol in over a year. I wish him all the best in getting his career back on track starting tomorrow against the mackems. On his day, he is one of the most exciting midfielders in the land. I remember watching him play for Man City and thinking he was the next Steven Gerard, the way he literally ran from box to box for the entire 90 minutes, scoring a few cracking goals along the way. How I wish he could re-discover this kind form in a black and white shirt. Here's hoping but I am not getting my hopes up for a player who seems to disappoint at every possible opportunity.
Anyway, with Shola on fire (!) and Joey 'WHAT YER LUKIN AT!?' Barton back in midfield, let's all hope and prey that we can produce tomorrow afternoon against our equally terrible neighbours. I predict a 2-1 victory for us, that's my gut feeling. Then again, I always seem to get these feelings that perhaps only us Geordies get. If we were playing Barcelona away with a team of full of Shola Ameobi's, I would still be thinking 'we could sneak something here'. I think this eternal and somewhat vulnerable optimism will last forever. Although it has waned somewhat drastically of late - there is a light that never goes out, quote Morrissey.
HOWAY THE LADS!
PS: That light that never goes out has absolutely NOTHING to with the Stadium of Light. AT ALL. In fact, the more I think on it, I'm not even sure that they actually have light in that part of the north east....