Whisper it quietly, but after a miserable winter of discontent in Newcastle, confidence is slowly starting to return on Tyneside. After yesterday’s crucial ‘six-point’ victory over Southampton, Newcastle have now won four from their last six games; and following a thorough and professional performance against a talented Metalist Kharkiv side, are into the last sixteen of the Europa League.
Newcastle are now up to 14th in the Premier League and are finally heading in the right direction. The win against an impressive Southampton side was certainly hard fought, and arguably, a result that would not have come pre-January. Before Christmas, Newcastle struggled to juggle the demands of both the Premier League and Europe, this new look Toon however, is now made of sterner stuff.
November, December and January have been about as painful as it gets as a Newcastle fan. A threadbare squad, a defence shipping goals, a notorious release clause triggered, various home defeats, and an apparent want-away skipper all helped lead to the very real possibility of a 2009 repeat. A season that started with so much optimism and promise somehow turned on its head and become a complete and utter blow out.
So what’s gone wrong? After all, a side that finished fifth in the table in May does not just turn into a bad team over night. Sadly the main problem for Newcastle this year has been self-inflicted. Rather than going out and strengthening the squad that had done so well, the Newcastle hierarchy spent most of the summer polishing Alan Pardew’s manager of the year award and patting each other on the back for a job well done.
This lack of foresight and investment has left Newcastle woefully short of numbers this time round, especially with a European campaign and an injury crisis thrown into the mix too. This year Mike Ashley tried do it on the cheap once again, only this year, unlike last, he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Thankfully for us Newcastle fans though, as the spring begins to arrive, there does now seem to be signs of life starting to show. After a worrying and morale destroying defeat at home to Reading, the bugle was blasted and the French cavalry was called. After months of brinkmanship with Lille, Mathieu Dubuchy was finally signed, followed swiftly by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Hairdara and Moussa Sissoko. All drafted in on long term deals, over a remarkable four day period.
The new blood that was required in the summer had finally arrived. Sadly for us fans, it took for Newcastle to sink into the bottom five before the money was spent. With the reinforcements now in place Newcastle have looked a far better unit. Victories against Villa, Chelsea, Metalist and now Southampton have led to a real renewal in optimism. That being said, Newcastle are not out of the woods just yet and there are still many questions to be answered.
With the new signings now on board, can Newcastle realistically mount a challenge for the Europa League? Even with the new recruits, can the Magpies still afford the luxury on a European campaign given the current position? And if they can’t, has too much damaged already been caused in the last six months?
Like anything in football, the proof will be in the pudding. The more points Newcastle can pick up in the league, the more emphasis they can place on Europe. The only problem with that is, the more European games they play, the tougher the league campaign gets; it’s a vicious circle.
There is no question that Newcastle now has a far stronger squad, certainly one capable of going further in the Europa league; and in Moussa Sissoko they look to have picked up a gem, a marauding animal of a centre-midfielder with a real goal threat. The return of Yohan Cabaye has been another key factor. Like an NFL quarterback, Cabaye is the brains of the side, it is he who pulls the strings, he conducts the orchestra, everything goes through him.
Between Cabaye, Sissoko and the returning Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle should easily have enough quality to pull out of trouble and hopefully start a fresh next season. Provided none are sold, three players of that quality should provide a solid base from which to build next year, without the distraction of a European campaign.
That being said, this is Newcastle United so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are still eleven massive games to go this season, and a trip to Russia to face Billionaires Anzhi. Whether Newcastle have done enough in January to now juggle both competitions, or whether it’s all too little too late, we’ll have to wait for May to find out.
For the time being though the fans are reasonably happy. With three wins from four now in the league, the club are finally heading the right direction. Perhaps even more importantly though, with club still in the midst of the mammoth trophy drought still on-going since 1969, that glorious dream of silverware is still alive.