A calamitous campaign
Newcastle United’s 2008-2009 Premier League season turned out to be a calamitous mess. No fewer than four managers during the campaign, either in a full-time or caretaker capacity, mass demonstrations over the running of the club and it ended with the worst possible outcome on-the-pitch.
A final day 1-0 defeat at Villa Park against Aston Villa saw the club relegated to the Championship, ending their 16-year stay in England’s top-flight. No-one could argue at the end of the season with the ultimate final outcome.
Keegan walks away
It was Newcastle United icon Kevin Keegan who was the manager at the start of the campaign and with him in-charge, expectations were high with the supporters who were hoping to see the glory days of the mid-1990s return to the St James’ Park turf.
Among the arrivals in pre-season were midfielder Jonas Gutierrez and central defenders Sebastien Bassong and Fabricio Coloccini and in the first two games of the season, four points were collected. On the opening weekend, Obafemi Martins scored at Old Trafford as Newcastle recorded a creditable 1-1 draw at defending champions Manchester United before Bolton Wanderers were overcome 1-0. Even a 3-0 defeat at the end of August to Arsenal wasn’t seen as a complete disaster.
Shortly afterwards though, Keegan was gone. Furious with the sale of James Milner in the closing days of the summer transfer window to Aston Villa in a £12 million deal and other disagreements over the club’s transfer policy saw ‘King Kev’ tender his resignation on 4th September. Incensed, the fans began bitter protests against owner Mike Ashley and Director of Football Dennis Wise.
Response on Kinnear’s arrival
For the club’s next home match, the directors box was noticeably empty and the growing tension increased as newly-promoted Hull City recorded a 2-1 victory on Tyneside. Chris Hughton had taken caretaker charge following Keegan’s exit but Ashley elected to appoint Joe Kinnear as full-time manager at the end of September to the shock of many. Kinnear hadn’t managed in the top-flight since health problems ended his reign at Wimbledon back in 1999.
There was a response from the players on his appointment. Back-to-back home victories over West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa saw the Magpies climb out of the bottom three at the start of November. However, there was a damaging 2-1 defeat in the first Tyne & Wear Derby of the season at Sunderland which was their first reverse away to Sunderland in 28 years.
Newcastle’s first away victory of the season arrived in mid-December. Michael Owen scored twice as Portsmouth were comfortably vanquished 3-0 on home soil. That was part of a six-game unbeaten run which had the Geordies as high as 12th in the Premier League table. Considering the turmoil that had engulfed the club at boardroom and managerial level throughout 2008, it was a respectable position.
2008 did end though in humiliating fashion with a 5-1 loss at home to league leaders Liverpool FC. Shay Given was in sensational form, making a string of world-class saves in the first half and had it not been for him, Liverpool could have amassed a heavier margin of victory, such was the gulfing class between the two sides on the day. Newcastle’s plight was only about to get worse.
30TH DECEMBER 2008 TABLE
Another managerial change
The January transfer window did see the surprising acquisition of Kevin Nolan after the midfielder had grown tired of some criticism over his performances at Bolton Wanderers. However, there were another two notable departures. Goalkeeper Given ended his 12-year association with the club, signing for ambitious Manchester City whilst midfielder Charles N’Zogbia elected to move on to Wigan Athletic. The Frenchman was furious when Kinnear got tongue-tied during a TV interview after a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, when he called him “Insomnia!” N’Zogbia gladly moved on with Ryan Taylor moving in part-exchange to Tyneside.
On the morning of 7th February, Kinnear’s reign at Newcastle would end. He was taken ill on the eve of Newcastle’s trip to relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion. He would require a triple heart bypass and would have to stand down. So once again, Chris Hughton took over in a caretaker capacity with former Tottenham defender Colin Calderwood arriving on the staff to help the Irishman out.
Newcastle rallied on the day at The Hawthorns, winning a see-saw contest 3-2 to keep the Baggies bottom of the table. However, it would be the only victory Hughton and Calderwood managed as a managerial combination.
The next home game against Everton saw Nolan sent off for a horrendous tackle on Victor Anichebe. There was no malice in the challenge but it was terribly mistimed and it would leave the Nigerian sidelined for months with bad knee ligament damage. That match finished goalless. A month later, Arsenal’s 3-1 victory on Tyneside saw Newcastle drop back into the bottom three. It called for desperate measures from an under-pressure Ashley who reached out for the Toon Army’s greatest-ever goalscorer.
No miracle with Shearer in-charge
With eight games left, Alan Shearer was persuaded to vacate his regular role as a BBC pundit to help out his boyhood club. The mission was to try and keep Newcastle in the Premier League. He brought in former Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic boss Iain Dowie as his assistant manager. However, the Shearer effect would have no change on Newcastle’s fortunes.
He managed just one victory which was a 3-1 home success over Middlesbrough and that did briefly lift the Magpies out of the relegation zone on goal difference. However, on the penultimate weekend of the campaign, they slipped back into the bottom three after a home defeat to Fulham whilst Hull City claimed a priceless point away at Bolton.
On the final day, Newcastle needed to better Hull’s result. The Magpies travelled to Villa Park, hoping Hull would slip up against Manchester United. They received a helping hand from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side as they defeated the Tigers 1-0. However, Damien Duff deflected Gareth Barry’s wayward shot into his own net approximately 10 minutes before half-time to give Aston Villa a 1-0 lead. Youngster David Edgar was sent off in the closing stages and Newcastle never looked like equalising. On the final whistle, their players sank to their knees while Shearer looked motionless on the touchline. As Martin Tyler said when Newcastle’s relegation was confirmed: “From undermining Kevin Keegan to overtaxing Alan Shearer, it has been disastrous.”
In the days afterwards, Mike Ashley tried to sell the club for a second time but couldn’t find a buyer. Shearer’s contract as manager wasn’t renewed and Chris Hughton succeeded him as permanent boss and big-money players like Geremi, Owen and Duff all left in the summer.
It was a season of strife, frustration and desolation for Newcastle United supporters – one remembered for all the wrong reasons.
FINAL 2008-2009 TABLE – THE BOTTOM SIX
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