As a positive pre-season draws to a close, attention has now shifted to the upcoming Premier League season and an opening day home fixture to newly promoted Nottingham Forest. Following an almost miraculous turnaround in our second half of the season form, bettered only by Champions League finalists and FA Cup winners Liverpool, and the eventual champions Manchester City, hope and expectation levels are high as fans speculate as to where Newcastle United can finish this season.

I hope to take an objective (ish) approach to judging what amounts to a good season for United in the 2022/23 season.

Straight off the bat, I want to state while we had a tremendous run of form in the second half of the season, it is entirely unrealistic to expect us to simply pick up where we left off and go an entire season in top four form.

Our second half of the season was a perfect combination of (a belated) new manager bounce, new signings bedding in immediately along with a passionate fan base roaring us on and more than a little bit of good fortune. In other words, it was a unique set of circumstances coming together in a snapshot in time that simply cannot be replicated. Some basic stats would seem to back this up: in our 19 games from 1st January until 22nd May we accumulated 38 points (3rd best in the league) however this was against an expected points (xPTS) haul of 27.33.

While it was a big positive that we outperformed our xPTS total, to do so by such a wide margin indicates fortune was very much on our side. Over the course of the whole season, our expected goals (xG) total was 41.53. This only betters the xG totals of the three relegated sides and Wolves.

Should we wish to have a successful season, it goes without saying that we need to increase the amount of goal scoring chances we create. Finally, the fact we only conceded 20 goals in our last 19 games, (6th best in the league) but were 18th in the league for average possession (39.9%) over the course of the season, shows that our resurgence in form was based on solid defending, nicking the odd goal and relying on good fortune.

That isn’t a sustainable model for progress as we look to build for the future.

The dogs on the street could tell you we did not hold onto possession well enough, did not create enough chances and consequently did not score enough goals. Add to this equation Callum Wilson’s spotty injury record, Chris Wood’s lack of potency as a backup striker, and our well documented struggles in bringing another striker in to bolster our attacking ranks, we have not addressed our biggest issue: lack of goals.

Newcastle United scored 44 goals last season. By comparison, West Ham and Leicester, two top-8 sides we would be hoping to overcome next season, scored 60 and 62 goals respectively. It remains a distinct possibility Newcastle United could conjure up 20 goals from an injury-free Callum Wilson, a more focused Allan Saint-Maximin, a reinvigorated Miguel Almiron and a renewed Joe Willock. However, the fact we have yet to address this deficiency in the transfer market (albeit not without trying) feels a gaping hole in our preparation for the new season.

That is not to say that we have stood still. I am delighted with the signings of Nick Pope, an England international among the top keepers in the league, Sven Botman, a highly rated Rolls Royce of a centre half courted by Italian giants A.C. Milan, as well as the permanent signing of the ever-present Matty Targett who provided such consistency in our back line.

In our pre-season games, we can see the benefit of these signings as we look to play a higher backline to squeeze the opposition higher up the field and play a more possession-based game. Undoubtedly, we will improve upon the amount of possession we have next season and will continue to be a difficult team to break down.

However, the old cliché remains true: goals win games, and either we see some movement in the market or drastic improvements from within our current crop of players, it is highly unlikely that we will close the goal scoring gap on those teams currently occupying the top 8.

It has been reported that we have had a £40m bid for James Maddison turned down, we have also been linked to the likes of Benjamin Sesko, Maxwell Cornet, Jack Harrison, Ivan Toney, Dominic Calvert-Lewin as well as the protracted chase of Hugo Ekitike who eventually joined PSG.

So, it is clear we are looking to bolster our attack but for various reasons we have been frustrated by the market and seemingly unwilling to match the valuations many clubs place upon their prized assets.

There is obviously no need to panic just yet, after all, there is a month left in the window.

While most of us would have preferred all new signings to have been bedded into the squad before the start of the season, there is still time to get deals done before the August 31st.

So, judging he state of our current squad, incoming transfers and pre-season performances, where do I think Newcastle United will end up this coming season?

First off, it depends on what you count as progress. From what I can gather, Howe’s main objective will be geared towards getting the players up to speed to play a more possession-based style of play, a higher defensive line and becoming more comfortable playing out from the back as opposed to any positional objectives.

Developing a signature style of play would count as huge progress for me, even if we only managed a top-10 finish. But the point of this blog was to suggest where we end up this season so I will give my view.

As previously mentioned, I don’t think we have enough goals in the side to trouble the top 8 incumbents. Relying on Wilson and Wood as our main goal threats is a high-risk strategy that may (but likely won’t) pay off.

f Wilson stays fit, he could nab 20 goals. I expect ASM and Almiron to both increase their respective goal outputs as well. If all those conditions come together, and the likes of West Ham, Leicester and Wolves underperform, then we may sneak into the top 8.

However, I reckon we will finish either 9th or 10th. That, coupled with a decent cup run and playing Howe’s style of play with greater confidence, all signal progress in my mind.

Evolution, not revolution is the order of the day. With Dan Ashworth in post as Director of Football, Darren Eales confirmed as our new CEO, stadium upgrades and planning permission sought on a new training ground we are putting the building blocks in place for long-term success.

With foundation building going on off the field, there is something to be said for a season of stability on the field. That would do quite nicely for me.

Ciaran Donaghy –  @CiaranD1990