Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In Praise of...Newcastle United

In the week of demonstrations and thousands of people clambering to be heard in the centre of London to the masses, it is pleasing to see the most revered fanbase being able to sing at their loudest for the start of the season.  Newcastle United remain unbeaten this season, they sit 3rd in the English Premier League a model of consistency as the teams above and below struggle for that trait.

Last night on the rather more English version of Monday Night Football, Newcastle United travelled to the Britannia Stadium to take on an always resilient Stoke City.  A team whose home ground has become somewhat of a fortress, yet lately they seem unable to win more games than they should. Played Nine. Won three, drawn three, lost three.

Newcastle United went to the game and carried on where they left off, exuded confidence based on a team basis.  Following the departure of key figures Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, it was feared that Alan Pardew was on a hiding to nothing with a squad that was fine on quality and was being tipped to struggle for survival.

Yet Pardew has found himself to be a keen scout - the signing of Demba Ba from West Ham has proved a master stroke as he completed his second hat-trick of the season from the penalty spot in the 81st minute, after Stoke were planning a raid following Ba's brace before half-time.

The victory was based on a team who defended resolutely to Stoke's aerial bombardment from set-pieces and who broke down the wingplay of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant who remained mute throughout much of the game.

Being a Tottenham fan I only really watched Newcastle during the pleasing 2-2 draw a few weeks ago, there they showed much of the same but the spirit and unity of the team spoke volumes as they twice came back from behind to garner a point thanks to Shola Ameobi's superb finish.

Ameobi has since picked up a hamstring injury, this was Pardew's first test as a manager dealing with an injury that upsets the normality and serenity of a dressing room.  Luckily, the next game was at home to floundering Wigan who although Pardew called it a lucky 1-0 win, it was another of his signings - Yohan Cabaye who supplied the winner with a rocket from 25 yards.

Newcastle's solidity is based on someone turning up with the good when required.  The consistency of selection helps with a back four - Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Federico Coloccini and Ryan Taylor - all doing their part and supplying a backline that protects Tim Krul who is slowly establishing himself as a mainstay between the posts.

In front of those four you have Gabriel Obertan, Danny Guthrie, Cabaye and the inspirational Jonas Gutierrez, perhaps the most recognisable individual of the team due to his jet black ponytail.  This a solid midfield base not without some additional flair when required such as Obertan's pin point cross for Ba's first goal last night which he headed back past the despairing Begovic.

And then you have Leon Best the workhorse who tracks down loose balls and bites defender's ankles next to the goalscoring threat of Ba who takes his chances with relish as Newcastle gather up the available points. 

Pardew is doing this without the influential Cheik Tiote who has a knee injury but will probably return to the fold once fit at the expense of Guthrie, but Guthrie who had to leave hometown Liverpool for first-team football is doing his part to give Pardew a selection headache.

Some cynics may suggest that Pardew gladly let Nolan and Barton depart so that he could be the biggest personality in the changing room - instead of causing chaos, there has been a new level of trust instilled in these also-ran of players.  Steven Taylor so esteemable at England U21 level but sometimes unable to translate those talismanic efforts to his club form has grown into a leader of the team even if he is not the captain like Coloccini.

The tests now come for Newcastle, this Saturday lunchtime home to Everton followed by a visit to the Etihad and the league leaders Manchester City following the international break. 

Oddly, I was watching a pundit show who were all asked to pick a manager of the season so far; each went for someone different - Mancini, McLeish and Rogers - the fact that the third best team in the country did not get a look in nor garner any mention shows you how under the radar Newcastle United have been this season.  Not so much a surprise, but the football has at times been refreshing and it is nice to see an undervalued manager getting the rewards for his effort and bringing a team back from the veritable brink.

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