Can’t Ba Me Love – Newcastle’s Surprising Start Continues

A month is a long time in football. On August 26th, there was mass teeth-knashing on Tyneside, as a disappointing transfer window was creaking to a close for Newcastle and their much-maligned owner Mike Ashley. As a fan of the club, I try to keep my articles on their fortunes to a minimum, preferring to try and broaden my horizons a bit with the fortunes of other clubs. But I feel I can make an exception, as the Magpies currently sit pretty nestled amongst the leading lights in fourth place. As this probably won’t last much longer, now is as good a time as any to cash in on such unexpected success.

Due to the hush-hush nature of much of Mike Ashley’s transfer dealings, it is not appropriate to place a figure on how much was spent this summer. One thing is for certain though – it was nowhere near the total fee recouped by the sales of Carroll, Nolan and Enrique. At the time, many fans, myself included, were quite dismayed at this, and arguably with good reason. Jose Enrique was replaced with an unproven, injury prone right-footed left-back in Davide Santon. I eagerly await his debut, and hope he is the real deal. As I type this however, he remains on the sidelines, leaving the square Ryan Taylor-shaped peg to fit into the roundest of holes. The centre of defence is one injury or suspension away from being filled by James Perch, who is barely Championship standard. For now though, the side are getting away with it.

A key reason for the defence remaining largely solid so far is the sheer talent of those in the centre of the midfield. Check Tiote and Yohan Cabaye provide the ideal balance of poise in possession and biting tackles – as long as these two remain fit, points will be picked up, as they are providing chance after chance for an often mediocre strike force. On the wings, there is the work-rate of Jonas and the pace of Obertan. While the latter often flatters to deceive, like so many of his predecessors on the right wing, he at least worries defences. In addition to this, manager Alan Pardew is beginning to welcome Marveaux and Ben Arfa into the side, giving even further competition for places ( surely the most important component for a successful side ).

Up front, the numbers are there, but is the quality? At the beginning of the month, there were serious doubts. There probably still are. The bare facts however, tell us that both Demba Ba and Leon Best have three Premier League goals to their name. Alan Pardew seems to have turned his much-regretted lack of January purchases to his advantage. Think of it this way, if you were a footballer who was constantly being questioned, with lists of bigger names being suggested to replace you, it would act as a serious motivation to prove those nay-sayers wrong. Everyone (apart from the disgraceful gun-toting drink-driving Nile Ranger) has grabbed the opportunities to get themselves on the scoresheet, and with such a currently dominant midfield, there are plenty of those. Demba Ba in particular was a revelation against Blackburn, with a dynamic hat-trick to evoke memories of the great Tino Asprilla. Keep that up, with Ben Arfa soon to be supplying the bullets, and yet more progress can be made.

In the next five games, only Spurs at home represents a truly formidable opposition, and Newcastle could yet find themselves firmly entrenched in the top six by the time stiffer challenges arise. Mike Ashley is well known as a gambler – could his ownership of Newcastle finally be about to reach a turning point as a result of a gamble? He risked everything by not signing his manager a new striker – yet Alan Pardew’s reputation is only gaining more credibility by maximising what he has. Top ten would still represent a considerable step forward for the Magpies, but another point or three at Wolves will have people toying with the possibility of more.

Gerard Walton

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