By Lee Jaundrell 4/11/11
Where were you in August? When there was all the doom and gloom around Newcastle. They had sold Andy Carroll a few months earlier, and sold key players Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique in the summer and did not replace them. You, yes you sat there, you were saying “RELEGATION FOR NEWCASTLE”.
But, in the summer Newcastle added the classy Yohan Cabaye to compliment the excellent Chiek Tiote in midfield. A midfield which already consisted of the solid and consistent Jonas Gutierrez. On the other wing Gabriel Obertan has looked an excellent signing from Man Utd, showing pace, directness and a clinical presence when in good positions. In the wings for a starting place on the wing (see what I did there?) is Hatem Ben Arfa, slowly coming back from his horrendous injury, and the injury prone Sylvain Marveaux, who apparently (I haven’t seen him play much) is quick, skillful and a good passer. That barring injuries is a decent midfield, and is proving so.
Up front they bought Demba Ba for free, yes they have changed strikers for a profit of £35 million. Ba scored roughly a goal every other game while playing half a season at bottom of the table, relegated West Ham. He is scoring hat-tricks now almost as quickly as Lionel Messi (well 2 to Messi’s 4 this season). Along side Ba is the utter rubbish Leon Best. When I say utter rubbish, I mean I always thought he was a championship player at best (that’s an accidental pun!), but this season, he is scoring goals, creating goals, working hard and causing a general nuisance of himself.
They also have an experienced manager, one who has had reasonable success, Alan Pardew did after all come within a Steven Gerrard special of winning the FA Cup with West Ham, after taking them to promotion from the Championship. He also did decent jobs at Reading and Southampton. What struck me, was how well organised they were as a unit against Stoke on Monday night, the back four being very tight, and if they didn’t win the first ball coming into the box they crtainly won the vast majority of the second balls. This is credit to Pardew and his team. They remind me a little of Liverpool under Gerard Houllier, organised two banks of four, tough to get in behind, and pace in attack on the break.
Now, I don’t want to sound like Harry Hindsight, but I probably will. Newcastle were predicted by all and sundry to struggle this season. They were given an insulting 37 points start on the Premiership Handicap Market, which I helped myself to at 16/1. They are currently top of the league in this market, a point clear of Norwich, and 25 points ahead of Man City. It is still early days, if there is one problem for the Toon, it is their strength in depth. Guthrie played instead of Tiote on Monday night, and equipped himself well, but you wouldn’t want him playing there for 15 to 20 games. If Ba gets injured, the Ameobis will get a game. But, with Newcastle sitting in the top 4, the Carroll money still in the bank, maybe they will spend in January, on a striker, a midfielder and maybe a right back. If they do, they could just hang around near the top for a very long time.
Newcastle take on Everton at lunchtime today, it won’t be a game for the purists. Two pragmatic teams, who will both think about keeping it tight to begin with. The game could go either way, Everton could easily come away with a slender victory, and if they do it’s how Newcastle react to a defeat that could decide their season. Whether they whither away to a safe mid-table position, or whether they keep up a top 4 challenge.
They have already passed a number of tests this season, as we know, the litmus test of any team or player is, can they do it on a cold wet night at the Britannia, and the answer in Newcastle’s case is a resounding yes.