Cheick Tiote – Ball Player
We started fairly indifferently, struggled badly before buying half of France and looking a vastly improved side. It would be easy for others to look at our new signings and simply say ‘there’s the reason for the improvement’, whilst in reality there have been several more reasons for an improvement than just the French Revolution. The way we are set up, and the better football we are playing as a consequence, is at the root of that. It has led us to the quarter finals of a European tournament for the first time since 2005 and I am very excited about it!
Thursday night was a great occasion. We had a near full stadium for the first European night for years and the atmosphere in the ground mirrored that. The roar that greeted the players at the start of the match didn’t diminish despite the slightly ropey first half performance. As the game progressed and it became fairly obvious that only one goal was going to win the game either way, then tension rose for all concerned. With the tension going skywards, so did the volume levels and I think if we are to progress in this European competition we need to keep that up.
There seemed to be a real and genuine desire to win the match from the players too, which has been absent in other cup competitions this season and last. Our Capital One Cup and FA Cup performances have been nothing short of shambolic, so it appears clear to me that Pardew has instilled a real belief into the players for this tournament. His patter to the press before and after the game claimed that we can win this tournament – and I for one believed him! Thankfully the players appear to as well which is important.
The problems which we brought upon ourselves at the start of the season, such as individual errors in midfield and defence, have started to slip away. If we do make those errors now we also seem to be able to recover from them better. The Swansea game is an example of how we are still capable of shooting ourselves in the foot. We conceded a late goal despite having enough time and opportunity to deal with the problems in front of us. On the positive flip side of that coin, the Stoke and Southampton games are great examples of how we seem much more capable of recovering from those individual errors which dogged us earlier in the season. In our match on Thursday night for example, Steven Taylor’s triple block at one point was something that perhaps wouldn’t have happened earlier in the season, and we would have crumbled there and then. We didn’t and thank goodness for that.
These mistakes do bring me to an important point. Shifting Mike Williamson to the bench/reserves in preparation for life on loan at Doncaster has been a huge boost – because for once we’ve replaced him with real quality in the shape of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. This has also meant the hoofs up field which infuriated so many, have been replaced with clever passing across our back four, helping us retain possession better.
The problem that this has created however is it brings Cheick Tiote into the game as a ball player more. I must say at this point, I’m a huge fan of Cheick. His commitment and effort is commendable. We do have to be honest here though and say, he simply isn’t in the same vein of form as he was last season. He’s giving the ball away in dangerous areas, his tackling is even more reckless than usual and some of his passing has been….wayward.
That is one of few negatives at present and one which I don’t even want to entertain at the moment. For the first time in a long time, there is real hope and optimism around Newcastle. I genuinely believe that I could be packing my bags for Amsterdam in May and I can’t wait for each and every match. Whilst the nerves I and everyone else felt as the clock ticked over into the 93rd minute on Thursday was horrible, the moments of joy which followed them are irreplaceable.
Those feelings of horror and angst which in a heartbeat turn into unbridled joy are the things I love about being a football fan. With Newcastle those moments can seem rare sometimes, so it’s important we all enjoy them the way I think only NUFC fans can. Let your imagination run away with you, get excited, even book a hotel room in Holland. Do I think we will actually win the Europa League? Probably not. With that said, I’m excited to be along for the ride and it’s a ride only Newcastle United football club can give you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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