The Premier League Years: Claudio Cacapa’s School of Defending

Welcome to a new series on Tales From The Top Flight called The Premier League Years. Fancy, eh? Apparently Premier League Piss Take ‘wasn’t suitable’.

Oh well, I know what you’re thinking, “seriously, this unfunny clown again? What’s he up to this time?” Well, 1. that’s rude and 2. I am going to take one ‘classic’ Premier League match from the inaugural 1992/93 season onwards and ‘review’ it.

So, which big guns are we getting out to draw the view? United? Arsenal? Wimbledon? Nope…

Newcastle United 2-2 Derby County (23 December 2007)

Oh Christ, what have I done?

The era of optimism that surrounded Sam Allardyce’s appointment at Newcastle had given way to the grim realisation that no matter who was in charge, it seemed that nobody at the club had a clue what a good football player was. Unsurprisingly, Newcastle’s performances leading up to Christmas had hardly been super.

Derby meanwhile were slowly writing themselves into the history books. They’d lost the previous seven with only a solitary win on the board all season (coincidentally against Newcastle) and had replaced Billy Davies with Paul Jewell. That masterstroke had seen Jewell heading into the game searching for his first ever point as Rams boss. St. James’ Park, judging by recent history, is always a good place to start.

Newcastle’s line-up read like a horror show for fans. David Rozenhal and Claudio Cacapa at the back, Charles N’Zogbia at left back with a midfield four of Barton, Butt, Alan Smith and Milner hardly inspiring confidence. Mark Viduka up front is hardly remembered fondly either.

The man on the video I watched said Derby had suffered “further bad luck” when Claude Davis was injured in the warm-up; clearly someone who has never seen big Claude play. They were missing Matt Oakley too while Eddie Lewis replaced the injured Davis. Eddie who? Well, a quick Google search says he was a former Busby Babe who’d have been about ten days or so from his 73rd birthday and living in South Africa. Could probably have still done a job for that Derby side though.

Derby started brightly with human brick wall Steve Howard causing problems for the comedy duo at the heart of the Newcastle defence. Five minutes in and a throw in wasn’t dealt with by Newcastle and Giles Barnes rifled in a low shot from 25 yards to silence St. James’. It’s hard to remember but Barnes was supposed to be the next big thing and light up the Premier League. Another quick Google search will show he’s now playing for… Orlando City.

Newcastle had claims for a penalty turned down when Alan Smith’s bicycle kick attempt was rather forcefully stopped midway through by a shoulder to the back. In fairness, I’d do that too if Alan Smith ever tried that. You weren’t that good Al. An Obafemi Martins header was then cleared off the line by Barnes as Newcastle began to press looking for the equaliser.

Newcastle did eventually get their equaliser because this was Derby, and of course, they won’t win. Newcastle made it to the edge of the area where Alan Smith was tackled, causing the good old-fashioned Sunday League fall on the ball and don’t let anyone else have it trick before Viduka took over and smashed it into the bottom corner.

Newcastle kept pressing for the equaliser before half time with Habib Beye wasting their best chance, but Derby did manage to defend something for once and got to half time level. But, just seven minutes after the break, the comedy duo of Rozenhal and Cacapa were at it again.

A simple long ball was flicked on by Howard and got past Cacapa, who flailed a leg in such a manner Djimi Traore would be ashamed of. It came to Kenny Miller, hardly a striker blessed with tricks, who proceeded to nutmeg Rozenhal and slot it past Shay Given. Derby had only scored six goals all season before this game and, with those two, over a third of their goals for the season to that point had been scored against Newcastle.

Big Sam sent on Steven Taylor, Damien Duff and Emre to try and salvage something and Newcastle began to press. Tension was heightened when Gary Teale decided to fall over and be injured when standing in the wall at a free kick. Scrappy chances came and went for Newcastle who got a bit of an escape when a Benny Feilhaber cross was slightly too long for Howard who not only lost Cacapa but might as well have been in another continent from the hopeless Brazilian.

Finally for the Toon, the equaliser did come four minutes from time. A giant hoof from Given wasn’t dealt with by Derby and Viduka rattled it into the bottom corner on the half volley. It was a lovely goal from the big Aussie who had made a career of being quite good at stuff like that.

The replay for the goal was incredible. Derby’s skipper Darren Moore was running backwards and tried the John Terry dive at the ball for no reason but only succeeded in losing Viduka and assisting him. If you ever wanted a summation of Derby’s season, then there you go.

There was still life left in the game though. Newcastle had to survive another Cacapa sized scare when the defender decided to dangle a leg at Tyrone Mears in the box. Fortunately, the full-back went down without contact before a late scramble saw Taylor fire over the bar. The full time whistle was greeted by resounding boos from the Newcastle faithful as Derby held on for one of their best points of the season.

The 2007/08 season would be one filled with woe for Derby. They would finish with just a solitary win and 11 points, losing 29 of their 38 games in the process. They were so bad they made Aston Villa’s relegated side look semi-competent. Still, this draw would be one of their rare highlights in a season that went so badly wrong as they won just their second away point.

Big Sam’s Christmas period didn’t get much better. More disappointing performances and three consecutive defeats saw Newcastle begin to look over their shoulders at the relegation zone. Allardyce was called into a meeting on 9 January 2008 which he thought was about a new signing. It was. They had signed Kevin Keegan.

“He retired about 20 years ago though?” Sam screamed as he was dragged out of the office.

Allardyce was out of a job while Keegan would steady the ship and get Newcastle up to 12th at the end of the season.