I wrote this in December 2011 and I wanted to reflect on if things have changed and if so how…please give me your comments too.
So, whether you support Arsenal or West Ham, Portsmouth or Leeds, you will most likely have some opinion on the ups and down of Newcastle United.
If like me you are a supporter of the black and whites, it can be a highly frustrating and turbulent existence. Being Scottish, I have no real reason why I support the north england club, but at the age of 7 I made my decision and despite suggestions from friends and family that perhaps I should find myself another team when Newcastle were relegated to the Championship, I stood by them and was delighted when they regained their rightful place in the Premier League.
This season has been like many before it, although slightly better given the highlights so far including drawing with Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United while thrashing Blackburn and getting one over on Everton. However, that good beginning has started to be eroded. Newcastle have not won at home since the owners decided that it would be a good idea to rename the stadium from St James’ Park to The Sports Direct Arena and we have dropped points in games we could have won. Well what can I say, rights now we are running with 1 win in 7 after a humiliating defeat at home to Reading yesterday in a match we dominated in the first half.
At the start of the season, we had a well oiled defensive unit which consisted of Simpson at RB, Steven Taylor and Coloccini at CB and Ryan Taylor at LB with Krul in goals. While the defense was creating one of the best back lines in the league, Demba Ba and Leon Best were working wonders rattling up the goals at the other end. I guess it would be fair to say that we have had a fair amount of injuries this season, and losing Demba Ba to Chelsea was a sad day..but expected. However, the amount of goals we have conceded so far is ridiculous. Krul has not been the stable keeper he was last season and the defense has been making some woeful errors based on switching off or not having the confidence that comes with a run of good form.
Many of the problems have stemmed from the back line and crept into the midfield. Steven Taylor’s long-term injury was exacerbated when Coloccini also found himself sidelined, meaning that Perch and Simpson ended up being drafted in as make shift centre backs. I don’t like to single out players, but Perch has never proved himself at this level, his positional play is under par, Premier League strikers have been finding holes all over the place and the goals have been leaking in. At the same time, Tiote and Guthrie also missed a number of games and the engine room relied solely on Cabaye, who to his credit has taken to English football superbly since his arrival. Cabaye is still a quality player, but with his injuries, alongside Toite not being available has meant that Anita has had to up his game and step up….he is still young and not quite ready yet so cannot be blamed for the lack of form of the side.
A number of injuries and suspensions have meant that Newcastle have been light on players for key matches and youngsters have had to step up to the plate. Last night saw Vuckic get his chance in the first team against WBA…some of his shots were stunning and unlucky not to find the back of the net. However, unless you are Manchester United or Arsenal, very few teams have the calibre of youngsters who can fill in at that level. Even with a shortage of first team players, we should have had enough to beat Swansea, QPR and WBA and it is these games that frustrate fans the most…not the losses to Man City or Chelsea. These teams are Championship sides and correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we have one of the most successful Championship title seasons of any team to date? Why cant our squad, even with some second string players in it, not be beating these sides?
But if I may, I want to analyse where I think this problem has stemmed from. For years, Newcastle has bought mediocre or injury prone players like Owen, Smith and Butt while letting go of Milner, Woodgate, Enrique and even Carol…although time will tell with this one. We are still in the process of off loading unwanted players with high salaries, Barton and Nolan have gone, but there are others. Until we get to a point where the wage bill has been reduced sufficiently for the owners liking, we are always going to be limited on who we can bring in. Rumours that Tiote may leave in January are in the air, and if a top 4 team comes in with a bid +£20mill, Ashley might just take it which would add to our woes. I think this is still the case, we have players that really should have gone in the summer transfer window and replaced with fresh faces. The January window has given us that chance and aside from a right back, we don’t seem to have grasped the opportunity with both hands…I don’t know if we don’t have the money or Ashley simply thought Pardew had enough to work with or there simply isn’t anyone suitable? Aside from a French striker (Remy) who was plucked from right under our noses and signed for QPR last-minute, oh…and scored this weekend against West Ham to rub salt in the wound.
I have always believed that Newcastle have the ability to play at the highest level and captivate an audience, but also to make their fans want to switch over to Eastenders or Countryfile on a Sunday afternoon rather than see them go 3-1 down to Stoke. (I know they played Stoke on a Saturday folks)
I was dubious when Pardew took over as manager, expecting…nay demainding that the club should find a world-class, well-known manager who could command respect and ensure that the team was over hauled. But I now realise that this was never on the cards, Ashley, as much as people may dislike him, was quite astute. Rather than spending big when the side got promotion, he kept a cap on the transfer budget, got the clubs debts down and installed a manager that was, and is, as down to earth as you can get. This worked in two ways;
1. Any high-profile manager would have been under extreme pressure to succeed, bringing in players and most likely stripping out the heart of the team before being fired for failing to get enough results – start all over again, de ja vu.
2. It did not over exaggerate the ambitions of the club and supporters. Many belive that Newcastle should be contending for the title, but those years are gone and focus now needs to be on stability, exactly what Pardew is trying to portray and instill.
Anyway, I digress…
I believe that Pardew has done a great job for Newcastle so far, but unless he gets the chance to bring in a few players, he will always be up against it. Just look at what happened to Blackburn. 3-4 years back, who would have thought that they would now be bottom of the league? They stopped investing in players and relied on surviving with their experienced, and yet underwhelming, Premier League squad. Newcastle needs an experienced defender, not a world beater, but someone who can fill in and become the Coloccini of the future. Is that Kadar? not likely. Is it Bassong…whoops, offloaded him (or could he come back?) Still the case.
The team also need a central midfielder. Guthrie will never command enough playing time to fully develop and if Cabaye was injured, Tiote sold, or what ever may happen, there would be a massive hole in the middle of the park to fill and right now all we have are youngsters and Alan Smith!? Still the case, but at least we got Anita and offloaded Smith.
Unless we bring in a few players, retain what we have that we value and stop attracting famous but questionable players to the club, we are never going to compete consistently at the highest level. Perhaps a few loan signings would be enough to see us through the season and thus evaluate the potential of our younger players while not relying on them? I still wonder if borrowing a midfielder from another club could be the answer, maybe dare I say it Jenas from Spurs?
I am grateful and glad that we have accumulated a reasonable amount of points so far this season that should make us safe no matter what else happens, but I am also sure that there will be some nail-biting and hair pulling point along the road also. I guess that is part and parcel of being a fan, take the rough with the smooth…what I think annoys most is that many can see the issues that the club has endured in the past and has right now, all we ask is that changes are made, even small ones, to show that the club is moving in the right direction. Undecided if we are moving in the right direction, a few new faces and a few older ones have left, but the squad depth is still poor and mediocre players that will never perform at a Premier League status need to go and if Coloccini is on his way out we need a central midfielder and central defender with experience.