Apologies for radio silence last week but I just felt such was the rate of games from Sunday to Sunday a lot of my words would be redundant sooner than usual so I retired to the cocktail lounge to listen to John Coltrane, smoke funny tabs and read Jack Kerouac for a week. Ahem.
But after a breathless eight days we can take stock.
Bloody hell, we’re good.
We have had three different challenges from Sunday to Sunday and emerged in excellent condition. I thought we took the game to Man U at Old Trafford in the first half and defended resolutely in the second – I can’t deny a couple of heart-in-mouth moments towards the end with Fred’s missed chance and Rashford heading wide in the dying moments. But we deserved our luck and so it was we bounced with beaming smiles out of a stadium we’ve so often been handed our arses down the years. Some had the nerve to be disappointed with a draw and they have a point (no pun intended).
Everton under the lights at SJP was a different challenge entirely but a wee bit of magic from our born-again Paraguayan settled the game with Lampard’s side unable to put a glove on us. The entertainment wasn’t up to much but the points stayed at SJP. That’s what counts. Oh and a certain twitching, crayon-eating Mackem goalie rueing “rave-on” social media outbursts headed south with a face like a smacked arse. We’ll never tire of that. Bloody hell, those dinosaur costumes are hot mind 🙂
If I’m honest, I wasn’t optimistic for Spurs (a) but a look at the PL table on Saturday night presented the enticing prospect of moving into fourth if we were to win in North London. But still, Spurs (a), Kane, Son, Conte, that stadium, unbeaten all season … that’s a big ask …
But here we are … in fourth and basking in the after-glow of a brilliant performance at that does indeed take us up into the heady heights of a CL qualifying position after twelve games.
It is barely credible but as social media has detailed, that win at Tottenham was achieved with six players who were at the club pre-takeover and largely consigned to the waste-bin as far as many supporters were concerned – Schar, not selected in a Steve Bruce side with a woeful defensive record, Longstaff, a lad who emerged so full of promise under Rafa looking lost under Bruce, again unable to get a place in the under-performing side Howe’s predecessor left, Joelinton a £40m embarrassment, Joe Willock, looking a lost little boy, Almiron, a baffling player without an identifiable purpose whilst a tune is now being got out of Jacob Murphy.
We can go further with the transformations Howe has achieved with the players he inherited. Krafth made a mockery of the description, Swedish international and Jonjo Shelvey seemed to be going through the motions, filling up his bank account before dropping down the divisions and into retirement. He looks leaner and meaner now and I was gutted he picked up that pre-season injury because my take is he sees an opportunity to achieve something in the autumn of his career and is desperate to do so with the talent he has.
Although not available at the minute, ASM contributes more to the team all over the park than he ever did playing as Steve Bruce’s wild-card.
We can debate Howe’s impact upon individual players but there are collective changes too. Clearly, the players are on a wholly different level of fitness to those under Bruce but understand what is required of them collectively which is obvious in the press we operate. But it doesn’t stop there.
There are good characters and leaders all over the park and indeed within the squad. I’d be happy with half the team having the captain’s arm-band – Trippier, Burn, Botman, Schar, Lascelles, Shelvey, Ritchie, Guimarães, Joelinton and Wilson are all bona-fide leaders in their different ways.
This is a club which now lives and breathes Eddie Howe’s No Dickheads policy.
But what next?
It is hard not to get giddy and start over-reaching ourselves. In financial terms, our squad is nothing like the value of those in and around our fourth position or a lot lower in the PL table in some cases. I’d be amazed if United had half the wage-bill of any of Chelsea, City, Spurs, Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and will be significantly less than West Ham, Villa, Everton and possibly Leicester.
We may not be much greater in terms of wages at present to Brighton or Wolves and that makes Howe’s work all the more admirable.
Nay-sayers in the media who point to the investment in the squad since January in an effort to diminish dismiss Howe’s achievements are undone with the facts – Villa have spent more and just sacked their manager for under-performing. Everton is a study in wild profligacy and there are others. The same media heads will undoubtedly want Howe for England manager if as expected Southgate goes after the WC in Qatar. Don’t attempt to look for consistency in the logic of those reporting on the game.
We do lack strength in depth. But the injuries to Isak, Shelvey and ASM have not halted our progress. That said, we are short in quality and I’d point to a good half dozen in the squad who are likely to leave United in the next window or two and will likely do so and drop a division. That is a unique position for a club straining to get in that top tier of elite clubs. Our long-term challenge is to treat our current league status as the norm rather than a welcome blip.
January looks critical for us in maintaining momentum. We have been counselled by both Ashworth and Eales not to expect massive investment in the next window. I certainly don’t expect the same numbers of players to arrive as did in the last winter window. We don’t need that level of frenetic activity.
But I’d be surprised if a further two players didn’t come in and that they weren’t in the Botman-Isak-Guimarães mould.
Whether that entails big money being spent or not, I don’t know but one thing is for certain and that is young players and their agents now look at Newcastle United very differently than they did even six months ago. The whole project does not need to be explained because it is alive, up and running and in front of everyone who cares to look.
But, but, but …. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves (I need to take my own advice, I know) because in the here and now there are big challenges in coming weeks.
Firstly we have Aston Villa this Saturday. In truth I’d have preferred to have played Villa with Gerrard at the helm rather than in the position they are in now which is in that dead cat bounce phase following a managerial sacking.
I was going to say we should have too much for them but I thought exactly the same before the Palace and Bournemouth games. The graft needs to be put in but no-one needs to tell Eddie Howe that.
Southampton (a) hasn’t traditionally been a place we can go to pick up points but in terms of away wins, St Mary’s has to be considered as one of the places we go and get 3pts.
Without the small matter of Palace in the LC (which can keep us in a cup much longer than usual) we will then round off before the World Cup with Chelsea at 5:30 on a cold, dark, hostile Saturday night at a tanked up, visceral SJP. That’s the best kind of SJP in my opinion. Flags are great but bald, middle-aged men in Italian knitwear losing their shit in the stands never loses its appeal for this little soldier.
We can’t afford to think too far ahead but that game is a mouth-watering prospect as well as containing a great sub-plot of two of the brightest English managers of their generation going head to head.
We’ll do all of this against the background of several national football journalists offering continuing jibes against everything associated with Newcastle United because of our ownership model.
Their analysis of geo-politics doesn’t rise beyond the level of a blue Smarties eating sixth form Civics student, with the serious points they make regards club ownership lost within their endless bleating. I’m now rather inclined to think this is more about cultivating a social media profile and driving traffic to news-lines.
They are becoming more of a caricature by the day and our initial desire to engage, followed by irritation at double standards and outright hypocrisy has given way to indifference.
Newcastle United is on the rise and we’re here for it all.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892