Welcome back to Newcastle, New King. Last time, manager Carl Potter enjoyed a successful start to his reign, picking up 4 points from 3 games. As ever, the narrative at St. James’ Park concerned off-field matters: Fans were disillusioned with the board and transfer activity had been heavily criticised. Talk of a takeover, however, had given fans hope that times were changing, so let’s see what happened next…
Saturday, September 9th
”Welcome back to The Sports Bar, here on talkSPORT. Jason, let’s talk about Newcastle. Three-nil winners today against Stoke… They’re looking strong, aren’t they?”, questioned host Andy Goldstein.
”I’ve got to be honest, I thought they would get battered this season. They replaced a Champions League winner with a rookie manager. That just has disaster written all over it, but they’ve proven all the doubters wrong, so far”, replied co-host, Jason Cundy, “Whether or not they can keep this up, we’ll wait and see, but they’ve had a fantastic start.”
”I mean, it was a pretty even match in terms of stats. Stoke had 13 shots, Newcastle had 12. Newcastle had 51% possession, so there was nothing in it, other than Newcastle’s quality.”
”Well, I think a lot of it comes down to how poor Stoke’s defending was as well. They were awful. Bruno Martins Indi – what was he doing? He was to blame for at least two of the goals, he had an absolute shocker. Dwight Gayle had him in his pocket all game and I’m surprised Paul Lambert kept him on the pitch. I – honestly – I think this was as much to do with Lambert’s ineptitude as it was with Newcastle’s performance.”
”What was it about Lambert that let him down, do you think?
”He couldn’t adapt. He played one striker against three defenders – that was never going to work. He should have known how Newcastle were going to line up, because they haven’t changed it. They had an extra man in midfield – he should have been taken off for a striker to give Boselli some support. When they did make changes, they were like-for-like – there was no imagination.
“Newcastle played… alright. They weren’t anything special, I don’t think. They’ve definitely played better this season than they did today. But because Stoke were so poor, they looked fantastic. Dwight Gayle was by far their best player because he had acres of space where nobody closed him down. To be honest – he should have scored more. He had three good chances but only put one of them away, so I don’t think they were that good.”
”That win puts Newcastle 4th. Do you think they – well, I think I know your answer – can they keep this up?”
“I don’t think so, Andy. Yeah, they’ve done well, especially against City and Arsenal, but that’s because of their unusual system. Once teams learn how to cope with that, I think they are going to struggle. They’ve got some winnable games coming up, but it will be tough after that for them. The game against Chelsea will be their undoing, I think and then the floodgates will open.”
“Are you still tipping them to go down?”
”I think so, yes. It depends how they do in these next few games – if they can win three of their next four, then maybe. But I think they will struggle come to the end of the season.”
Saturday, September 16
”A couple of weeks ago, Charlie, you gave Newcastle little hope of staying up… Have you now changed your mind?”, probed Soccer Saturday’s legendary host, Jeff Stelling, to the amusement of the rest of the panel.
”No”, came the steadfast reply from former Arsenal man, Charlie Nicholas. “I don’t think they can keep this form going if I’m being honest, Jeff. They’ve had a good start – and credit to them – but I don’t think it will last. They’ve not done enough in the transfer window to support the new manager. They’ve spent some 40-odd million on wingers, then hired a manager that doesn’t play wingers! It’s absolutely crazy.
“I think they’ve got away with it so far because they played well against Man City. They were poor against Arsenal – they were exposed in midfield, could not create anything. More and more teams are going to find them out and the results will fall away.”
”It’s one of those, Jeff – and it’s like Charlie said – they haven’t brought in the right players”, added Phil Thompson. “They need another striker – unless they want to use the kids they signed as a back-up. Perez, as we know, is out for the next few games with a neck injury. Against Stoke, they had no recognised striker on the bench… That’s not good enough at this level.”
”I disagree, Jeff”, added Paul Merson. “I said a few weeks ago I fancied them to struggle this season, but… After that result against Man City and the win last week… If they play like that every week, they’ve got every chance of staying up. Every chance.”
”The lack of cover up front could be a problem, couldn’t it, Matt? If they lose another striker to injury, do they have to change their system?”
”Quite possibly, yes. Unless he fancies someone else in that central striker role, maybe sitting a little bit deeper”, replied Matt Le Tissier.
“Who have they got, though, Tiss?”
”I don’t know. You could possibly play Shelvey there, sitting behind the front two. I don’t know, but the manager must have a plan in place for if that happens. He must know that it’s a possibility.”
”Speaking of the manager, Charlie… What do you make of Carl Potter so far?”
”It’s a difficult one, Jeff, because we don’t know how much influence he’s had over transfers. If it was his decision to only bring in two players then you have to question that, but we don’t know. Rafa Benitez left because of the transfer policy, so you would think Potter has had to take on that policy. I would hope that he wanted to bring in some cover up front, so given the circumstances… I think he’s doing quite well. They’ve got a tough game today at Southampton, though, and I think we’ll start to see them struggle.”
”Given the way that club is run, Jeff, I think you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. They’ve played some great, attacking football at times and that will have pleased the fans. They turn up every week, wanting to see their team put in the effort and they’ve done that so far.
And it is, Jeff – we’ve been there in the past with my club, Liverpool, so I know how frustrating it can be. The owners say one thing but do another – the fans see through that, Jeff. They’ll give this guy time and I think they’ll be pleased with what they’ve seen so far.”
”Alan, that was fantastic from Newcastle, wasn’t it?” asked Match of the Day host, Gary Lineker.
”I thought it was sensational, Gary. They went behind 2-1 after taking an early lead, but they didn’t let their heads drop. I thought to get themselves level again just before half-time was crucial and gave them confidence. Second half, Southampton started slowly, and they were punished with two goals in the first five minutes. After that, it was all Newcastle and they were fully deserving of the 6-2 scoreline” exclaimed Alan Shearer.
”What about that strike from Joao Novais to finish it off? Not a bad way to make your debut, is it, Martin?”
”Not bad at all and he was fully deserving of that goal. He was excellent throughout, his link-up play was superb, and he had a great understanding with Merino. Those two were dominant in midfield and really aided Newcastle’s cause today” explained former Arsenal man, Martin Keown. “That Southampton defence could not cope with Newcastle’s attacking intent. Ryan Bertrand in particular, on that left-hand side, could not cope with Manquillo bombing forward and he made them pay.”
”It was an exceptional performance from Newcastle, all over the park. They dominated the game for probably 70 minutes and could have scored more. It was a complete performance.”
”That result puts Newcastle third in the table, with 10 points from their opening five games… They’ve got to be pleased with that, haven’t they?”
”I would say so, Gary. They would have taken that before the first game, and they’ve got a chance to kick on now against some very beatable teams.”
”They’re home to Leicester next weekend after a trip to the Riverside in midweek in the EFL Cup. We’ll see if they can continue their excellent early form.”
So, an impressive start to September has left Newcastle in an excellent position in the league. Pundits remain sceptical of their ability to keep up this form, however. Can they keep going? We’ll find out next time…