10 things we’ve learnt this season

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Blogs
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Mike Ashley hasn’t changed

For the more optimistic among us, we had hoped that promotion back to the Premier League in the summer might finally stop Mike Ashley from making his seemingly tri-annual massive blunders that shake the club’s foundations and anger the supporters. Relegation (stadium naming-rights aside) seemed to have settled him down a bit, giving Hughton the job on a full-time basis followed by backing the manager in the January transfer window and again in the summer, without breaking the bank in doing so. The new, non-meddling, money efficient chairman had been slowly improving his public image. That was, until he angered not just the Newcastle fans, but the wider footballing world by relieving Hughton from his duties at the start of December, only to replace him with a man sacked by a League 1 outfit in August. For a man who supposedly shies away from the public spotlight, Ashley certainly doesn’t mind being Public Enemy Number One on Tyneside. For Toon fans, it seems the best advice with regards to Ashley is ‘expect the unexpected’.

Ashley returned to his old ways with the sacking of Chris Hughton


Andy Carroll is the future of our club

Not many could have predicted the rise of Andy Carroll from raw, lanky teenager two years ago, to Newcastle and England’s number 9, as he is today. In our relegation season I saw enough of him to know that he could head the ball and had decent chest control, but not much other than that. It turns out that relegation was a blessing in disguise for the club in many ways, but perhaps none more so than for the chance it gave Carroll to gain first team experience. Had we stayed up in 2009, it is probable that the likes of Owen, Viduka and Martins would have stayed on under Shearer’s management, leaving Carroll to either warm the bench or go out on loan to a Championship team unable to offer him the service that he thrived on last term. With Ameobi often injured, Carroll led the line alongside Peter Lovenkrands, scoring an impressive 19 goals (17 league) on his way to being named in the Championship Team of The Season. His value to the team has become even more important since returning to the top flight. Handed the prestigious number 9 shirt by Chris Hughton in the summer, Carroll has flourished, scoring 11 goals and assisting 6 more on his way to becoming one of the most coveted players in World football. With a price tag in the region of £20 million, the Gateshead born striker has many admirers, yet his sale would be a disaster for the football club. At the age of 21, he has the potential and time to become Newcastle’s greatest ever goalscorer. He is the future of the club.


We CAN win away in the top flight

One of the most pleasing aspects of Newcastle’s change in fortunes since they last (dis)graced the Premier League has been their much improved away form. In the 2008/09 season, we registered just 2 wins away from St James’ Park all season. Compare that to half way through this season where we have already picked up wins at Arsenal, Everton and West Ham. Perhaps the main reason for this upturn in away performances is down to attitude. For far too long Newcastle have been poor on the road, with players seemingly content to only ‘try’ at home. That changed after relegation. If Newcastle wanted promotion, they simply HAD to start picking up points away from home; and they did. This mentality has carried through into the Premier League and, combined with the extra defensive cover that Tiote provides, has seen us a lot more solid on the road.

Newcastle's away form has been the best for almost a decade so far this season

Joey Barton has a helluva cross on him

Since Barton signed for the club under Sam Allardyce in 2007, its fair to say he contributed almost nothing on the pitch; until this season that is. Continuing to enhance his growing badboy reputation, the Scouse midfielder was jailed in 2008 and when he hasn’t been behind bars or suspended for reckless lunges (Xabi Alonso) or needless punches (Morten Gamst Pedersen), he has invariably been injured. Broken metatarsals and cruciate ligament injuries had seen him play only 47 times in his first 3 seasons at the club. When he did play, he didn’t appear to offer much. However, after Chris Hughton stuck by him through another injury hit season last year Barton has already played in 17 games so far this season and has become the team’s most creative player, excelling from dead-ball situations and in delivering crosses from the right wing. His presence was sorely missed when he served a 3-match ban for his punch on Blackburn’s Pedersen and he showed how valuable he was when he returned for the Liverpool game and set up Nolan’s opener (with the help of Carroll) before prodding home the Mags second in a 3-1 victory. Often deployed in an unnatural right-wing role this season, he has benefited from a prolonged run of games in the team, making him one of the first names on the teamsheet.


Routledge is NOT a Premier League player

Wayne Routledge arrived 12 months ago in the January transfer window of 2010 and helped to propel us back into the top flight. In the Championship, the little winger confidently beat his marker before launching crosses onto the heads of Andy Carroll and Peter Lovenkrands. However, the wee man has found life tough since returning to the Premier League for the first time since playing a solitary league game for Villa in the 2008/09 season. Routledge’s top flight credentials have been questioned before, simply by the fact that he has earned the ‘journeyman’ tag, having played for no fewer than 7 clubs since leaving Crystal Palace in 2005. It seems that clubs have signed him, having seen his potential, but unable to coax consistency out of him, have shipped him on to another team that believes they can get the best out of him. He showed last season with QPR and then the Mags that he is undoubtedly an excellent Championship player. However, this season his delivery has let him down, not to mention the fact that he possesses neither the pace nor trickery to beat his marker. His main weakness though, is exactly that. He is physically weak and often muscled off the ball. He may be a decent squad player, but Premier League starter he is not.

Wayne Routledge has failed to deliver in the top flight so far

Cheik Tiote is sensational

Drawing comparisons from former manager Chris Hughton with Chelsea’s Ghanaian midfield engine Michael Essien may have drawn howls of derision from football fans up and down the country, but not from those of a black and white persuasion. Ever since his first start for the club at Goodison Park in September, the diminutive anchorman has far exceeded the fairly low expectations of him, as he arrived for the paltry fee of £3.5m from Dutch champions FC Twente, formerly managed by Schteve McLaren. At halfway in the season, others are starting to see what the Newcastle fans have seen all season; a tough tackling midfielder that rarely loses the ball and barely misplaces a pass. His energetic and committed approach also has its downsides however, with the Ivorian leading the way in the League’s yellow card count. The anchorman has added much needed steel and consistency to United’s midfield and become a firm favourite with the Toon Army in the process.


We’re sorted for goalkeepers

We started the season with the reliable Steve Harper, the Dutch under-21 captain (Tim Krul) and the reigning Norwich City players Player of the Season (Fraser Forster) on our books as our three main goalkeepers. The fact that our third choice keeper is on loan at and first choice for SPL giants Glasgow Celtic is proof that in the goalkeeping department, we have strength in depth. Those who doubted Krul’s credentials have seen him slot in seamlessly since number 1, Steve Harper was injured at Goodison in September. Although his kicking could be improved along with his decision making, as his gaffe against Man City shows, he has proved himself as a good shot-stopper and is confident in coming for crosses. As Harper returns from injury it will be interesting to see how the battle for the number 1 slot pans out, let alone what happens to Forster if and when he returns from his so-far successful spell at Celtic Park.


Kevin Nolan is an enigma

Although our prolific attacking midfielder seems to divide opinion among the Toon Army surely noone can criticise either the effort he puts in on the field, or the job he has done as club captain off it. Nolan divides opinion however, not because of his work rate, but more because of certain attributes he lacks. The Scouser is occasionally found wanting for both pace and awareness in the middle of the park, often guilty of surrendering possession too easily when dwelling on the ball. However, what he lacks in these departments he more than makes up for in the opposition’s 18-yard box. I found myself in the rare position of actually agreeing with Sam Allardyce a few months back. In the Sky studios as a pundit for the mackems game, he described Nolan as an average player in the middle of the park who comes to life in the penalty area. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment. I’m not sure how he does it, but sure enough if the ball falls loose in the box, the odds are he will be there to -more often than not- prod the ball home, either with neat sidefoots (West Ham & Liverpool) or the spectacular (Sheffield United & the mackems overhead kicks). Whilst his contribution in the middle of the park will always spark debate, it is hard to argue with his goal-scoring record, whether you view him as a midfielder or a forward. Long may it continue.

Captain Nolan cannot be faulted for his work-rate nor his prowess in the box

We have a good team, but a poor squad

Highlighted since the 5-1 loss to Bolton in November, Newcastle’s squad has been shown to be lacking strength in depth. Until the Bolton game, Newcastle coped admirably with their Premier League opposition when most outside the North East predicted a season of struggle. The fact that Hatem Ben Arfa and Steve Harper aside, the team had virtually no injuries or suspensions until November showed that the starting XI is capable of mixing and matching it with the best in the league. However, with the suspensions of Barton, Coloccini, Williamson and Tiote all coming in the last two months for one reason or another, we have seen the side struggle to replace them. In particular, the absences of Barton and Tiote for 3 and 1 game(s) respectively showed up the lack of strength in depth in United’s midfield. The loss of Jose Enrique through injury for the recent reverse at White Hart Lane also showed up our lack of cover at left back whilst the injury to Andy Carroll that sees him miss this week’s crunch ties at Wigan and home to West Ham is a real concern. Whether Alan Pardew will add sufficient strength to the squad in the upcoming January transfer window remains to be seen.


Mentality is everything

Despite what many people outside of Newcastle think, we were not relegated because our players were ‘not good enough’. We sank without a trace at Villa Park in May 2009 because throughout the season there was managerial upheaval, creating a loss of confidence in a playing squad that by and large couldn’t give a shit what division the club would be in the following season. This, and the lack of team spirit that now seems evident in the current Man City squad plagued the club on and off the field. Relegation turned out to be a blessing for us as Chris Hughton and the senior players pulled the club together, instilling a fantastic togetherness not seen at Gallowgate for years. In August, the predictable call from pundits was that we would be relegated as our playing squad was the same, if not weaker, than the one that took us down a year previous. However, they had discounted the effect of mentality upon a teams performance. The much talked about team spirit that now exists within the Newcastle squad has been vital in securing the mid-table position that the club presently occupies. Our relegation just goes to show that money doesn’t guarantee success and whilst it builds a squad, it doesn’t make a team. Manchester City beware.

 

What else have we learnt about the club at the halfway point of the season?

 

Happy New Year from Toon Barmy!

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