After Newcastle's shock exploits of last season, will the Toon Army be able to continue their momentum in to the new year, or was the 2011 - 12 campaign just a flash in the pan?
Whichever way you choose to look at it, there is no denying the fact that Newcastle United exceeded the expectations of absolutely every ‘expert’ in the football world, by narrowly missing out on Champions League football.
Things had initially looked bleak for the club, losing influential players such as Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique. At the time, the new signings hadn’t really ignited excitement either, with Yohan Cabaye, an almost unknown French midfielder and Demba Ba, a free transfer from relegated West Ham the two highest profile acquisitions.
Despite the apparent negativity around the club, Newcastle United, now captained by Fabricio Coloccini, started the season in fine style, going on an incredible 11-game starting unbeaten streak (which could only be ended by the eventual league champions Manchester City).
Seemingly everything was going right for the club. Demba Ba had proven to be a revelation, reaching double figures of goals before December had even rolled around. Yohan Cabaye was proving to be one of the key central midfielders in the league, Time Krul had been the best keeper of the season, and key players such as Gutierrez, Coloccini and Tiote had continued their fine form from the previous year.
As the season rolled on, Newcastle had emerged as serious Champions League contenders, being in 4th position with just 3 games left after a fine 3-0 victory over Stoke City. Unfortunately, the last 3 games would all be lost and Newcastle would finish 5th.
While nobody can deny Newcastle 100% deserved to finish in that 5th position, questions have to be asked as to whether there will be another season where all of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea perform so badly again.
One would assume that at least two of those clubs will have a drastically improved season, and with an increased fixture list brought on by the Europa League, most of the signs point towards Newcastle maybe finishing in a lower position of maybe 6th or 7th.
While, in a realistic sense, that would still be a fantastic achievement for a club that was in the Championship a mere 2 years ago, would a ‘step down’ be accepted by the fans? More importantly, would it be accepted by the men at the top, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias?
Let’s hope, for Alan Pardew’s sake, that Mr Ashley has learned from the past that removing a manager at the first sign of pressure doesn’t work, well, at Newcastle at least.