Football: Only Damon Hill's new car is in tune less often than my blessed, most beautiful Newcastle

Nick Donaldson, proud to support a team who have only played well four times this season, says there are still a lot worse things in life than watching your team draw with Wimbledon
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The Independent Online
Well, there it is, another almost fruitless visit to Selhurst Park. Another season seems to have brought us nothing bar a quarter-final appearance in a cup, only our second since 1976, and a first trip to Wembley since the same year. Which, incidentally, was only by default as that team from Manchester, you know, the ones who play in red, white or blue, managed to win everything the year before. Marvellous.

You may read into this a sense of irony or bitterness, but you would be wrong, I still feel privileged to have been born a Geordie and thus have to carry this beautiful burden. To be tempted and teased with whispered promises that are never delivered sure beats living without hope and never glimpsing what might be.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see Newcastle actually win something, anything. I dream about that more than I do about being asked out by Jennifer Aniston. But if my season really did end during a magically lager and laughter sodden trip to the Cote d'Azur, surrounded by yachts and mates while singing "In your Monaco slums; you look in the dustbin for something to eat; you find a dead lobster and it's not quite al dente," then I feel blessed, not cursed.

But what is to be done to turn this team of consummate under-achievers into one that has more than the ability to carry off some silverware? So far this season they have performed to their ability on only four occasions - Tottenham, Coventry, Ferencvaros and, yes, Manchester United being on the receiving end of the best football played in the Premiership this season. Only Damon Hill's new car is in tune less often than this.

Having your best players on the pitch rather than in hospital would certainly help. Alan Shearer's groin, Les Ferdinand's hamstrings, Steve Howie's entire body and Peter Beardsley's ability have all suffered traumatic spasms - the latter's seeming terminal.

It is fashionable among the chattering classes to place the blame for our plight squarely at the feet of our rickety defence. Alan Hansen squirms with pleasure as he points out with the aid of sophisticated computer graphics and tortuous slow-motion that "Yes, milk does turn quicker than Darren Peacock!"

However, even without the aid of an A-level in football or whatever these experts have, I know there is more to it than that. True, our defence could do with a real leader in the Hendry, Bruce or even Hansen mould. Someone who thrives on responsibility and tells their sidekicks what to do and when to do it.

Seemingly equally evident is a lack of a creative, attacking midfield player who can get the best of Britain's two best strikers by - and this is the cunning bit - getting the ball to them when they want it. Come on Kinkladze, you know you want to. Combine this with Kenny Dalglish being able to get Keith Gillespie to make more than one in five crosses hit a target and then we will be getting close.

We might even stop losing to Southampton, Nottingham Forest or one of the other relegation threatened clubs that manage to turn us over a few vital times each season. Anyway, the season isn't quite over yet, and those who say there is nothing left to play for should try getting a ticket for the Sunderland game.

The prospect of plunging the Mackems into the relegation mire means more to some Geordies than progressing in at least one major cup competition. To them, this is the biggest game of the season - forget Middlesbrough, we only have one derby, and this is it.

Apart from that there are still plenty of points left to play for, a trip to Manchester United and Arsenal. You know, if we win them, we might just be able to... oh, excuse me, there's someone called Jennifer on the phone...