Put your hand up if you envisaged Newcastle United occupying a top four spot come the second week of October. Keep that hand raised if you thought they’d still be unbeaten in the Premier League during that period. I’m expecting everyone’s arms to be firmly down by their sides right now. Raise your hand if you thought they would be struggling at the bottom of the table right now. Arms should be flinging up into the air right now, fingers ridged and pointing directly upwards. Unfortunately for all of those currently suspending their appendages high above their heads they are completely and utterly wrong with their predictions. Under the infectious management of Alan Pardew the Toon Arm are actually sitting pretty at the top of end of the table and guarding a seven game unbeaten record they have fought tooth and nail to protect. Despite losing their number nine and captain in the summer along with having to deal with the destructive nature of everyone’s favourite tweeter Joey Barton the club have brushed it aside to begin the campaign in formidable fashion. Whilst the admirers have flocked to St James’ Park and replenished the confidence inside it’s walls with compliment after compliment the truth is Newcastle have yet to see their powers fully tested to the limit. Yes they played Arsenal at the start of the season but Arsene Wenger’s Gunners were steeped in turmoil during that time and since then the opposition have been lacking in the quality of those normally residing in the top six.
Tottenham make the long trip to Tyneside on Sunday looking to continue their fine recent run that has seen them win the last five in all competitions and also give the Geordies their first taste of defeat since losing 3-0 to Liverpool at the start of May. Despite their positive start to the season the fact that Newcastle have to come up against a team possessing genuine quality means people are still yet to be convinced that the club can exceed their mid-table expectations this year. Whilst you have to live by the old adage of ‘you have to play whats in front of you’ there is the worry that the Toon could crumble against a side who’s calibre exceeds that of the Blackburn’s and Fulham’s of this world. Whatever the result against Tottenham on Sunday it’s certain that it could prove to be a defining moment in Newcastle United’s season and give a clearer indication of the direction they will head.
A substantial amount of worry still hangs over the full backs at Newcastle with right back Danny Simpson and makeshift left back Ryan Taylor both weak links in the defence. Despite conceding only four goals in their seven games doubt still persist as to whether the pair are up to sufficient standard. Arguably it would be harsh to criticise Taylor due to the fact he has been operating in an unnatural position filling the hole left by Jose Enrique. Presumably he’ll be up against either right winger Aaron Lennon or Rafael Van Der Vaart on Sunday. Both can cause Taylor problems with Lennon especially dangerous due to his speed and trickery. Luckily Jonas Gutierrez is there to double up and help him out with the defensive duties. On the opposite flank Simpson isn’t so lucky and has the unenviable task of keeping Gareth Bale out of the game. The Welshman’s game consists of driving at defenders and using his strength and pace to get past and whip a cross in. Simpson lacks both the pace and defensive know how to combat a player like Bale and with the Gabriel Obertan playing in front of him he could be in for a torrid afternoon. Same goes for centre halves Steven Taylor and captain Fabricio Coloccini who, despite looking impenetrable so far, will have their hands full with Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defore spearheading Redknapp’s attack. Tim Krul, who has been invincible between the sticks, is also suceptible to a morale drop should he start conceding.
I’m not saying that Spurs will destroy Newcastle’s season in just one game but could put a dent in the confidence that has been built up since the first whistle back in August. Should the defence take a battering their self-assurance will inevitably drop and that will reverberate through the rest of the team. It’s always said that confidence starts in defence and spreads outwards and thats what the the back four has done this season. They have exuded an assertiveness that has given the players in front of them the trust and faith to go out and attempt to win games knowing they can rely on their teammates to sweep up their mistakes. Should the trust and faith start to recede the risks that were took to win games won’t be taken anymore with a more cautious philosophy adopted that could see victories dry up. This is where Pardew and his fabled man management techniques come into play.
Not forgetting that a win over a team as good as Tottenham could see confidence soar and change the opinion of those still writing Newcastle off. A victory over Redknapp’s side will be massive and could act as a catalyst to drive the club to continue their tremendous form. However the spectre of defeat still hangs ominously waiting to ruthlessly strike. Only then will we be able to see which direction the club will take from then. Will Pardew be able to galvanise his players and maintain the high levels of confidence within dressing room or will it mark the beginning of a downward spiral? I’m not going to hedge my bets and make assumption just yet.
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