Newcastle United was in “crisis” we were told before the season began. That “crisis” intensified after a 4-0 opening weekend drubbing at Manchester City. As time goes on I realize it is critical not to make snap judgments about teams. This season’s Magpies squad fits squarely into that category.
Alan Pardew’s position was undermined before the season by Mike Ashley’s ill-advised hiring of the comical and inept Joe Kinnear as Director of Football. Against this backdrop and after the first match, Newcastle was tipped by many an expert for relegation.
However, things have turned out quite differently. Despite a second straight loss in the Tyne-Wear derby, something sure to irritate supporters, the Magpies have been quite good since the end of August. The French core of the side has begun clicking once again, with want away Yohan Cabaye’s reintegration into the squad critical for the developing cohesion.
Loïc Rémy whose time at QPR was marred by injury and rape accusations has shown a top drawer finishing ability and the creative spark provided by Cabaye has been complimented in spades by the likes of Mousa Sissoko, Hatem Ben Arfa and even the right-sided Mathieu Debuchy.
While Kinnear’s appointment is troubling, it has become obvious that Alan Pardew still controls the playing side of the team and that despite losing his “de-facto” Head of Football status, Chief Scout Graham Carr still will influence decisions about signings. Carr’s signings have by and large panned out at a rate other clubs can only dream about. The squad has over a two year period been transitioned from an underachieving largely British side to an effective even if inconsistent cosmopolitan looking team.
Now the challenge for Pardew will be to keep the team together and reinvigorate the misfiring Papiss Cissé whose performances almost saw the Magpies qualify for the Champions League two seasons ago.
Newcastle is unlikely to compete to finish in the top six, but after a half century without a major domestic trophy, perhaps this is a side to make a deep FA Cup run? Pardew has prioritized ending the club’s long trophy drought and last season it can be strongly argued that the clubs deep European run plunged the side somewhat unexpectedly into a relegation fight. Despite the close call, the Magpies survived and can take that cup experience forward in this year’s FA Cup?
Newcastle’s league position and uncertainty of some of the clubs around the Magpies in the table also means European qualification via league position is not out of the question. It certainly seems like August was a long time ago for Newcastle supporters.