Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In Defence of Newcastle United

Yeah, you read that right. I think, for once, a defence of Newcastle United is in order.

It's now November and, after their 3-1 win at Stoke, they are unbeaten and third in the league. This is an outstanding achievement and a testament to the work done by Alan Pardew since his controversial appointment a year ago.

As I pointed out in the Premier League Preview, Newcastle have a young, talented, hungry side. I believe this would be an opinion shared by more people if the likes of Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Marveaux and Obertan were English, rather than bargains from overseas (with the exception of Obertan). Instead, they were disregarded at the start of the season; many thought they would struggle. That's a reasonable conclusion to come to I suppose, if only because the cloud left hanging over them by the ridiculous sacking of Chris Houghton still lingered.

Newcastle's performance at Stoke was impressive

But now, in order to justify the belief that Newcastle are in some way a fraudulent outfit, people are now bringing up the idea that they have yet to play a top team. This is a silly, non-point for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they got draws against Tottenham and Arsenal, both of whom will be in the running for 4th place at the end of the season. Admittedly, it's true they have yet to face one of the true title-contending teams (Chelsea, Manchester City or Man Utd); however, to say that this is causing the league table to "overrate" Newcastle is simply ludicrous.

The cliché response is "you can only beat what is put in front of you," and while that's true,  I think it's more pertinent to actually consider Newcastle's achievement. Getting 22 points from 10 games while going unbeaten is not an easy task, and it does not matter which 10 games that is. You could take any selection of 10 games from a league season and this would still be impressive for a team that, two seasons ago, were in the Championship.

Undermining Newcastle's achievement by saying they have yet to play anyone "really good" is frankly a silly idea. In fact, it's arguably a testament to the club, the institution of Newcastle itself, that people are seeking to undermine this achievement. When "underdog" teams like Reading were unexpectedly performing well in the league, you got no such criticism. Now it's all about playing down Newcastle's success and poking holes in their great run.

 They have performed solidly in their matches against the two top 4 contenders they have played against, and got some solid away draws against Aston Villa and QPR. Meanwhile they beat Sunderland away, which is a huge result, and the defeat of Stoke was an intelligent and efficient away performance; they were tactically and physically superior to Stoke,  and there are many managers who will tell you how difficult it is to do that at the Britannia.

Pardew has exceeded every expectation in his tenure
at Newcastle so far.

There is obviously a large gap between the top and the bottom - just look at any league table from the last 10 years or so - but conversely, in individual games, "anything can happen" (this entry is becoming like a game of cliché bingo), and, most importantly, anything has happened.  As well as QPR beating Chelsea and Stoke drawing with Man Utd, Blackburn (another team Newcastle have beaten in the league) have beaten Arsenal and Fulham have held Man City.

Yes, the Manchester clubs also hand out regular maulings - even to each other - but they also have tight games on a regular basis.  That Newcastle have been able to put together wins (or at the very least some solid, impressive draws) against these teams is to be commended, not brushed off as some fake achievement.

Will Newcastle be there at the end of the season? The reasonable assumption is to say they will not be, for a variety of reasons: Demba Ba will surely hit a dry patch at some point; their squad isn't enormous; the fact that on paper at least their squad isn't as good as Tottenham's, Arsenal's or Liverpool's; Jonas Gutierrez must surely run out of energy eventually; and, in the end, it's still Newcastle United. But that doesn't change their current achievement, the fact that in the end Newcastle are still in a top 4 place in November. They've confounded the critics and that is to be commended. It's just a same some critics refuse to accept when they've been confounded.

I'll be the first one laughing at them if and when it all falls apart, because quite honestly there are few things funnier in football than Newcastle's semi-regular implosions, but for now they deserve every ounce of praise they have been getting; it should not be tempered with "oh, well they haven't played anyone good yet" - that's insulting. Not only to them, but to the rest of the league.

So just for once, let's give them some credit.

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