Despite our club’s steady decline over the last 14 years, the Mike Ashley era has occasionally conjured up some quality players to keep our fanbase tuned in.
The likes of Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa were all fan favourites signed during the Ashley regime, with present day stars like Allan Saint-Maximin currently keeping us on the edge of our seat whenever he dons the famous black-and-white stripes.
However, in this article, we are going to look at which players have been the “unsung heroes” of this era. The grafters, the triers and the names who, despite putting in a worthy stint while repping NUFC colours, don’t quite get the adulation they deserve.
Here is our unsung XI, complete with a full substitutes bench and a manager in the dugout too!
GK – Karl Darlow
Signed in a double deal from Nottingham Forest with current skipper Jamaal Lascelles back in 2014, Darlow initially took a while to force himself into the side.
However, he got the chance in 2016 when Rafa Benitez lost faith in new signing Matz Sels at the start of Championship season – and took it with both hands!
An integral part of our title winning season, Darlow continued as our number one in the top flight and could rightfully feel unjust when Rafa replaced him with Martin Dubravka in January 2018.
An injury to the Slovak at the start of the current campaign presented Darlow with another golden opportunity, and Callum Wilson aside he has arguably been one of our standout players this season!
RB – Danny Simpson
Initially brought in on loan during our heroic 09/10 Championship campaign, Simpson was swiftly signed permanently and cemented himself as our first choice right back, playing a pivotal role in the side that finished 5th under Alan Pardew. He was undoubtedly the unsung hero from that 2011/12 season.
While neither flashy nor skilful, Simpson was a dependable defender and was best known for several goal line clearances during his time here!
He never quite got the recognition he deserved in a Toon shirt, and once he left he became part of the team of misfits that went on to defy the odds and lift the Premier League title with Leicester in 2016.
CB – Ciaran Clark
Signed by Rafa Benitez ahead of our successful 2016/17 Championship campaign, he is one of the only players on the list still playing for the club.
A rock-solid centre half, the Irish international has never let us down despite, often finding himself way down the pecking order but always fighting his way back to show what a capable and consistent player he can be at Premier League level.
He’s also chipped in with some crucial goals, with his 11 in 96 league appearances putting him one behind former winger Hatem Ben Arfa and eight ahead of Joelinton!
CB – James Perch
“Perchinio” had a disastrous start to life on Tyneside, looking out of his depth at Premier League level and picking up the unwanted record of becoming the first player to be cautioned in the first five games of a top flight season.
However, he stuck in, battled for his place, always gave his all and eventually won the hearts of Toon fans during his three year stay here.
A highly versatile player who played a part in our 5th place finish and run to the Europa League quarter finals, Perch never shirked a challenge for the NUFC cause and that is why he is a worthy part of this unsung side.
LB – Ryan Taylor
Another versatile member of the team, Taylor was capable of playing either full back position, as well as in midfield or on the right flank.
Signed as someone who used to love a goal AGAINST Newcastle, Taylor made up for his previous convictions in August 2011 when he became the unlikely hero in the Wear-Tyne derby, crowning the birth of “Ryan Taylor, Over The Wall!” His stunning free-kick gave us a 1-0 win – our last victory over the Mackems almost 10 years ago!
Taylor was another key part of the side that finished 5th and will always be held in high regard by the Toon Army for as long as he lives.
RM – Jonas Gutierrez
His first season on Tyneside ended in relegation at the end of 2008/09, yet he was a man reborn in the Championship and ended up jetting off to the World Cup in 2010 – with Argentina coach and the late, great Diego Maradona declaring his team as “Messi, Mascherano, Jonas and eight others”.
His awkward but effective carrying of the ball, ability to win fouls and get up and down the wing relentlessly endeared him to our fanbase. An emotional return following his battle with testicular cancer was without question the pinnacle of his time here, showing what a battler he was both on and off the field.
In his final game, Gutierrez put in a man of the match performance as he grabbed a goal and an assist to keep us in the Premier League and fire a brutal message to despised owner Mike Ashley.
CM – Isaac Hayden
The other player in this team who still plays in black-and-white, Hayden has rapidly become one of our most integral players since signing for us back in 2016 via big tackles, hard work and bravery.
A Championship winner, Newcastle’s “Mr Reliable” appears to improve with each passing season and has even added versatility to his game, with the defensive midfielder being deployed at centre half and even at right back in recent times.
He doesn’t score many goals or make the headlines, yet some fans are calling for Hayden to be handed the armband – a huge illustration of just how rated he is by our supporters.
CM – Danny Guthrie
Guthrie was one of the only positives to come out of that horrific 08/09 campaign as he became a surprise favourite with Newcastle supporters.
His real influence came in the heroic Championship season a year after, as he made 38 appearances for Chris Hughton’s title winners and cemented himself as an important part of the side.
Guthrie became a squad player once we were in the top flight due to the arrival of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote, but still made 16 appearances in his final year – and often did a good job when he did – before leaving to seek out first-team football.
A noble mention who often gets forgotten for the part he played in our club’s recent history.
LM – Yoan Gouffran
Signed as part of the “French pick-and-mix” back in 2013 for just £500k, Gouffran scored some important goals in NUFC colours but doesn’t get mentioned whenever we reminisce about the great players from France to play for our club.
On Boxing Day that year, he became the first player since Alan Shearer in 1997 to score in five consecutive games at St James’ Park when he notched in a 5-1 win against Stoke City.
His time on Tyneside coincided with a troublesome spell for Alan Pardew, however he dug in to help us out of the Championship under Rafa Benitez, popped up with a few big goals, was versatile and always worked hard.
ST – Peter Lovenkrands
“Signed him on a free, from Germany!”
Lovenkrands has been one of the pound-for-pound best buys of the Mike Ashley era, with his goals in the second half of the 09/10 Championship season helping to secure promotion and get us back to the big time.
His partnership with Andy Carroll was a key part of our success but his displays were often overlooked due to the adulation being shown towards the new Geordie hero that was making a name for himself.
He had to play his part the year after following the sale of his strike partner, and chipped in with important goals against Birmingham and Blackpool to keep our points total ticking along – cementing our top flight for another year.
ST – Ayoze Perez
Nobody has scored more goals for Newcastle United since Mike Ashley bought the club than Ayoze Perez, with him getting into double figures in each of his last three seasons on Tyneside.
The Spaniard was just a boy when we took a £1.5million punt to sign him from Tenerife in 2014, but quickly became one of the first names on the team sheet with some eye-catching displays.
Some fans never gave him the credit he deserves, and Ayoze was at times unfairly made a scapegoat for a club that was obviously lacking leadership and direction.
He evolved into a proven Premier League player under Rafa, and was sold for a hefty profit when Leicester paid £30million for his services in 2019.
Manager – Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton is rarely held in the same breath of importance as Kevin Keegan, Sir Bobby or even Rafa Benitez – but he should be. We often forget that when our club was relegated in 2009, many expected us to “do a Leeds” and fall further down the pyramid to the third division.
In his first job as a manager, he inherited a fractured squad, devoid of confidence and a dressing room of unhappy players, but showed inspiring leadership to rally us together and steer the club towards an impressive Championship title the following year.
On our Premier League return, he infamously battered the Mackems 5-1 after a 6-0 win over Villa earlier in the season and had us sitting in a respectable 12th position, only for Mike Ashley to backstab him due his inability to force players to sign a waiver stripping them of any future bonuses.
His credentials at NUFC give him full authority to take charge of our “Unsung XI”.
- Paul Dummett
- Antoine Sibierski
- Leon Best
- Federico Fernandez
- Daryl Murphy