Last season’s post-Christmas horror show saw John Carver deploying full-backs in midfield or centre-half, wingers playing full-back and Jonas Gutierrez playing everywhere other than in goal after being told that he might not play ever again, shortly before being dumped via phone call.
The team was a shambles week in, week out with the weakness of the squad well and truly exposed.
(To feature like Notts Toon, send in your articles for our website to [email protected])
What led to this position was a keen mixture of years of under investment in the squad, young footballers seeing their development stunted by poor coaching, fringe players being used as pawns in a boardroom battle for control of Rangers, plus that old chestnut of injuries.
Here is a list of potentially first team players who were missing through injury or suspension for more than 12 weeks last season…
Siem de Jong
It could be argued that all five of those players should be in the starting 11, in the second half of last season there is little doubt that they would all have made the first team, and improved it.
Add to this the other, shorter, injuries to players such as Krul, Coloccini, Cabella and the three match ban for Colback, then you get the picture of just how depleted the team was for much of last year.
Obviously this highlighted a few things…
The squad is nowhere near big enough.
The replacements for first team players are nowhere near Premier League standard.
When your squad is small and weak it should not be further depleted to service business interests.
Once again injuries are our Achilles heel.
The immediate response at the end of the season was mystifying, we immediately released 5 players including the player who ensured we stayed up on the last day of the season.
Since then though there have been some signs of lessons learnt.
Most obviously we have two (soon to be three) new players, who all look to be better quality than we have been used to for the last 7 or 8 years, but the real changes are a bit more subtle.
We have seen some pitch time in pre season for players who most of us believed might have kicked their last ball for the first team, such as Bigirimana, Ferguson and Good.
We have heard the new coaching staff saying that they will look to actively reduce the number of injuries we suffer through a season by examining training and recovery times, and we have a coach who seems to value discipline and respect, much more than previous incumbents. All positive moves, all could have a real world impact.
However, it is back to the missing players from last season we must go to have that Bullseye moment, when we consider what we could have won.
I doubt that I am alone in believing that the latter part of last season would not have been quite so disastrous if we had been able to regularly call upon the five names listed above.
Imagine being able to take Williamson, Riviere, R Taylor and Jonas out of that team, to be replaced with S Taylor, Cisse, Tiote and Haidara.
Imagine if we had the option to use either Perez or De Jong rather than giving the young Spaniard more first team exposure than anyone expected through necessity, results would surely have been better.
Well, currently, those guys are looking very much like being ready for the new season (possible exception of Tiote), and we have bought in some additional quality to the midfield and attack, along with a soon to be signed defender.
The point being that, along with our new signings, we have a whole host of players coming back who will be ‘like new signings’, we won’t struggle to get them ‘over the line’ either, as they are here already, and this is without even mentioning the two new lads from Forest, who will literally be like new signings, or the Pardewed players being given a second look (Bigi, Fergy, Good, Cabella etc..).
Do not look out of your window to see if pigs are flying and to check that grass is still green, this is me being positive from a squad point of view.
It doesn’t change my feelings regarding the owner and it doesn’t halt my natural pragmatism, but it does allow me to say that there are possible positives for the coming season, which should allow for better performances and results.
Realistically, without further sales or investment and taking the signing of Mbemba as a ‘done deal’, I believe that the club is equipped to finish around the 8th to 10th spot in the league.
If we have improved fortune with injuries and keep our better players out of the treatment room, there is no reason for us not to be a much different proposition to last season.
The challenge will also be holding onto the better players next summer (or even in January when we have an awful habit of flogging the crown jewels), and adding to the group with sufficient quality to keep any forward momentum, something the club was completely guilty of after the rogue 5th placed finish under Pardew.
Steve McClaren and his coaching team are here for an initial three years, the head coach has spoken of serious plans for the upcoming transfer windows and of the players we will be targeting, history preserves my doubts and at Newcastle the next catastrophe is always around the corner.
However, whilst I may not be in the ‘wait and see’ or ‘cautiously optimistic’ camp, I do see that there are some signs of certain things being done differently and maybe even better than they have been before.
I’ll be watching the new season with interest proudly wearing my Magpie shirt in the hope that improved performances lead to the emergence of a new buyer, who will treat the club and its fans properly.