After the dismal showing of last season, in which we narrowly avoided relegation, followed by the farcical summer transfer window, Newcastle were among the favourites for relegation this season. However, 16 games into the season, we sit proudly the lofty seat of 6th position, and our excellent run of form does not look like ending.
What makes the start even more pleasant, is the fact that it has come on the back of sterling performances from the unlikely lads, squad members who one would have previously deemed ‘fringe players’. Players whom you would not have thought would be pivotal to making Newcastle potentially challenging for a UEFA Champions League birth.
One of the most prominent of these players, was perhaps the most unexpected, Mike Williamson. Of the 35 clean sheets that Newcastle have kept since promotion to the Premier League, Williamson has started in 24 of them.
Not many supporters would have backed the 30 year-old to become one of the first names on the team sheets. But since coming on as a half time substitute against Everton in a 3-2 defeat this season, he hasn’t looked back andhas taken enormous strides so far this season. He seems to have gained a yard of pace and has seemingly won every header he has contested and put in assured displays at the back for the Magpies.
Last January, the media dubbed Newcastle’s six signings as panic buys in the face of relegation, but one of those lads, the cheapest of the lot, has been utterly brilliant for the Toon since. Ever since walking in through the door at St. James’ Park Gouffran has looked an astute signing. Last season he scored important goals for the team against West Bromwich Albion and Queens Park Rangers that helped in the survival bid.
This season after starting as more or less a squad player, Gouffran has cemented himself as a starter for Alan Pardew in any formation he chooses to play. Despite not naturally being a winger his best performances have come on the left wing of a 4-4-2 from where he has scored five goals in the premier league, and at the same time has kept out Newcastle’s most naturally skilled player, Hatem ben Arfa, out of the team.
What has been even more impressive has been his relentless tracking back in completing his defensive duties and protecting the left back Davide Santon. His flexibility has been a big reason why Newcastle have done so well.
After the departure of Steve Harper during the summer, Shola Ameobi is now the longest serving Newcastle player but since his debut in September 2000 has only managed to score 41 Premier League goals. In fact he has not scored since scoring against QPR in December 2012.
However this season he has played the role assigned to him very well. He has held the ball up, roughed up defenders and brought the midfielders into play. He has helped out in defence as well. He has looked fitter than before and has played crucial role in the Magpies’ ascension up the table.
After helping the club to qualify for the Europa League in 2012, Cheick Tiote looked very out of form last season. He looked off the pace, kept giving the ball away and seemed to have some obsession with getting booked. Being constantly injured, being involved in the African Cup of Nations and picking up a harsh red card against Sunderland did not help his confidence either.
This season, Tiote has been back to his ferocious best, he’s been a defensive rock in the heart of midfield, and has shown leadership qualities, previously unseen, having taken the armband during Fabricio Coloccini’s absence.
He has only picked up three yellow cards in the 14 Premier League games, a far cry from the 14 in 26 games that he picked up in 26 games into his first season. His return to form has allowed the more creative players to blossom.
Before the season began you would have found long odds on these players to be the cornerstones for Newcastle United; but look where we are now.