The North-East is no stranger to uprisings. From the Corn riots to the Seaman riots (that one got quite messy *cough*) the region has a tumultuous and proud history of overturning wrongs. This season at St James’ Park and the Riverside they are continuing this fine tradition but, unlike bloodied scraps of the past, this one is an altogether quieter, low-key affair.
Before a ball was kicked nobody would have expected Newcastle to be sitting in fourth spot after seven games. The odds on Middlesbrough mounting a serious promotion challenge would have been pretty generous too.
The Toon were in crisis – Barton and Routledge tweeting their discontent, Pardew frustrated in his attempts to bring in a quality replacement for Carroll, the fans rightfully angry at owner Mike Ashley’s broken pledge to reinvest their £35m windfall during the summer months – it all amounted to a club destined for struggle and turmoil.
Captain Kevin Nolan’s bizarre decision to drop down a division to reunite with former mentor Allardyce at West Ham highlighted just how desperate senior players seemed to want to leave the sinking ship.
Alan Pardew hustled and bartered and did what he could but his recruitments hardly hinted at improvement. Demba Ba was drafted in on a free from the Hammers to provide firepower to what looked like a threadbare strike force. Man United flop Obertan was signed in the hope he may rediscover whatever it was that prompted Alex Ferguson to bring him over from France whilst Marveaux and Cabaye further increased the French contingent yet both required a thorough Googling by Geordies dismayed by the lack of well-known new faces.
Transfer deadline day meanwhile saw both Barton and Enrique – undoubtedly two of Newcastle’s best players – leave for a combined meagre fee of £7m.
This is solely conjecture but perhaps it was precisely because of their troubles that Pardew has been able to foster a united front so far and get his team belying expectations from the off. Certainly their performances and results have been mightily impressive – Cabaye settling immediately and showing the class that helped take Lille to new heights last year and Ba coming out of the blocks at a cantor – with their defence looking impregnable under the governship of the often-maligned Coloccini.
Due credit must go to Pardew for turning frowns upside-down but it will be interesting to note how Newcastle fare when he no longer has this well of negativity to draw from.
After their splendid away win at Sunderland back in August Pardew was at pains to downplay their evident early promise – craftily keeping expectation to a minimum – but it was apparent from reading between the lines that he had drawn heavily from the upheavals and created a siege mentality amongst his players. As proven many times by the best around such as Ferguson and Mourinho there’s often no better way to propagate a strong team spirit and togetherness than getting your players to believe the world is out to get them. The most powerful motivation is to prove people wrong.
Due credit must go to Pardew for turning frowns upside-down but it will be interesting to note how Newcastle fare when he no longer has this well of negativity to draw from: when they start matches as favourites and the media begin to fawn instead of condemn. He will hope this doesn’t occur anytime soon because right now the strategy is working. In complete contrast to times past when the club talked themselves up and heralded in a succession of messiahs the Toon are starting to learn the benefits of keeping under the radar.
A little south Middlesbrough are enjoying a resurrection of their own. Kudos must go to chairman Steve Gibson for keeping faith with gaffer Tony Mowbray and rightly so considering the gnarly-faced Boro legend had to endure the mother of all clear-outs following his predecessor’s whim to bring down half of the Celtic squad. Even so, as already noted, the Teesiders were not expected to be in the mix for promotion and their current second berth is even more impressive when it’s considered how youthful Mowbray’s side is. In addition to a couple of astute summer signings, including the guileful Belgian Haroun from Antwerp on a free, and the rebirth of Marvin Emnes up front – whose career was going nowhere under Strachan – Boro are once again benefitting from their superb youth set-up. With local boy Matthew Bates skippering alongside fellow Teesider McMahon the club is grounded with a strong sense of regional pride and with a team he can now finally call his own Mowbray has concentrated on implementing his favoured brand of passing football. He’s even seen sense in retaining a couple of the better Celtic cast-offs in Robson and McDonald.
Ironically, of the three big north-east clubs, it is Sunderland who are presently letting the side down. It was they – if anyone – who was expected to achieve decent things this term after Bruce wisely used the Henderson cash to bring in a plethora of new hopes and United reserves. It is hardly doom and gloom at the Stadium of Light however and perhaps it was inevitable the black cats would initially fail to gel considering the sheer wealth of fresh faces brought in. Once everyone has settled they might yet blossom into a top ten side and the resurgence in north-east football will be complete. Quietly of course.