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Reality check - 15/04/2003

Reality check
Nick Butt - one of many Man Utd players who put in a great game after being turned over by Real Madrid
   Nicky Butt
   Rio Ferdinand
   Roy Keane
   Paul Scholes
   Alan Shearer
   Jonathan Woodgate
   Manchester United

Newcastle are without doubt a great team, they’re entertaining, have some tremendous players, and have youth on their side. However, on Saturday reality dawned and I realised just how far we are from a genuine title challenge. I got carried away, it’s as simple as that, I honestly believed that this side was good enough to win the Premiership but now it’s plain to see that there’s a gulf between us and Arsenal/Man Utd.

For me it was the inexperience of the side that cost us so dearly. I had an interview with ESPN after the game and speaking to Paul Masefield (a fellow pundit), he couldn’t believe the lack of passion and commitment in the game. You look around the team and there’s quality everywhere, but Shearer aside, who showed any passion and will to win? Shearer put in a few challenges and got booked for a silly one, but apart from him, who can say they got stuck in? I can hardly recall the midfield winning a tackle – let along clattering someone. Woodgate disappointed me, a great CV, England international – but little or no leadership. The whole attitude of the team seemed to be “oh well lads, it isn’t working today”. Ask yourself this, if that game had been played at Old Trafford and Newcastle were giving Man Utd the run around, do you think Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinanad etc etc would have just drifted through the game? Of course they wouldn’t have, tackles would have been flying in – because their pride would have been hurt. If it’s not happening on the pitch, you have to show the fans you care – they didn’t.

The most embarrassing game of my career was the 4-0 Charity Shield defeat to Man Utd at Wembley. That hurt so badly, but when we came to face Man Utd the next time, we turned them over 5-0…and that’s what we need to do this time. But instead of waiting to get revenge on them next season, it starts on Saturday against Fulham. I’d put my money on a big away win – and I bet Bobby Robson is demanding one! I believe that in qualifying for the Champions League again, we can look back on the season with many positives, it’ll be seen as a massive success, a great home record and some great European nights. But if Champions League football isn’t achieved, then it’ll be a disaster. It’s in our hands, I’d be surprised, very surprised it we didn’t finish in the top four, but to do so we’ll need to show spirit that was sadly lacking on Saturday.

Speaking of the 5-0 win, I was looking forward to meeting up with past team mate from that game in Phillipe Albert. But with so many people wanting to say hello to him, I never had more than a few seconds. Phillipe was a character, he took to the mantle as an ‘honorary Geordie’ very well – liked a beer or two and didn’t mind getting ‘involved’ if someone had a pop at him. But I remember Keegan having a go at him one game for not getting stuck in (ironic isn’t it), and I was gob smacked when he replied…”but I might get hurt”!!

Funny old game…

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