What’s going right?
The development of Fabricio Coloccini into one of the best defenders in the league certainly would have surprised those who saw him in his first season at Newcastle United. Lightweight, poor positioning, all too often skinned for pace. These days he plays like Cannavaro in his prime and is instrumental to us having any hope of climbing the table.
Mike Williamson is drawing a lot of plaudits for reasons that are beyond the Geordie faithful. The man is to defending as Jimmy Savile is to childcare. A walking omnishambles, he is guaranteed to make at least one error per game that leads to a goal, ranging from bungling simple tackles, forgetting to track players or misjudging the flight of a ball. His defending isn’t up to Championship standard yet due to the fact he’s young and English he is talked about as if he is a future England international. God help us if that is true. Truly he belongs at the club that persevered with the likes of Peacock, Bramble, Boumsong and Marcelinho.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with Danny Simpson, who was also in England contention, seems to have his mind on other things. I’ve seen Tulisa’s sex tape and have to concede I can’t quite grasp what that might be but to each their own. Still, it is reminiscent of the Bobby Robson era when the club became a laughing stock: underperforming young stars on huge money and seemingly more interested in celebrity lifestyle than results on the field. Given the great strides we’d made away from this of late, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
The injury to Yohan Cabaye has also exposed us in the centre of the park. Cheick Tioté might have negotiated a massive contract after scoring that volley against Arsenal but he’s done little to justify it since. He clearly needs his cultured wingman in the centre of the park with him or we’re going to struggle.
Got the right manager?
Alan Pardew has obviously reaped the benefits of inheriting a young side galvanised by Chris Hughton, a chairman that is too afraid of his own fans to be visibly “hands on” and a fantastic scouting system. Tactically he has got it wrong several times this season but no real fan can be surprised at where we are in the table. We didn’t strengthen defensively when we had the opportunity and have had injuries to key players we were lucky to avoid last year. We punched well above our weight and enjoyed a healthy slice of luck. Pardew seemed happy to take the plaudits, less so to take the criticisms now we’ve hit the wall.
Pardew remains the bland and inoffensive bridge between owners, players and fans - the footballing equivalent of a “team leader” in a call centre. There’s no reason for him to go any time soon and compared to some of the names bandied around with our club there’s good reason to hope it stays that way. However, we all know deep down that the days of challenging for Champions League and giddy cup runs are over for the foreseeable future.
Although there are a handful of stand-out players in a squad that has a lot of mediocrity in it, anyone who has been to St. James Park this year knows that the man who bleeds for the cause is Jonás Gutiérrez. Ba might have banged in the goals, Coloccini might be the rock in the defence, but no-one works harder on the pitch. He’s already been used in four different positions this season at various points and never complained once. A true legend.
Who would you like to sell in January?
With all the injuries we have there is no-one we could realistically afford to lose although especially now that Ba has gone. What’s probably telling is that he’s been pretty much the only player even linked with another club.
Who do you want to sign?
We definitely need at least two defenders. Mathieu Debuchy will be back on the cards, paving the way for Simpson to leave the club and move to London - most likely Fulham if rumblings are accurate. A world class centre-back to partner Coloccini is a must and those are in short supply. Ricardo Carvalho as a short term measure? He’s being hawked around. To be honest, anything would be an improvement at the back yet, as always, we seem to be lining up even more strikers.
In midfield it’d be great to get someone who has the steel of Tioté without the constant blunders and histrionics. Moussa Sissoko of Toulouse would be a good fit in our every expanding French team and with his contract running out in the summer maybe Didier Deschamps would twist his arm and force a move.
Best chant so far?
Either: “He's sh*t, he's French, get him on the bench, Obertan, Obertan!”
Or: “so this is how it feels to be Geordie, this is how it feels to be kings, this is how it feels when Ben Arfa's tearing up on the wings” if for no other reason than it’s to the tune of “So this is how it feels” by the Inspiral Carpets.
Best opposition player/team?
Manchester City comprehensively played us off the park and if there is a better all-rounder in the Premier League than Yaya Touré I’d be interested to know who he is. The man is a colossus and I don’t see how City can even begin to think that they will keep within touching distance of the top when he goes to the African Cup of Nations.
Biggest **** of the season so far?
Alex Ferguson, as per usual. The most successful British manager of all time and a footballing mastermind? No doubt. Anyone who isn’t sick of the FA letting him act with impunity while at the same time fining “lesser” managers for lesser offences is a blinkered Man United fan. His constant goading of the opposition is one thing but when it comes to bullying officials the FA’s refusal to act in his instance, after receiving a toothless “final warning” from them years ago, makes the English game a laughing stock.
End of season prediction?
We’re in a relegation battle for sure and whether or not we have the staff for the fight is anyone’s guess. With Q.P.R., Southampton, Reading, Wigan and Aston Villa all looking marginally more terrible than us fifteenth is about right and any fan who wouldn’t take that right now the way things are going is still living in the Keegan era.