Welcome back. It’s November and trying to better Kenny Dalglish’s attempts to cope without the injured Alan Shearer is going better than expected. We’re in the top 6, Bjarni Gudjonsson is emerging as a hero and big Al himself is only a few weeks away from a return. Everything is reasonable.
After the International break to allow England to beat Portugal to qualify for the 1998 World Cup, it’s off to bottom of the table West Ham. The usual problems arise – we have a lot of chances but old man Rush and curtains man Andersson keep missing. Then on comes lovely Bjarni and he scores before setting up Andersson to seal the win.
Unfortunately we have a trip to Man Utd to contend with. They’re runaway leaders, for a change, but I’m sick of the sight of them after the Champions League meeting. Shay Given is banned too so Shaka is in goal. We manage to take the lead and look very good in doing so, only for Paul Scholes to equalise ten minutes from time. Then an own goal seals our fate. Write your own headlines.
Our Champions League campaign is basically over so a 2-2 draw at home to Skonto Riga is a poor result but not one that will make things any different. Gudjonsson gets both of our goals to continue his ascent to greatness.
The last game of November sees the visit of Southampton. Shearer is a week away from a return and this game typifies our need for him. Paul Jones gets man of the match and not even Bjarni can sort this one out.
The board are less than satisfied, which seems harsh. A 4th round League Cup tie with First Division Luton is a golden opportunity to reach the last 8 but a loss would be catastrophic. Thankfully we go bananas.
Take that, Phil Gray. Liverpool in the quarters.
Away to Sheffield Wednesday and we’re handed a great boost on the morning of the game
He’s not ready to start but he’ll make his presence felt later in the game. Sheff Wed are above us in the table so this looks a tough game, but Shearer’s appearance on the bench terrifies Scott Oakes into scoring an own goal and the rest is history. Shearer gets 20 minutes where two further goals are added. Welcome back!
That’s the half way stage for most teams, though we have two games in hand thanks to our Champions League qualifiers.
The final Champions League group game is a chance for Shearer to start and he doesn’t disappoint, grabbing the winner to leave us on 10 points. Probably shouldn’t have drawn with Skonto Riga.
Well that is a bonus. That’s the best possible draw too. Result!
On the negative side, Jon Dahl Tomasson is out for 6 weeks. Even worse news is that our game in hand is away to Liverpool, the scene of two 4-3s in previous seasons. Liverpool still get 4…we don’t.
Similar. Then we have the old problems at Pride Park, only I can’t blame the lack of Shearer this time. Happy Christmas.
Boxing day then and St James’ is awash with Christmas cheer. Bottom of the table West Ham provide the opposition and Alan Shearer provides the presents. That’s more like it.
Our other game in hand falls on New Year’s Eve…away in Palace. Thanks FA. We go behind early on but Shearer is in fine form. A great way to end the year.
That leaves us comfortably 4th at the turn of year.
Attention turns to the FA Cup and with Gillespie the latest to be ruled out for a month, I’m dangerously close to having to play Des Hamilton. We lack creativity and a poor 1-1 draw means we’ll replay at Sheff Utd in 10 days. Not good.
It’ll be Barnsley if we can win, which again is quite winnable.
So soon after being mauled by them at Anfield, it’s Liverpool again but this time at our place in the League Cup quarters. Andreas Andersson steps up to send us into the last 4!
You have to say it’s a great chance for a Wembley appearance but Leeds is the toughest draw on offer. At least it’s over 2 legs.
Our penultimate game of this update sees us off to Ewood Park. I’m not sure I’ve ever won a game there and Tim Flowers usually gets man of the match.
We lose 1-0 and Tim Flowers gets man of the match. I wish you could bet on these things.
To round us off then it’s off to Sheffield for this pesky replay. We’ve really struggled with Tomasson and Gillespie out at the same time but both are nearing a return, though not for this match. Form man Andersson is banned so Rushy is back. We give the type of performance that makes you wonder why we didn’t just do this 10 days ago.
Happy days. Barnsley, we’re coming for you. Or rather you’re coming to us. Whatever. We’ll see you on 4th round day.
Here’s the table after 22 games
The board are pleased, their change of opinion largely down to that unlikely Champions League escape. I’d like to finish top 6 and win one of the cups, that would be nice.
Obviously this challenge started out as the “Coping without Shearer” job but we’ll see it through to the end of the season. If you don’t mind. Bye for now.