Posts Tagged ‘Nolan’

The NUFC A-Team

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We’ve all known for quite a while now that Cheik Tiote is actually The A-Team’s Mr T in disguise but now new information has been leaked that Tiote is not the only NUFC-related member of the A-Team as this image shows:

Nolan, Barton, Tiote and Pardew in their previous jobs as members of the A-Team

Alan Partridge commentates on some of Newcastle’s recent goals:

For Newcastle United supporters, 2011 was going well. Too well. Two wins on the trot and six points closer to Premier League survival, surely it wouldn’t take long until the self-destructive side of the Magpies reared its ugly head once more. Today at Stevenage, live on TV, rear its head it did. Some would argue that the 3-1 loss to the League 2 side was a poor performance. For me, it was a non-performance. Every player apart from Joey Barton delivered truly woeful performances yet the most appalling thing was that no one looked interested. A basic rule of thumb on Tyneside is that if even if you lack talent, pure grit and determination can see you become accepted and in even in some cases a fans favourite. This theory is becoming severely tested – like the Toon Army’s patience – by the likes of James Perch, Alan Smith and Wayne Routledge. As much as fans may admire Smith’s obvious hard work in the centre of the park, there comes a point when that simply isn’t enough. In the case of the Stevenage game, this involves being able to pass the ball to a teammate or at the very least NOT to an opponent when they are standing 3 feet in front of you. How Smith continues to disguise himself as a professional (let alone Premier League) footballer is beyond me. If there is a chance we can move him on in the current transfer window, we must take the opportunity. If not because he is a burden on the other 10 players in the team when he plays, then because he picks up a disgraceful weekly pay packet of more pounds than St James’ Park has seats.

Alan Smith in his disguise as a professional footballer

Anyway, enough of my grudge against Smith. There were 9 other shit performances on the pitch today, starting at the back:

Krul  6 Couldn’t do anything about the goals and made a few decent stops but the lad needs to sort out his kicking.

Simpson  5 Again shown up to be what he is. A Championship defender. Should host his own version of Can’t close down/Won’t close down.

Williamson  4 Unfortunate for his own goal but for the rest of the game he looked shaky and was at fault for their third goal. One of his worst performances in a Newcastle shirt.

Coloccini  6 Didn’t do much wrong but had a lot to do thanks to the lack of cover in front of him.

Perch  5 Not a left back. Not a Premier League footballer. A liability.

Routledge 4 Tried in vain. Simply not good enough. Too small, too weak and can’t cross.

Smith  2 The only way he could have scored worse is if he’d conceded his usual free-kicks near the box and seen a red card. Similar to Simpson, can’t pass/won’t pass.

Nolan  4 Tried hard but when not doing damage in the opposition’s box, he flounders in midfield. Contributed massively to our defeat with a succession of hoofed clearances, surrendering possession too easily.

Barton  7 The only man to come out of the game with any credit was United’s in form midfielder. Constantly trying to make the Toon tick, his goal was just reward for a good display. Must be frustrated that his teammates couldn’t match either his desire or quality.

Lovenkrands  5 Poor performance from the forward. Would have scored lower if he’d had any semblance of decent service.

Best  5 Same as for Lovenkrands. Proved he cannot replace Carroll for aerial prowess and hold up play.

Subs:

Ranger  5 Made to chase shadows in the second half, such was the lack of service and support from midfield.

Tiote  6 Very harshly done by for the red card. If it isn’t appealed and rescinded to allow him to face the mackems, we might as well all give up and go home.

Airey  6 Didn’t have long enough to do anything meaningful.

Manager:

Pardew 6 Only so much you can do from the dugout. Should have played Barton in the centre and started Tiote alongside him. Long-ball tactics played into their hands.

Simply put, not only did the players not look interested, but our supposed superior quality was non-existent. By resorting to long ball tactics we played into their hands and ensured that the side with greatest desire would emerge as the victors. Evidently, that wasn’t us.Whilst injuries and tiredness should not be discounted, we must take this opportunity to realise that beyond the first XI, we are severely lacking in quality; particularly in the creativity department. Whilst our strikers struggled today, it is hard to see how Carroll or even Drogba would have made an impact such was the shocking quality of service offered up by the midfield.

If one good thing comes out of today’s debacle it should be the old cliche that we can now concentrate on the league, as more games in our fixture list would undoubtedly stretch our already thin (on quality) squad even further. The upcoming week and the negative attention from the media that it will bring should also help us to refocus and come out fighting in the Stadium of Light in a weeks time. A win on Wearside will see the events of today largely forgotten, if not by those outside the north-east.

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!

Several managers were linked with replacing Chris Hughton after the amiable Irishman was ridiculously sacked at the start of the week. However, despite the coincidental availability of Hughton’s ex-boss Martin Jol brought about by his resignation from Ajax just hours after Hughton’s departure on Monday and betting on Martin O’Neill and Jurgen Klinsmann bringing their odds down dramatically, in reality only one man was ever going to get the job. Thursday morning saw the club officially announce what had already become public knowledge some 24 hours previously. Former Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton manager Alan Pardew was installed as NUFC’s new boss on an unheard of 5 and a half year contract.

Alan Pardew was appointed as NUFC manager on a 5 and a half year contract on Thursday

The silver fox – as he is affectionately known – had been out of work since the start of the season when he was, in similar circumstances to Hughton, unceremoniously relieved of his duties at The Saints despite winning their first silverware in over 30 years in the form of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Simultaneously, in the league, Southampton narrowly missed out on a play-off spot at the end of last season, despite being handicapped with a 10-point administration penalty. Southampton started the 2010/2011 season with a loss at home to newly relegated Plymouth but followed it up with a draw and an emphatic 4-0 win away to Bristol Rovers. Pardew was sacked just two days later however, with concern over staff morale given as the unofficial reason for his departure.

Just over a week before Pardew’s departure from the South coast club, Chris Hughton was enjoying his first home game as a permanent top-flight manager, watching his new number 9 and local hero Andy Carroll bag his first career hattrick in a 6-0 rout of managerless Aston Villa. Newcastle were back in the big time and all seemed well on the surface. However, with hindsight, we can now see that chairman Mike Ashley was unhappy with Hughton at the helm. However, with the win against Villa and the subsequent 5-1 drubbing of Sunderland combined with excellent away wins at Everton and Arsenal, he found it impossible to relieve Hughton of his duties when the club were sitting in 5th place at the start of November.

The 5-1 victory over Sunderland helped to delay Hughton's sacking.

With media pundits far and wide queuing up to tell Mike Ashley to reward the former Spurs man with a new deal, doubts about his backing from the boardroom surfaced firstly with the departure of Hughton’s number 2 and confidante Colin Calderwood in the middle of October. Calderwood chose to leave his position in order to take over at struggling SPL club Hibernian. Not a great surprise to most, but it was the search for Calderwood’s replacement that turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nine days after Calderwood’s seemingly innocuous departure came the biggest hint from the boardroom that Hughton was surplus to requirements. After rumours about his job security saw betting suspended on him being the next Premier League boss to lose his job, the board released this bizarre statement:

“Chris is our manager and will remain our manager, and it is our intention to re-negotiate his contract at the end of the year.”

Official Club Statement: 27/10/2010

The statement, especially when viewed now, in hindsight, was a clear indication that Hughton was not wanted, despite a good start to the season and support from the vast majority of the Toon Army. Then, in the following weeks Hughton’s efforts to appoint a new assistant manager were met with contempt from above. Hughton wanted ex-Chelsea and West Ham man Steve Clarke but Ashley and his puppet (Silence of the) Llambias wanted to see Hughton appoint from within, with reserve coach Peter Beardsley their favoured option. Their motives behind such a move are now obvious, with them looking to dispose of Hughton as soon as possible and understandably reluctant to shell out wages and the inevitable compensation package that would follow when Hughton’s successor decided to bring in his own men. As a result, Hughton never got his number 2. He knew all along that he was living on borrowed time yet the way he conducted himself in the last few months is the mark of the man. In the face of such adversity and non-compliance from the board, he carried out his job with incredible dignity, the likes of which have not been seen since Sir Bobby Robson left under similar circumstances in 2004. Where other managers would have vented their feelings to the media and leaked to the papers the lack of boardroom support, he kept all problems in-house, well aware of the damage that can be done to the club via such channels.

Following Colin Calderwood's departure, Hughton was not permitted to choose his own No. 2.

Ashley’s sacking of Hughton was delayed only be the good form of the team on the pitch. He waited for the team to slip up and after shipping 8 goals on the road to Bolton (5-1) and West Brom (3-1), he wielded his much used axe. The announcement caused anger nationwide and for once, football fans seemed to sympathise with Newcastle fans as they realised that this was a decision taken solely by Ashley, with the Toon Army still – to borrow a Hughtonism – “very much” behind their manager. Anger was tempered slightly by the hope that the board would deliver on their reason for sacking Hughton:

Supporters still angry that Hughton had undeservedly lost his job and the club had lost its new-found stability hoped that Ashley had a plan. Out-of-work managers Martin O’Neill and Alans Curbishley and Pardew were the early front runners. Confirmation late on Monday of Martin Jol’s departure from Dutch giants Ajax seemed too well-timed to be a coincidence, yet that was all it was. The Toon Army’s hopes that Hughton’s replacement would indeed have significant top-flight experience were unfounded. The most unpopular of all realistic appointments, Pardew scored less than 2% of over 1000 votes in The Evening Chronicle’s ‘Next NUFC manager’ poll. On this site, he had only 1 vote prior to his appointment on Thursday, after which he garnered a further 2, taking his percentage to just under 3.5%. To say the Toon Army were underwhelmed would be an understatement. After yet another major blunder by Mike Ashley, he had a chance to go someway to rectifying the situation through the appointment of an experienced manager, as stated was required to ‘take the club forward’:
“If they are going to fire someone as good as Chris, they have to then bring in a big name, someone who has won trophies. And that doesn’t even mean he will necessarily be better. If they just bring in someone similar, it’s a joke.”

Jose Enrique
However, the hiring of Pardew (a joke according to Enrique), sacked by 3 of the 4 clubs he’s managed, was a slap in the face to the Newcastle fans and a kick in the balls to Chris Hughton who must wonder just what Pardew had done in his 74 Premier League games that Hughton had failed to in 16. One thing that Pardew does possess over Hughton is the blemish of a relegation on his CV, taking Charlton down in 2007, although to be fair, they already seemed doomed when he took the helm at the Addicks at the end of 2006. 

Alan Pardew took Charlton down to the Championship in 2007

Anger amongst the Toon Army further followed with BBC Sport claiming that Ashley knew Pardew as he had become one of his gambling buddies at Llambias’ London casino a few years back. Pardew claimed the first he heard of the possibility of getting the Newcastle job was when he received a call from his agent on Monday night, yet that begs the question why the bookmakers had him installed as the early favourite, amid rumours he met with Ashley the week before Hughton’s dismissal.

Whilst protests are planned at St James’ Park for before and during today’s game against Liverpool, it is highly unlikely that they will achieve anything but disruption on the pitch. There are echoes of the Hull game after Kevin Keegan’s acrimonious departure 2 years ago. On that day the Magpies lost 2-1 and 8 months later Newcastle United were relegated at Villa Park, finishing the season in 18th place, 1 point behind Hull City with a superior goal difference. Had Newcastle won that game, they would have survived with ease (on the basis that all other results stayed the same), finishing with 5 points more than Hull. It turned out to be a true relegation six-pointer… in September. 

Protests against the board in 2008 contributed towards the club's relegation. Repeat scenes today are not needed.

Therefore, if anyone was in any doubt as to the importance of the game against Liverpool, who arrive with a poor away record this season, they need only look back to that fateful day on the 13th of September 2008 to see that points need to be gained as soon as possible and protestations simply do not help on-field matters. Whilst many will not like the appointment of Pardew, and certainly not the sacking of Hughton, there is nothing we can do about it. At the end of the day, we are not fans of any individual. We support Newcastle United and the team needs us, both today and for the rest of the season. To Chris Hughton, thank you. To Alan Pardew, good luck.

Howay the Lads!!

Seven days ago Newcastle surprised the rest of the country, rampaging their way to the biggest derby victory over local rivals Sunderland in over 50 years. Today they ended the week in similarly surprising circumstances at The Emirates. Once again, Newcastle’s players awoke to negative stories regarding their private lives and once again the allegations acted as a catalyst, spurring the Magpies on to another impressive performance and one that fully warranted the 3 points that fire Newcastle into 5th place in the league. Only 11 days ago, the two sides met at St James’ Park in the Carling Cup. The 0-4 scoreline on that night was harsh on a young Newcastle side yet anyone believing today’s league meeting would result in a victory of similar ease for the Gunner’s was sadly mistaken. The two teams made several changes from their Carling Cup lineups, with both fielding near full-strength sides.

Newcastle lined up unchanged from their recent Premier League victories over West Ham and Sunderland; a surprise to many as that meant the retention of Shola Ameobi in a 4-4-2 formation when some thought Chris Hughton might revert to 4-5-1 in the hope of nullifying Arsenal’s excellent midfield. Perhaps inspired by West Brom’s recent victory at The Emirates, Hughton made the decision to attack Arsenal, albeit mostly on the counter. Newcastle’s hard working team of 10 Championship battle-hardened players plus summer recruit Cheik Tiote were at it from the start, harrying their Champions League opponents at every available opportunity. The increasingly impressive Jonas Gutierrez and reformed Joey Barton stuck to their defensive tasks well throughout, constantly pressing the advancing Arsenal fullbacks Sagna and Clichy respectively, forcing them to send the ball into the centre of the park towards captain and playmaker Cesc Fabregas. That Fabregas had one of his poorest games in an Arsenal shirt was partly down to a lack of fitness, but also due in no small part to the excellent performance of his tireless opponent Cheik Tiote, who once again demonstrated his incredible composure in a sensational display. Andy Carroll may have won SkySports bottle of Champagne, but if Tiote was either a) English or b) Constantly in the headlines, he would surely have walked away with the man-of-the-match prize.

Mister T(iote) had Arsenal captain Fabregas in his metaphorical pocket

The Ivorian yet again nullified the attacking threat of his opposing midfield counterparts – adding Fabregas to his long list that already includes the likes of Cattermole, Parker and Arteta – before commencing Newcastle counter-attacks with his wide range of precise passing. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was that Tiote wasn’t playing for the home side, such is the success of Arsene Wenger’s scouting network, particularly on the African continent.

After the opening ten minutes, in which Newcastle looked more like the home side, with lengthy spells of possession, Arsenal came back into the game, carving out some half-chances through Marouane Chamakh and a deflected Fabregas free kick that struck the crossbar from 25 yards, with Tim Krul beaten. Yet for Arsenal’s domination, the Gunners could not create any meaningful chances, often being guilty of overplaying when trying to pick the perfect pass around the edge of Newcastle’s box. Newcastle too, offered little on their sporadic counter-attacks, with Gutierrez going down rather easily under a Bacary Sagna challenge in the Arsenal area the only real threat to Arsenal’s goal in the opening half hour. Ten minutes before the interval however, and the first real chance of the match arrived. A Fabregas cutback found Samir Nasri on the edge of Newcastle’s 18-yard box. His venomous first time shot curled round two players before heading toward the top corner to apparently break the deadlock only for Flying Dutchman Tim Krul to leap through the air and divert the ball safely over his crossbar with a fantastic right-handed save. Arsenal’s resulting corner was one of several flagkicks for the Gunners in either half, yet they all came to nothing, with the added height of Newcastle’s two strikers consistently heading the ball away from danger alongside the formidable centre-back partnership of Williamson and Coloccini – both have started all 11 league games for the Magpies.

When Newcastle were awarded a free kick in the middle of the park in added time at the end of the first period, it seemed like an opportunity for United to waste some time and get into the break all square at 0-0. Arsenal fans started to head for the bars for their half-time refreshments when Joey Barton lofted the ball quarterback-style deep into the Arsenal box. Newcastle’s towering number 9 was the obvious target and when Arsenal’s Polish ‘keeper Fabianski came half-heartedly to collect the ball, Carroll obliged by leaping above his marker and planting a firm header past the stranded Pole and into the Arsenal net to give the Mags a halftime lead. That Carroll sprinted to celebrate with gaffer Chris Hughton in front of the away dugout shows the player’s unwavering support of the somehow under-fire Irishman.

Carroll may be no Angel, but his reputation and stature in the North-East is now comparable to that of the Gateshead landmark

In the second half, Arsenal further dominated possession as they looked to close the gap between themselves and league-leaders Chelsea to just two points. With five minutes of the second period gone, Newcastle’s Carling Cup tormentor Theo Walcott threatened to level proceedings, as he cut inside from the right flank, nutmegging Moroccan teammate Chamakh before firing a powerful effort onto Krul’s crossbar that rebounded away to relative safety. As the home fans grew impatient, Wenger rang the changes, introducing the returning Van Persie and the previously ever-present Andrei Arshavin to boost their firepower just before the hour mark. A succession of corners aside, however, and their introduction had little impact, with Newcastle continuing to frustrate their opponents as the match wore on. As Arsenal’s impatience increased, so did their reliance on uncharacteristically pumping the ball high into the box; a tactic that paid no dividends with the Magpies easily coping with any aerial threat placed in front of them. As the game entered the final quarter of an hour, Newcastle gained more possession of the ball and with it, territorial advantage.

Newcastle substitute and boyhood Arsenal fan Nile Ranger entered the fray with 8 minutes remaining, replacing the again fantastic Shola Ameobi. Soon after, Ranger almost broke his Premier League scoring duck in spectacular fashion, blazing a good bicycle-kick effort over Fabianski’s bar from 10 yards out. Moments later, Ranger was involved again as he latched onto a long ball on the right wing, turning Koscielny on the touchline with ease, before racing toward the Arsenal goal. With Koscielny sensing danger and situated on the wrong side of Ranger, he hauled down the Newcastle striker, receiving a red card in the process, adjudged to be the last man, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. It proved to be the last meaningful act of the game, as Newcastle won at The Emirates for the first time since it opened in 2006 and for the first time at any Arsenal ground since 2001.

“Overall, though, I still believe we were very unlucky to lose the game, they had one shot on target. We hit the woodwork two or three times and their keeper made a very good save.”

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger may have had some grievances about both the red card and the scoreline but in reality, Newcastle defended magnificently, only allowing Arsenal to test Krul twice, with Nasri’s rasper and a diving header from Fabregas the only real moments of concern for the young Dutch stopper, crossbar-bound efforts aside. Newcastle may have only had one shot on target but that was all they needed. All over the pitch, Newcastle had eleven heroes, with every single player in black and white turning in spirited, determined performances. Special mention goes however, to Williamson; a colossus throughout, Enrique; who made Walcott look average, Tiote; simply sensational, and Carroll, who continued to push for an England call-up with an all action display that belied his lack of experience.

Carroll led the line magnificently at The Emirates and fully deserved his goal

Newcastle once again proved that they are more than a match for teams on the road and especially those with more quality that allow Newcastle space to break into. However, whilst good away wins at Everton and Arsenal have proven that Newcastle’s gutsy determination and graft is capable of beating quality, they have yet to show that they have the quality required to beat similar teams that graft. Home defeats to Blackpool and Stoke and a draw against an inconsistent Wigan side have all shown flaws in Newcastle’s ability to break down teams that defend deep and put 10 men behind the ball, as Newcastle themselves do away from home. It seems that Chris Hughton has managed to get the best out of players that his several predecessors couldn’t (Barton in particular) and this is proving invaluable on the road, where the Mags have already exceeded their total of away wins from the entire 2008/09 season. It is, however, home games against the likes of Blackburn and Fulham – up next for Newcastle – that will determine their fate this season. So whilst Newcastle’s incredible away record continues, with the Toon’s graft defeating the artful quality of Arsenal, the question remains, do Newcastle have the quality to beat the ‘lesser’, grafting sides at St James’ Park? Only time will tell.

For Keegan, read Hughton. For Ginola, Gutierrez. Shearer: Carroll, Ferdinand: Ameobi, Beardsley: Nolan… You get the picture. Newcastle’s emphatic Tyne-Wear derby destruction of hated local rivals Sunderland led to fans harking back to the days of “The Entertainer’s” in the mid-nineties. Comparisons have been made with the infamous ‘Howay 5-0h” five-nil drubbing of Manchester United in October 1996. Darren Bent’s late consolation goal aside, the scoreline against the mackems on Sunday would have replicated that of arguably Newcastle’s greatest ever game.

Sunday's atmosphere and feel-good factor have been compared to that of the 5-0 win over Man United in 1996

Granted, times have changed (massively) and Sunday’s game was played between two relegation rivals (Or mid-table at best), rather than the clash of the title-challenging giants that took place on the same pitch some 14 years ago. Since the heady days of challenging for the FA Carling Premiership under Kevin Keegan in the mid-90’s, Newcastle have had 8 permanent managers and several others whom held the fort temporarily, not least Tyneside’s local hero and record goalscorer Alan Shearer. Keegan himself returned for a brief period before leaving under a cloud once more. The club reached two FA Cup finals then languished in the lower echelons of England’s elite league before returning to Europe under Robson after the turn of the century. Robson came and went, as did the club’s stature and relative success. The club went into decline once more and soon became the laughing stock of the country, spearheaded by chairman Freddy Shepherd and his successor Mike Ashley. The decline of the club, once commonly known as “everyone’s second favourite team”, culminated in its relegation in May 2009. The team on that day contained supposedly World-class players. The likes of Michael Owen, Damien Duff and Obafemi Martins all helped to sink the club into the depths of England’s ‘Championship’, or Division 2 in old money. The players of season 2008/09, although undoubtedly unsettled by the constant managerial changes and off-field troubles, seemingly didn’t want to be there and they played like it too.

Comparisons were quickly drawn with other fallen footballing giants including the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United. Yet, guided by Chris Hughton, Newcastle returned to the Premier League at the first attempt, selling their uncommitted players and installing a new-found camaraderie along the way. A 6-1 pre-season defeat to Leyton Orient and the subsequent inquest is seen as the turning point in Newcastle’s recent history that paved the way for the club’s immediate return to the Premier League; the team’s fighting spirit evident throughout a season in which the Magpies went unbeaten at home. At the start of this season, pundits from far and wide queued up to offer their opinions that the Newcastle squad that came up would just as quickly be going back down. Whilst that may still happen, the baffling reason most pundits gave for Newcastle’s predicted relegation battle was that the playing squad had changed little and was, in fact, weaker than the one that took them down:

“It worries me that he has come up from the Championship with pretty much the same Newcastle team that got relegated from the Premier League.”

Andy Gray, 13 August 2010

What Andy Gray somehow forgot to include in his analysis, however, is that a good or bad team is much more than simply a collection of good or bad players (as Man City are demonstrating at present). If that were the case, Newcastle would surely have never been relegated in the first place and FA Cup ties between Premier League giants and non-league minnows might as well never take place, as only one team is guaranteed to win. Gray completely omitted the effects of mentality (including team spirit, determination and confidence) on a teams performance from his pre-season predictions. As a result, he has been made to look somewhat silly, as Newcastle and their promotion counterparts West Brom and Blackpool have taken the league by storm. To be fair to Gray, however, he later admitted that the new-found confidence in United’s squad was both surprising as well as responsible for their decent start to the season:

“The biggest difference for me between this team and the one that went down is confidence and it’s amazing what that can do for a team.”

Andy Gray, 24 September 2010

Newcastle’s improvements since that fateful day at Villa Park in 2009 stretch far further than just an increase in confidence however. For a start, stability both on and off the pitch has helped dramatically. The appointment of Chris Hughton as the team’s permanent manager just over a year ago has led to similar starting eleven’s, week-in week-out. And arguably, for the first time since Sir Bobby was in charge, players have been played in their correct positions, with the exception of the occasional deployment of Messrs Guthrie and Barton on the right wing. Hughton has by and large been a success in the transfer market too, despite what some of the media would have you believe. The signings of Mike Williamson and Wayne Routledge in January provided the team with a timely boost, changing Newcastle’s return to the big time from a steady process into an emphatic one. Add to that, the arrival of Ivorian midfielder Chei(c?)k Tiote in the summer. The battling anchorman has proved to be a snip at £3.5 million and is surely an early contender for Premier League signing of the season.

Cheick Tiote has been a revelation since signing for £3.5 million from FC Twente

Yet the main differences in Newcastle’s squad from 2009 lie within both mentality and player improvement. In dropping to the Championship Newcastle’s players, with their newly instilled fighting spirit, had to do what no Magpies side had done successfully since the Robson days; win away from home. Regularly. For too long, Newcastle have relied on their home form to have a decent season, far too often turning in poor performances when playing away. Whether or not they scraped survival or challenged for Europe depended mainly on how many points they picked up on their travels. In order to gain promotion, the mentality of the players needed to change. Spurred on by the external criticism of them, the players took on a winning mentality, especially away from St James’ Park. That mentality has been carried through into the Premier League, with victories at Everton and West Ham having already matched the amount of away wins the club recorded during the entire 2008/09 season.

The technical improvements in United’s existing playing squad have also been underestimated by those who blatantly never bothered to watch Newcastle play last season before predicting a bottom-three finish. Andy Carroll, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini and Jose Enrique all benefited hugely from their year in England’s second flight. For Carroll, the much needed playing time he received significantly improved his game, transforming him from a raw, lanky striker into Newcastle’s new number 9, with rumours of a full England call-up growing at the same rate as his criminal record. As for the latter three, the Spanish speaking trio all arguably possessed the talent required to succeed in the Premier League, yet they had failed to show it on a regular basis. In the Championship, they flourished, adapting to the English game with 46 physical battles coming thick and fast.

Spanish speaking trio Enrique, Coloccini and Gutierrez benefited greatly from their 12 month secondment to the Championship

The settling in period proved invaluable as the trio each staked their claim for player of the season, with Enrique eventually picking up the accolade. The vast improvement of Enrique and the Argentine duo over the past 12 months has undoubtedly helped the team in the Premier League this season. Behind Ashley Cole, Evra and Clichy, you would be hard pressed to find a better Premier League left back than Enrique, whilst Gutierrez, since being dropped at Goodison Park, has put in some performances akin to his debut at Old Trafford, when he looked every inch a World-beater. As for Coloccini, mocked the length of the country during the relegation season, he has returned to the top flight with a point, and a hefty price tag to prove. Now idolised by the fans with a song to boot, the fact that Coloccini has worn the captain’s armband in the absence of Kevin Nolan this season is testament to the curly-haired centre back’s progress and increased importance to the team over the last year.

In the 14 years since St James’ Park rocked to The Entertainers 5-0 thrashing of Man United, much has changed, but arguably more change has occurred over the past year than in the preceding 13. For a team that was predicted by many to collapse into obscurity, they have returned with a vengeance and whilst the 5-1 victory over Sunderland at the weekend may not have seen the return of The Entertainer’s, it certainly signaled that times are changing at St James’ Park and the Geordie faithful can once again have pride in their team. Whether or not they can survive come the end of the season is unknown, but one thing is for certain; if Newcastle do return to the Championship in May, it will not be for want of trying.