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Newcastle United – This time is different

6 years ago

Every season for Newcastle United is marked with great heights and abysmal lows. For most of the last decade, the scale has tipped in favour of the latter, barring the 5th place season.

But if we look at the heights we have achieved in each of the last ten seasons, there is no denying the label the entire ‘pundit’ community gave us; ‘The eternal underachievers’.

This season has been no different. Consider the start to the season where we were placed bottom of the league table after the first 6 games with three points. And since then, the ride up has been nothing short of phenomenal. With an injury-plagued squad, having fringe players in the playing 11 and academy grads on the bench, Newcastle marched on to the top 4. The first big high of the season!

Saturday afternoon was the second high. High flying blues and the special one humbled at the St. James’. A solid backs-to-the-wall performance by the Black and Whites, giving that special feeling to every Geordie around the world, the feeling of achievement. A bit of pride for every Geordie who boasted before the game – who else to end the unbeaten run but Newcastle? A sense of belief in the hearts of the passionate fans, who have stood with the team through the tides. So where do we go from here?

Last time we reached such dizzying heights of unbeaten runs and felling the ‘elite’ of BPL in the 2011-12 season, one can allegedly argue the case of individual brilliance and luck being on our side for most of the run. But this time it is different.

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This is a cohesive unit, full of spirit and exuberance, who like to play with each other. This is a unit where the manager has the control of the dressing room, and has successfully been able to dictate his tactics, both on and off the field. Whether you like the style of play or not, it has been very effective for Pardew and co. in the last 9 games of our resurgence. Moreover, there is little wrong in the style of play, considering the injury list.

If you saw how the team lined up against the might of the unbeaten Chelsea, you would have seen a clear pattern. The tactic was very clear: park the bus and charge on the counter. Most of the first half was the test of our defensive formation, and little did it buckle under the constant Hazard-ous surges. The closest Chelsea came was when Willian whipped it towards the far corner. Nearing the end of that first half, we did see Pardew’s tactics of counter-attack almost bear fruit when Colback almost sneaked one past the giant Courtois.

Putting Cisse on for Cabella, and moving Ayoze to the right wing was the masterstroke by Pardew. This was where he won his own personal battle over Jose that afternoon. Perhaps, he also won over himself by not putting Gouffran anytime in that second half.

Two quick breaks resulting in two good goals, a dream come true debut by a 21-year old Goalie, a stupid red card and the resultant goal, and 15 agony-filled minutes later, we hit the MOTD nail on the head. Pardew was vindicated by his team walking his tactics for another successful 90 minutes (and the astonishing 6 minute stoppage time!!).

So we come back to the question: Where do we go on from here? What can we expect from Mike Ashley next? We did a lot of expecting when we finished 5th. And we were left wanting. One might argue that this was the plan all along: to run the club on a shoestring budget, and build a sustainable team and wait for the youth set-up and the second tier signings to shine through the ranks. Maybe that is why Pardew was signed on an 8 year contract? Is the long-term plan now giving us short-term dividends?

But then if we hadn’t had those injuries, we would not have seen Ayoze Perez scoring three splendid winners in as many matches. We would not have seen Sissoko controlling the midfield and making those defence-crashing runs. We would not have seen Sammy Ameobi develop into this towering formidable left-winger of PL quality. But all that happened,and Pardew has adjusted well to what he had. We will have most first squad players returning by the end of January, and there will be competition for places on the teamsheet. All that looks and sounds really good but there is the worry for every Geordie fan.

That it will again allow Mike to hold on to his cash next Summer (I am not expecting anything this January, maybe a goalkeeper at maximum). That it will allow Mike to make profits on players like Tiote and Sissoko, and even Cisse sometime in the summer (or even this January!). That the spirit will wane by the second half and we will struggle to keep up in the top half of the table by end of the season. That the Black and Whites will be labelled again as the ‘eternal underachievers’?

No, Mr. Ashley. It is time to show ambition for our club, your club.

It is time to break the shackles of being the “wee club of the north” and challenge the Big Boys of English football. It is time to win the Cups, it is time to mount title challenges. Maybe not this season but we expect to see signs. The players, the Manager, and the fans have done their bit, and done fantastically so. It is time we get rewarded for our loyalty. It is time we aim for the Entertainers.

Howay the Lads.

You can follow Rishiraj on Twitter @rishirajlahiri


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