Having a big club mentality is something Newcastle United fans have had constantly levelled at them but believe me appointments such as Joe Kinnear, 'big name' signings like Xisco and relegation soon puts things in perspective.
If finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League constitutes being a 'big club' then that's what we were for about two seasons under Sir Bobby Robson but those memories of the San Siro and the Nou Camp have faded. Trips to the likes of Glandford Park and Bloomfield Road to watch us lose mid week league games in the Championship soon had toon fans who live in the real world lowering expectation levels and increasing alcoholic consumption.
If spending shit loads on 'trophy signings' who command obscene wages for past successes on the pitch constitutes being a 'big club' then that's what we were during the reign of Freddy Shepherd but the blank cheque books are long gone. Today we adopt the football equivalent of saving Nectar points and reusing carrier bags and it's started to pay off. Last week we announced an operating loss for 2010/11 of just £4.7million compared to £35.5million in 2009/10 and we're forecast to break even this season. Say what you like about Ashley and Llambias, and believe me I have, but if there were a league table for credit we'd be top.
On the pitch this season we've generated four things money can't buy: confidence, momentum, team spirit and points. A combination of winnable opening fixtures, organisation and hard graft has been the reason for this unbeaten run which frankly no one in their right mind predicted before we kicked off the season against a wobbly Arsenal side. That game and the one nil win at the Shed of S***e in August are major catalysts for us gatecrashing the top four. Imagine if we'd failed to pick up anything against Arsene Wenger's pillaged Arsenal side and lost to Bagpuss Heed in the dark place? Pardew and the board would have had serious questions to answer regarding the prudent summer transfer window. Instead the gamble paid off and the confidence those results generated helped us turn games we'd normally draw into wins (Fulham, Blackburn, Wolves, Wigan) and games we'd typically lose into draws (QPR, Villa, Spurs).
If the Premier League was a real marathon Newcastle would be the fun-runner in a Scooby Doo costume trying to keep pace with a leading pack of Kenyans
The good cop / bad cop duo of Cabaye and Tiote in midfield is growing stronger by the game and our defence is one of the leanest in the league thanks to the calming presence of Coloccini and brute determination of Steven Taylor. Gutierrez is producing the best football we've seen from him since he signed in 2008 and Ben Arfa is itching to be let off the leash. Last week Pardew said he saw the little Frenchman as a striker but at the minute he can't get into the team due to the form of Ba and Best who have both showed they know where the net is with Shola even weighing in with a rare wonder goal at home to Spurs – a game we were unlucky not to snatch at the death, though that would've probably been unfair on Spurs.
Another significant factor for our form has been the departures of Nolan, Barton and Enrique. Big players but players who came with big egos and wages that we could well do without. I was gutted when each of them left but long term its been great for the club. Losing vocal personalities such as Nolan and Barton has let quieter members of the squad like Cabaye and Coloccini exert more influence on the side, while losing a player like Enrique, who's heart clearly wasn't in it, hasn't been the disaster we predicted. Though Jose's departure was made no easier by the fact he was just starting to come good after three seasons of mediocracy, Ryan Taylor has surprised us all with his performances at left back and has written himself into Geordie folklaw with his effort over the wall on Wearside.
History tells us disaster can strike at any time at NUFC and I'm sure the next bad headline is just around the corner but for the time being things are rosy in the St James' Park garden. Alan Pardew has been astute in his handling of praise and criticism, building bridges between the fans and current hierarchy which at times had seemed irreparable. He's shown tactical nous when required, been almost faultless with team selection and always waves when we sing his name. He's even shown signs of developing the knack of playing badly and winning which we demonstrated at home to Wigan – something I don't remember us ever doing before.
The clubs policy of signing young players who represent value for money is working and we're yet to properly see what the likes of Davide Santon, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid can really do but I see the big test coming in the January transfer window. The number 9 shirt still wants filling and we need cover at centre half. The obvious cliché to employ at this stage would be: it's a marathon not a sprint. If the Premier League was a real marathon Newcastle United would be the fun-runner in a Scooby Doo costume trying to keep pace with a leading pack of Kenyans – can we maintain it? Probably not, but it's fun watching us try.
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