The 2011-12 Premier League season began as one of very little expectation for Newcastle United. Most of those who were really paying attention didn't expect the Toon to be contending (let alone qualified) for Europe, nor did they feel that Newcastle would be caught up in the relegation scrap. The thought was that most likely would be a safe but not spectacular campaign. Over the course of 37 matches, however, this edition of the Magpies had encouraged the Toon Army to dream again. With that came elevated expectations for on-pitch performance which is why this last match of the season was all that much more disappointing.
In all honesty, the Toon have not lost many matches this season. When they have, the failings have been spectacular and it can't be said that the match with Everton did not buck that trend. With it all to play for (and early scores at least suggesting that a dream scenario might be possible), Newcastle came out and were played off the field by the Toffees. Fittingly, the first goal from Everton went in via Mike Williamson's backside fairly early and it was almost all downhill from there in the first 45 minutes. A 2-0 deficit heading into the locker room at halftime was about right, and to make it worse, a Yohan Cabaye shove of a ball boy mid-half typified the attitude that the lads were sporting. Embarassing play and shocking behavior.
For people who have not watched the Toon much this year, a double change at halftime from Alan Pardew may have been greeted with a "Yeah... that's about right".. but for those of us who have been watching, we know that it is a distinct and grand gesture from our Manager of the Year who rarely makes a change prior to the 60 minute mark. A change back to a 4-3-3 shape and the insertion of Ryan Taylor and Sylvain Marveaux for Perch and Santon (who after a series of very good performances was non-descript at best) yielded almost instant results on the goal front but had the desired overall effect as Newcastle instantly looked brighter than at any point in the first half. Perhaps the fact that Papiss Cisse missed a couple of chances that you would have fancied him to put in more often than not was a harbinger that the wildest dreams of the Toon Army were just that. Dreams.
I don't know if it was comforting or disturbing that the third goal came from one of the Achilles' heels that the club had exhibited all season - set pieces - but it did happen that way, and for all intents and purposes the most amazing of seasons would end with a predictable Newcastle Thud™. Newly minted Manager of the Year Alan Pardew pushed nearly every button that he could through substitution, position change, formation change and whatever else, but the lads just remained sluggish... like a wet sponge. There would be no joy in Mudville and whatever other non sequitur quote I can think to drop in here.
On the day (predictably), none of the results we needed in order to improve our European standing went our way, so it wouldn't have mattered if we had scored 100 today. You just would have hoped that the fighting spirit and commitment and quality that hallmarked so much of this season would have been on display in such a meaningful match.