No jokes at Newcastle now, just quiet progress
It’s quiet. Too quiet. It’s not supposed to be quiet at St James’ Park. It’s supposed to be, for want of a better word, mental. Newcastle don’t do this. They don’t do steady progress. Newcastle do panic sackings, internal wars and PR disasters. Cruelly, but accurately, nicknamed ‘Jongleurs FC’ by sniffier sections of the media, there’s no denying that they have long been the comedy club of the Premier League. That’s what makes this sudden outbreak of calm so… sinister.
Look at the facts. Newcastle have played nine, won five, drawn four and lost none. None! The only other team that can say that are Manchester City, currently five points clear at the top and still going up through the gears. The season is almost a quarter complete and the Magpies have snaffled 19 points already. As Alan Pardew pointed out, perhaps in a shrewd effort to lower rising expectations, that’s half of what they need to stay up. They’ve only conceded six goals in the league, one less than next tightest team, City, and half as many as Manchester United have shipped. Despite dumping influential senior players like Kevin Nolan, José Enrique and Twitter’s Joey Barton, they’ve managed to forge a team so reliable that eight of them have started every single game. They are more indomitable at the back than they have been at any time in living memory and they can retain and recycle possession without suddenly freaking out and launching the ball into orbit whenever someone closes them down. Frankly, they are the most unNewcastley Newcastle that most of us have ever seen.
Much of this is down to Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. If there was a word to describe the reaction to his appointment last year, that word would be ‘meh’. The perception was that he was Mike Ashley’s man, another capo in the Cockney Mafia. No-one liked him, no-one rated him and no-one wanted him. But Pardew was smart. He was smart enough not to take the credit he deserved in his debut win over Liverpool, preferring to praise his predecessor, the likeable Chris Hughton. He didn’t grandstand; he just got on with his job. The departure of Andy Carroll in January was a huge blow to his credibility, given that he had assured the press pack there was no way the young striker was leaving, but he rode out the storm and dragged his team to safety.
Granted, he can occasionally veer down a dangerous line, somewhere between Alan Partridge and David Brent. He closed the press conference after the miraculous 4-4 draw against Arsenal in January by holding his arms aloft and loudly exclaiming, “YES!” only to be met with awkward silence. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the fact that Newcastle looked coached. They look like they’ve been coached to within an inch of their lives.
It would be nice to talk more about Ashley. It would be nice to map out his ideology and his blueprint for success, perhaps to present him with the humble apology he probably deserves. Unfortunately, neither he, nor his managing director Derek Llambias, will speak openly to the press. They prefer to remain shadows behind frosted glass, Oompa-Loompas secretly toiling in the factory, feverishly cutting costs. Have they finally stopped making mistakes? Hiring Kevin Keegan only to undermine him at every turn was a mistake. Replacing him with Joe Kinnear was a hilarious mistake. Replacing Kinnear with Alan Shearer on April Fools’ Day was a mistake so extraordinary that the appointment almost didn’t get printed in my newspaper because I was so convinced that someone was taking the mickey. Sacking Hughton, stringing out a bonus dispute, alienating fans, messing with the name of the stadium, mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake. In the accounts department, they’ve turned Newcastle United from a smoke-belching clown car into a purring saloon, but outside of that, hiring Pardew might actually be the first decision they’ve got right since they arrived.
And yet, something still feels wrong. Is it that their most prolific striker is Demba Ba, a man thought to have knees made out of meringue? Is it that two distinct groups of French and English players seems a recipe for two opposing super-cliques? Or is just that some clubs were put on this Earth to win shiny things and others to inexplicably lose them? In spite of my avowed objectivity, I’ve grown to rather like Newcastle and yet I still have this feeling that something, somewhere is very wrong. After all, it is far too quiet, isn’t it?
Follow Iain Macintosh on Twitter @iainmacintosh
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Watch Newcastle live on BT Vision:
Stoke City v Newcastle, live 7pm, 31 October, Sky Sports 1
Newcastle v Everton, live 12:30pm, 5 November, Sky Sports 2
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