Watching the Premier League over recent years has, at times, been a case of waiting for the inevitable. The same four or five teams have duked it out in the top positions with perhaps only two, at best three, really challenging for honours. The amount of money pumped into Manchester City has helped elevate them to a level alongside their neighbours United and Chelsea and things were beginning to feel a little contrived again come the big kick off in August.
This boring inevitability has, however, been put under threat this season. It has been challenged by teams showing that perhaps change can come about in the right way. After all, that’s what the Premiership has been screaming for: change. Sure, Manchester City have broken into the top four and are now pushing for silverware in a very real way, but whether they have done it in a fair way is debatable.
Twelve months ago Newcastle United were in a bad place. They had just sold their home-grown star striker to Liverpool for an astounding and, quite frankly, mind boggling £30 million. This was seen as another example of a ‘mid-level’ Premier League team being raided for their assets by a well-financed club from the ‘top four’.
February 2012, one year later, and things are looking very different for both Newcastle United and Andy Carroll. One has just drawn level on points with Chelsea in the race for Champions League qualification thanks to a stunning winning goal and the other trudges around Anfield looking forlorn and like he left his goal scoring boots somewhere near the Bermuda Triangle . Newcastle United have come through to prove that it really can be done.
For me, the biggest success story at Newcastle United is not just that of the club but that of manager Alan Pardew. It’s safe to say that Pardew’s appointment did not provide the fan’s with the inspirational leader they craved. For all of his inexperience, perhaps the sight of former number nine Alan Shearer may have given the Newcastle public what they wanted on the sidelines – a good old fashioned slice of nostalgia. Maybe Pardew suffered as the victim of the fans distain towards owner Mike Ashley, someone who recently sold the naming rights to the legendary St James Park in favour of The Sports Direct Arena. Catchy. In times where Chairmen and Directors are too quick to sack managers before they have chance to get their job started it’s nice to see Pardew afforded the time he needs to get his project going.
Either way the Newcastle manager stuck it out and is now reaping the rewards. The only way to win over a disillusioned public in this game is results – and he has got them. After finishing last season strongly, despite depleted numbers, Pardew’s Newcastle have had a quite inspiring 2011/12. Not only do they find themselves in fifth place at the business end of the season but they have also managed to take points from Old Trafford, draw at home against Arsenal and Chelsea as well as the magnificent win against Manchester United at St. James’ Park. It’s not only on the pitch that things have gone well for Newcastle, the transfer market has brought great reward for the Magpies.
As an attempt to replace Carroll Newcastle signed a striker who seemed to be a misfit at recently relegated West Ham United. This man was Demba Ba; much to the frustration of some Geordie fans perhaps. Ba had struggled for fitness and goals in his first Premier League season and didn’t really quench the Magpies supporters thirst for a replacement for the home grown hero Carroll. Alas, here we are in February with Ba in second place for the golden boot thanks to some fantastic goals.
Perhaps Ba just needed time to settle in English football and Pardew recognised this, or maybe he just took a punt on a free agent, either way the rewards have been well and truly reaped. Now Newcastle find themselves in an altogether more positive place. If reports are to be believed Mike Ashley is even planning to provide the manager with a sizeable transfer kitty for the summer in order to consolidate their position as one of the league’s top teams. Coming from a man who is happy to change the name of one of the world’s most famous stadiums this is quite something.
It has to be said there perhaps couldn’t be a more deserving public than the Newcastle United supporters. It shouldn’t be forgotten that during their time in the Football League Championship Newcastle broke the attendance record for that league with a home crowd of 52,181 against Ipswich, more than most Premier League home crowds. As one looks around the Magpies crowd the clubs black and white colours can be seen worn proudly by the fans. This is a loud and proud fan base and I have to say, even as a Manchester United fan from Leeds, it’s nice to see a home crowd so well populated by natives of that town.
As I write this article I have just watched Newcastle beat Aston Villa 2-1. A wonder strike from debutant Papiss Cisse could well be a sign of another great signing from Pardew. Cisse’s introduction as a thirteenth minute substitute for the injured Leon Best led to such great excitement from the home support that made a refreshing change. We are so used to watching teams in the higher echelons of the league wheel out their latest fifty million pound man to a luke warm round of applause and expectancy of the highest level of performance that the Newcastle fans reaction was a real breath of fresh air.
Special mention must also go to Tottenham Hotspur who, of late, have also dared to challenge the big boys of English football and even entertained us with a fantastic cameo in last year’s Champions league.
This all being said, I still can’t justify Gabriel Obertan. He’s clearly rubbish.