Newcastle are now ten games into the Premier League season, and have competed in six Europa league ties including a two-legged qualifier.
Whilst it is still too early to call how the season will pan out, the trend in the performances so far can at least give clues as to how competitive we are likely to be over 38 games.
Thus far, United have played against five of the current top six in the league, namely Tottenham (H), Chelsea (A), Everton (A), Manchester United (H), and West Brom (H). We have also visited the grounds of our nearest rivals Sunderland, and our biggest away day menaces Liverpool. The remaining three games consist of a home draw against Aston Villa, an away draw against newly promoted Reading and a home win against former boss Chris Hughton’s Norwich.
Looking at the games played so far our points tally of 14 from a possible 30 appears to be a decent return; however there is a feeling amongst some supporters of frustration at opportunities missed in a number of encounters. With hindsight, the points collected at Anfield and the Stadium of Light can certainly be considered as points gained under the circumstances – being a man down on both occasions – yet given our dire record at Anfield and the significance of the derby game, one can be excused for feeling a little deflated after conceding in both games from winning positions. Whilst not looking much of an attacking threat in either contest – for the whole game against Sunderland and up until Suarez’s sublime equaliser at Anfield – we were fairly solid defensively and hence looking decent value for maximum points.
The point snatched at Everton can only be deemed as valuable whichever way you look at it. Up against a strong side likely to push the top four all the way this season – and on the back foot for much of the contest – I think fans and staff alike were happy to come away with a share of the spoils. Similarly at Reading, a point was just about deserved following a poor performance, the difference with this one though being an expectancy to win the game. Newcastle are likely to have marked that game down as a potential three pointer, especially given our strength away from home last season against teams in the bottom half of the table. The same could be said of Villa at home – a game where we were expecting three but in the end were happy to settle with one.
It’s safe to say that on the whole this season Newcastle have not hit the heights of the last campaign, and hence there is a feeling that there is more to come. Papiss Cisse in particular has not reached the explosive level we were subjected to last year. Perhaps it would be asking for a little too much to expect a repeat of his mind blowing half season following arrival from the Bundesliga, however his talent was there to see for everybody, and we can be confident that a hot streak will arrive at some point – hopefully soon. Demba Ba has started the season well and Hatem Ben Arfa has shown flashes of brilliance, but again there is a feeling that there is a lot more to come from these two – add Yohan Cabaye to the mix and there is a definite case for optimism.
November looks to be a big month for the Magpies. The loss of Captain Colo for three games and Cheick Tiote for the next one are a blow, but there seems to be sufficient cover in the squad to negotiate the next few, with Steven Taylor back to full fitness and Vurnon Anita putting in a couple of decent shifts against Liverpool and Brugge respectively. Home fixtures against West Ham, Swansea and Wigan and visits to Southampton and Stoke make up the next five in the league, with an important game against Maritimo sandwiched somewhere in between.
Each of these games should not be underestimated, both in terms of the opposition and their importance in shaping our season. Positive results at this stage would really see us climb the league table significantly, and see us into the last 32 of the Europa league. We’re currently three points off Everton in fourth, a win on Sunday would see us leapfrog West Ham and with Fulham travelling to the Emirates on Saturday, a win would guarantee a place in the top eight with Swansea at St James’ Park to follow.
A place in the top eight at this stage of the season bears little significance to the final standings, however looking at the table as it stands only six points separate Liverpool in 12th from Everton in 4th. By the time we face Manchester City on December 15th the spread in points in the middle section of the Premier League is likely to have drifted somewhat.
We need to ensure that we are somewhere near the top of that spread.