Sunday, 24 February 2013

Ball is in Newcastle's Court

Since Ashley invested in Newcastle's french contingent, things have really started to pick up at Newcastle United. The club has recorded 3 wins in the Premier League and managed to progress in the Europa League.

A quick analysis of the table adjacent suggests we're in a much better position than we were 3 weeks ago. For starters, we're ahead of the mackems. As well as this, we've managed to pull away from QPR, Reading, Villa and Wigan who are lurking perilously close to the drop zone. The win away at Villa was pivotal and the turning point in our season without a doubt but the win over Southampton is up there with the Chelsea result. The Chelsea result would of mattered for little if we were unable to add to it without victory over the Saints. But we did win and we're on the up. In his post match press conference, Pardew suggested that 10th was a real possibility and that's what they're striding for at the moment. We currently sit on 30 points and the team in 10th (Stoke) have 33. This is very much achievable, 3 points in the Premier League is vital, Stoke, Fulham, Norwich and West Ham are all likely to lose more than one of their remaining games and I'm confident Newcastle can improve on what has been a disastrous season so far. What remains to be seen however, is whether or not Newcastle will be able to juggle the European commitments. Pardew has stated that he will take the competition seriously - we have the depth to compete in two competitions it's a question of whether we're able to perform well in two. On a positive note,  Newcastle are closer to 6th than they are 20th.

In our next few games there is potential to pick up points. Our next trip sees us travel down to Wales to play Swansea who beat Bradford in the Capital One cup final. Hopefully, the Swans will be hungover from their cup antics and Newcastle will be able to sneak a point or even a win. When Birmingham won the competition 2 years ago, their league form suffered. Hopefully Newcastle will benefit from something similar. Squeezed in between the next league fixture is the away leg of the European tie which will see the Toon play Anzhi Makhachkala. If the lads can score an away goal we'll be in a great position to progress. Then we play Stoke at home - a very winnable game. We beat them comfortably at St James' last season but they did beat us 2-1 at the Brittania this year. If we're to maintain our charge up the table, one would assume a win against Stoke is imperative. It's achievable but it's difficulty must not be underestimated.

The ball is in Pardew's and Newcastle's court, it's just what we do with it.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Getting the job done and progressing

In my previous post, I gave my arguments for why Newcastle should have fielded a strong team against Metalist Kharkiv. In the aftermath of the result I believe many more fans are realising why they should have too.

We have something to strive for now. In a year where Bradford have reached the League cup final why shouldn't Newcastle United fans feel optimistic about progressing in the Europa League? After thursday night's performance hopefully we've sent out a message to the other teams left in the competition; we're not going to roll over. We did what we had to - score in the Ukraine. It was left to Shola again who dispatched his 15th European goal from the penalty spot. Remarkable.

Newcastle played well, we kept possession nicely in the first half an hour and contained them manfully. It was evident we didn't want to concede and at the back we looked solid. Up top we didn't look as sharp however we still showed signs that we could hurt them through Sissoko, Cisse and Shola. Thankfully, Papa Gueye decided to hand the tie to us with a comical back pass which left his 'keeper stranded in no mans land .We took advantage and now we're through thanks to some heroics from Tim Krul.

Now we need to push on. A win at Southampton is a must and very much achievable with Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran coming back into the side. From there, hopefully we can take advantage of Swansea's jubilation/misery by turning them over on their back yard or by nicking a point. Michael Laudrup has turned them into a decent side - a point is a decent result. Then we face Anzhi in Moscow. They sit 2nd in the Russian league and possess some quality players with the most recognisable being Samuel Etoo. If we can get an away goal and keep the tie low scoring Newcastle have every chance of progressing. By the time the tie comes around we will have players such as Hatem Ben Arfa at our disposal as well as hopefully an in form Papiss Cisse. On home soil with the backing of a bouncing Strawberry Corner who knows what may happen? Pardew's team selection against Kharkiv was a signal of intent - we're going for it. I can't wait and I haven't been as excited in a very long time. Long may it continue!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Why a result in the Ukraine is vital to Newcastle's resurgence

Last season Newcastle United finished 5th which secured a European place and European nights for Newcastle supporters. But they now are in a precarious predicament, do they sacrifice Europe to focus solely on premier league survival or do they dare to dream and juggle both?

As far as I'm concerned, not attacking Thursday night's game is suicidal and would be idiotic. Why? What was the point I'm qualifying for the competition in the first place? Thankfully Pardew has been quoted as saying that he will attack Kharkiv as 'we want to win something'. So do I and his squad selection matches his words. We now have the players to accommodate both competitions and mount a serious challenge for the Europa league. Sounds absurd but it really is my view. We have quality in depth in every position apart from up front although I'm hoping Yoan Gouffran proves me wrong. All we need is a score draw in Kharkiv to progress. One positive from last Thursday was that we didn't concede an away goal. We also proved that we can score goals past them. But playing Metalist in Kharkiv provides a much trickier affair. We're away and in uncharted territory - playing in temperatures unimaginable and unenviable.

An argument posed by many NUFC fans were along the lines of 'Sunday is a must win game, lose it and our season is gone'. Our season has already gone and I think Pardew/Ashley/Llambias know that. Although this may sound cocky, there are 3 worse teams than Newcastle in this year's premier league. We can afford to not be as worried as were after the defeat to Reading. If we play our strongest team tomorrow and then go out then we have no excuse for premier league failures that may befall us. What will be to blame then? Also, if we do progress surely we'll have something to aim for rather than finishing 15th in the league. Personally I'd take 17h in the league if it meant we reached the final of the Europa league and were in contention to win a trophy.

The squad Pardew has chosen to take with him is the one is a nice blend although his inclusion of so many first teamers surprises me and excites me. I would of left a centre back at home and left either Anita/Tiote at home to prevent any injuries/have fresh legs come Sunday. Id use Sissoko as an impact substitute as well. We also have Gouffran, Ben Arfa and Debuchy all available for Sunday as well as those who don't make the first XI against Kharkiv. So the argument for fresh legs from toon fans is invalid in my opinion.

We can do it. Fortiter Defendit Triumphans but only if we get that elusive away goal.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Newcastle roller coaster takes new twist

It's not often you can come away from a football match feeling both joyous and bewildered but that's exactly how I felt walking down from level 7 on Saturday. Newcastle United, the wee club in the north east had managed to nullify and defeat the reigning champions of Europe, snatching the game with a late winner. A result even Alex Ferguson would be proud of.

There's something about NUFC that's special. Something that separates it from every other club. Every time you try to escape the chaos, something extraordinary happens. In the latest twist, it was a gift from across the  water in the shape of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran. They led the Toon to victory with Moussa Sissoko steamrolling everyone and everything.

I went into Saturday's game slightly more optimistic. The vital win at Villa settled my nerves and meant I had some belief that we could our season back on track. I hoped for a draw and felt it was achievable - Eden Hazard was suspended and Turnbull was likely to be in goal. As I took my seat at the back of the rollercoaster, I prayed we didn't suffer the fate as Aston Villa when they succumbed to an 8-0 defeat. My heart sank when I found out Juan Mata was fit and Petr Cech returned between the sticks. We would have to on the top of our game and I was aware Chelsea have a better away record under Benitez then they do at Stamford Bridge.

After 40 minutes of relatively enjoyable football, something miraculous happened. Jonas Gutierrez scored. That's a miracle. He even scored with his head, possibly the first header he's won in a black and white shirt! My eyes were surely deceiving me? It was fantastic wing work from Santon on the left for the goal and thankfully he's looked more composed in the last few games. He's been one of Newcastle's best players this season but has suffered recently. Hopefully, the assist will do him the world of good. His performances have not gone unnoticed and he's since been called up and played a full 90 minutes for Italy.

But Chelsea fought back with 2 wonder goals. Frank Lampard blasted in from 25 yards. Brilliant goal from the Chelsea talisman but I'm annoyed we sat back. Too many times we've invited pressure on ourselves and it nearly cost us. Minutes later Juan Mata put Chelsea into the lead with a delicious finessed finish past Tim Krul. We weren't outplayed, we were victims of 2 unbelievable goals. For the next 10-15 minutes we were mere passengers and didn't look at all interested until Papiss Cisse left John Terry on his backside and played in the impressive Gouffran. Gouffran raced through on goal and did well to power a shot goalwards. Cech saved but could only parry to the onrushing Sissoko who adopted a very good attacking position and was able to slot home for his debut goal. A very good finish from the frenchman but a poor mistake from the experienced Cech.

I was delighted with 2-2. We'd fought our way back into the game and were giving Chelsea a game which was refreshing to see. But my highlight was to come; Sissoko chased down a lost cause, kept the ball in play,  knocked the ball past Ashley Cole and out sprinted him. Utter madness but one of the best things I've ever seen at St James' Park. The crowd went nuts - it was evident the Toon army had taken the lad to their hearts already. Little did they know, he was to become an instant hero. For his next trick, he picked up the ball, spread it out wide to Santon who played it back to him. From 20 yards, Sissoko fired home. Pandemonium. Ecstasy. Joy. 3 words I haven't been able to say since Chelsea away last season. What a player, what a game. We'd nicked it at the death.

Where do we go from here? Upwards. Avoid any unnecessary bumps in the track and push on. With the return of Cabaye and the influx of new signings, we have a real chance of achieving top ten. And with the return of Hatem Ben Arfa, who knows what will happen?