Who would ever have thought that a mid-season review of Newcastle United’s season would feature the word consistency? Things are going well for the horse punchers, as Dan Cumming explains.
In my Newcastle season preview, I boldly predicted a league finish of anywhere between 6th – 19th for the toon. Currently, the Mags are in rare form and sit in the lofty heights of 6th place with 30 points from 17 games, ahead of both Spurs and Man Utd. So how has this happened, and can Newcastle stay in the rarefied air of a European qualification spot until May?
It didn’t start well. On our opening fixture we were the first to be absolutely thumped at the Etihad – and as this was before we knew that this would more or less be everyone’s fate when visiting the blue half of Manchester – the doom merchants started peddling their wares early. The goalless draw with Fat Sam’s Hammers and a fortuitous 1-0 win vs Fulham at home in the rounds to follow did little to alleviate these fears. An encouraging smash and grab win at Villa was followed by a poor defeat at home by Hull and a derby loss to the otherwise woeful Sunderland – we were staring down the barrel of another inconsistent season of mid table mediocrity.
Since then though, we have been one of the form teams of the league, quietly and efficiently going about our work and picking up points. Excellent wins at St James’ against Chelsea and at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane have been matched by wins in games that we should on paper be winning but last season would not have.
Our new found consistency (it still feels a bit weird to say that tbh) is mainly due to the performances of some key personnel at the back. ‘Iron’ Mike Williamson has been a revelation playing alongside Coloccini or Yanga-Mbiwa at the back and has established himself as part of our first XI. He isn’t the kind of fashionable ball playing defender that is ever going to get picked for England, but in terms of performing base defensive duties I haven’t seen a better English central defender this season.
Tim Krul’s performance at White Hart lane was the stuff of legends but he has been pretty solid in most other games as well. As he matures as a keeper his ability to organize the defensive line, especially in games where skipper Coloccini isn’t playing, is improving and if he continues to grow then we may do well to hang on to the Dutch shot stopper long term.
Mathieu Debuchy was clearly not fit at the start of the season but is playing superbly now and is the complete package at right full back. Anyone who can keep Sagna out of the French XI can play a bit. Cheick Tiote has found incredible form and is physically dominating teams in the middle of the park alongside Cabaye and Vurnon Anita – a modern Ball winner / recycler / creator midfield trio. Tiote seems to have finally realised his limitations on the ball and is no longer wasting possession with long range passes or shots.
The auld onion bag
Loic Remy has been excellent and is leading the line very well – his combination of pace, movement and finishing ability is a threat to any side, he is enjoying the presence of the hard working Gouffran and on occasions Shola Ameobi alongside him. Surely the club must be working to make Remy’s loan deal permanent, it will be incredibly frustrating if we cannot get a deal done for a player who has settled very quickly and has become a key player. Pending legal issues, of course….
There are a couple who need to have a big second half of the season if they are to remain at the club, Pappis Cisse hasn’t scored in the premier league for a very long time now and his lack of confidence has seen him slip down the pecking order. Hatem Ben Arfa is a real favourite with the fans at Newcastle but few would disagree with Pardew’s decision to leave him on the bench of late. Hopefully he can make some impact in the second half of the season, he really is too good to be sitting on the bench but ultimately that is up to him.
Despite seeming to be under pressure for his job even 5 weeks ago Pardew has in fact been steering the ship well of late and fully deserved his recent manager of the month award. He has been flexible in his tactical options, and with versatile players like Gouffran and Sissoko can switch between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 with the same personnel on the field. The dressing room seems happy and unified at the moment, the manager always should take at least some credit for that.
It remains to be seen whether any strengthening of the squad will happen in January – we are still thin in nearly every position – and it may be a case of funds only being released if players are sold. The spectre of Mike Ashley still looms large over St James’ park, it has been a while now since he has done something utterly reprehensible so he is probably due. Make no mistake – there is no one at Newcastle who is ‘not for sale’ and if the right offer is made then we will be saying goodbye to a key player.
After Xmas prospects
I think we will eventually settle around 7th – 8th, and I’d be disappointed if we slipped lower than 8th as I feel we are at least the best of the rest. If we stay injury free then it’s possible we could finish ahead of one or two of the leading pack, most likely Spurs or Man Utd. There’s a long way to go yet but I’m sticking my neck out and making some predictions….
6. Man Yoo
7. NEWCASTLE UNITED
18. Cardiff Dragons
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