At the beginning of the season not one of us would have entertained the idea that we would be unbeaten and 4th in the table after nine games, behind Chelsea only on goal difference.
Alan Pardew, his coaching staff, scouting staff and players are really surprising not only the so called ‘expert’ pundits like Paul Merson and Mark Lawrenson, but the Black and White Army itself.
Throughout this summer I’ll admit to being one of the pessimists. There is a difference though. Whilst a lot of fans were up in arms about the sales of Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique I thought each departure was a good move for the club.
When that disgrace who’s name I can’t bring myself to mention because he is not a man, but a well paid bully left at the beginning of the season I was made up. Andy Carroll was a decent prospect sold for a fee he will probably never be worth even when he does reach full playing maturity. Kevin Nolan was a leader and knew how to score, but lost half a yard of pace with each game and ended up appearing to run backwards towards the end of the season. No way is he going to be a top level player in three or four years time so a new contract for that length of time was out of the question. Jose Enrique wanted to move onto ‘European’ (lol) football with Liverpool and lost interest in us from January onwards – so all in all they all had to go.
My gripe was with the reluctance to spend money. Appearing to pull the purse strings far too tightly and come out with a load of bull about free transfers costing as much as a normal one… I had a gut feeling that Yohan Cabaye would be a good piece of business, but thought he would take time to settle. Generally we signed a couple of players on the cheap that I thought were a huge gamble. Foreigners that did not have a name, unlikely to make much of an impact in the best league in the world – I could not get my head around the lack of a ‘big’ striker coming in or replacing the players that went with proven quality.
How wrong I was. Graham Carr and his boss have done a great job in bringing in financially viable, technically and physically suitable and mentally mature footballers with a sound work ethic. The signings we have made to replace the players going out have been class to be honest. Given the contribution Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba alone have made to our cause so far, some teams (Liverpool….cough….cough…) could pay upwards of £40 million for a pair like that and not get anywhere near the same return.
Our midfield is covered in every aspect at the moment and has the manoeuvrability to change shape and formation with ease, losing none of its effectiveness. We are by no means the finished article. We are light a full back, centre half and striker still. However if the management can somehow get players through the door in January to fill those positions then I don’t care about price tags anymore. I trust their judgement.
Trust, there’s a word you don’t often hear associated with this club anymore. Anyone else feel the same? Maybe it is just me, but how can you argue with what you are witnessing so far this season?! If we fill those positions in January then this team could be set to do something special this season.
Now naturally after the stick us Toon fans have gotten over the years about expecting too much and the press unfairly painting some deluded picture of us to the rest of the nation, we are on the whole guarded about wanting to open our mouths and say we believe in this team.
However, this run of results is the best we have had in a very long time. It is not by accident either. We have heard about how hard Alan Pardew and Steve Stone are working on curing our long line of defensive woes and six goals conceded in nine games is providing promising results. The gaffer is stitching a brand of football together at the minute that is built on a team game – defending as a unit then attacking with technical precision, high work rate and flair that appears seamless at times.
The formula is working too. Nine games in and we have not lost. Not just that, we have not even looked like losing. Don’t give me that guff about not being tested yet. Spurs were a test. Arsenal might not be at the top of their game, but are a test for anybody. Wolves gave us a hell of a test and Wigan, desperate to turn things around, tried and failed. This team has shown time and again that when the plan is not working like it would hope, it has the mental resolve, work rate and little bit of class to just get the job done.
Put it this way, last season we finished 12th. QPR were not in the league, so lets compare this season with last based on the eight remaining fixtures we have played to date. This season we have accumulated 18 points from those games, last season we had just 5. That is how far this team has come. We are burying teams that previously we could only draw with, it is a jump up in class. Nine games in is pretty much 25% of the season. The boys are being consistent in the long term, we have not been able to say that for a while!
Now then here comes my reason for feeling optimistic about our chances this season… We have 30 games left. 10 of those are against the elite of Manchester United (twice), Manchester City (twice), Chelsea (twice), Arsenal (once), Spurs (once) and Liverpool (twice). You would be right to say it will be a huge ask to expect us to compete with them, which is why out of a possible 30 points I can only see us picking up maybe five or six.
However, the remaining 20 games are ALL winnable against sides similar to, or just not as good as us. Of those 20 games, I see no reason why this team cannot pick up 10 wins and 5 draws – losing 5 in the process at tricky destinations like Stoke and Everton for example. However that would see us pick up another 35 points. Add that to the 5 or 6 we gain against the elite and the 19 we have already amassed and we are realistically looking at a season total of 59 to 60 points.
Based on last seasons table, that would put us bang on the money for 5th or 6th place. With Arsenal looking unbalanced and Liverpool being inconsistent having spent big on players producing little, I reckon we are a realistic shout at pushing one of the two down to 7th with the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Spurs occupying the top four places.
Call me deluded if you want, but us fans have suffered long enough and this team is making me believe again…
What do you readers think? Is the top-six now a realistic target this season based on what you have seen so far?