That 2-0 reverse to Manchester City at St. James’s Park this past weekend seemed to undo all the good work Newcastle had done just four days prior against Chelsea.
That match against the Blues had seen Newcastle coast to a 2-0 victory on the back of Papiss Demba Cisse’s golden-laced brace—both of which could be considered for goals of the season. (His second, an unfathomable volley, likely will earn the honor.)
Funny, how fickle we can be.
Newcastle did lose to City, yes, but it must be noted that since Carlos Tevez returned to Roberto Mancini’s side in mid-April, the sky blue Manchester side has been nigh untouchable.
They made an April 30 1-0 victory over rivals Manchester United look like a rout, and they have allowed just one goal in their past five domestic matches. (They have outscored their opponents 15-1 during that run of games, and now sit in pole position to win the league.)
Mancini’s outfit has taken upon the guise of that powerful freight train from Inception, barreling into anything that would dare stand in its way—even very good footballing sides like Newcastle. No player is more indicative of that train than Yaya Toure, scorer of both City goals against Newcastle. He has overcome a difficult mid-season stretch of form and has reasserted himself as one of the premier players in the league.
Newcastle have no reason to hang their heads.
Lest we forget, since Newcastle dropped a heartbreaking match against Arsenal at the Emirates on March 12, they have won seven of their last nine in the league—a run that has seen them power to fifth place in the standings, just one point removed from Tottenham in fourth and two points behind Arsenal in third.
This was a team, remember, that was playing its football in the Championship as recently as two seasons ago. That Newcastle is even in shouting distance of coveted Champions League football is a wonderful testament to the side’s resolve and fastidiousness this season.
They have made doubters into believers.
Take Mark Hottiger, a former Swiss international who played for both Newcastle and Everton in the 1990s. Asked about which of his former teams he will support this weekend, the current technical director of Lausanne-Sports said he will be rooting for the black and white stripes over the blue.
His reasoning was quite simple: Newcastle have a chance to play in Europe’s elite competition next season; Everton, on the other hand, do not.
Hottiger believes that it’s appropriate that Newcastle are within a hair’s breadth of returning to the Champions League for the first time since the 2002-03 season. (They lost in the playoffs in 2003-04.)
“Newcastle is a club that should be in Europe and playing on the big stage,” Hottiger said after praising Toon manager Alan Pardew’s excellent transfer strategy this season.
Hottiger knows that the foundation has been laid, and the framework fitted, for a Newcastle side that will be competitive for years to come.
If Newcastle are to make it into Europe next season, however, they will need some serious help from Arsenal, who travel to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion. Then there’s the case of Tottenham, who are at home to Fulham. Each match kicks off at 3 p.m. GMT.
Rest assured that Pardew will be checking nervously for updates of those games.
While Arsenal’s recent form has been middling—they’ve taken just three points from their last three matches, including a shocking 3-3 draw at home to Norwich last weekend—and West Brom are renowned for their defensive prowess at home, Newcastle cannot worry about any of that.
Their complete focus must be on getting three points at Goodison Park.
While Everton have come back down to earth in recent weeks, they are still not far removed from that scintillating run of form in late April that saw them notch 12 goals in three matches—including that 4-4 thriller against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Toffees have won six of their last seven at Goodison Park, and even with that bizarre goalless draw to Wolves in midweek aside, they will be looking to give Newcastle a game of it.
That is to be expected, and it should be applauded. Newcastle will not be granted entry to the Champions League by way of a back door; they will have to smash their way through the front. Like a train, you might say.
All this drama makes for what should be a terrific Sunday of football.