There is a sense of bewilderment sweeping around the country at the moment as fans, players and pundits stare open mouthed at the Premier League table on Monday night. There is something about seeing Newcastle United occupy third position that leaves a bad taste the mouths of those who think they should be there instead. Last night’s game at the Britannia Stadium against Stoke City was once again billed as their ‘biggest test of the season so far’ just like the meeting with Tottenham was two weeks prior. There is a sense in the press and from opposition fans that the Magpies don’t deserve to be holding such a lofty position in the top flight. After all they sold their best striker, captain and, according to some, the best left back in the league for big money and replaced them with cheap alternatives. A manager that was disliked by the fans and an owner who’s blood the fans thirsted after. Written off over the summer as dead certs for relegation and yet another implosion was prophesied with the club supposedly on the verge of breaking point once again. However the polar opposite has happened and once again the black and white flag is flying high. They came through the acid test against the Potters, who were unbeaten at home conceding one goal in process, with flying colours. Demba Ba plundered his second hat trick of the season in what was as comfortable a win as you would like against a side who are famed for their physical philosophies. Still, the acceptance of Newcastle holding their own in the top three has been dismissed on the basis that they ‘haven’t played anyone yet’.
So far Alan Pardew’s men have played and took points off five of last seasons top 10 not to mention beating FA Cup finalists Stoke on the way to a 13 match unbeaten run stretching back to the previous season. They’re one of only a handful of teams still unbeaten in Europe with the likes of Barçelona, Benfica, FC Porto, Juventus and Manchester City yet to taste defeat. Surely that gives Newcastle a lick of credibility? I’ll admit that I was worried about the season ahead after a tumultuous summer that was almost torn apart by Joey Barton who seemed intent on causing mischief from his keyboard. The sales of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique added to the hysteria that was gripping Tyneside as fans once again turned on Mike Ashley and manager Alan Pardew. Three months later and large portions of humble pie are being tucked into at an alarming rate. The notion that Pardew and his players don’t deserve to be in the position they are in currently is insulting. The togetherness of the squad at this present moment seems stronger than it’s ever been especially after the ego’s that once inhabited the dressing room were removed. The former West Ham boss has surprised many with the way he has conducted himself since taking the job in December despite the Geordie faithful’s opposition to his appointment. Almost a year later they are singing his name proudly from all four corners of St James’. Alongside chief scout Graham Carr he has worked extensively at scouting players and making sure they are the right fit for his Newcastle United and so far they have all paid off.
Perhaps his biggest achievement so far is doing what no manager in the past 20 years has been able to do in tightening a notoriously leaky defence up. Newcastle boast the meanest back line in England conceding just seven goals in their 10 league games thus far which has given them a solid base to work from. He’s got the rest of the starting eleven focused and determined to not give the opposition an inch on the field. Last night’s win over Stoke was testament to Pardew’s tactical nous and the players willingness to do what is necessary to achieve victory as they attacked and defended as one unit. The work ethic that has been instilled within the squad is a breath of fresh air and they displayed it to full effect as they hustled, harried and frustrated the home side last night with Jonas Guttierez putting in another lung bursting shift down the left. In attack they were incisive with Ba continuing is impressive scoring record with a hat trick whilst Leon Best once again ran himself into the ground. Even without midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote in midfield they looked solid with Pardew putting his famed man management skills to work on Danny Guthrie who put in a gritty display despite fans labelling him the weak link in the side. To cut a long story short Newcastle deserve to be where they are because they are going out onto the field, putting in performances and winning games. It’s no fluke and it’s certainly not because they haven’t played any of the supposed big teams yet. The squad mentality has improved 200% and it shows in the way they operate with a steely determination in defence mixed with a confident swagger in attack. Newcastle are winning games because they are playing good football and going into each fixture knowing they can come away with a positive result. With Everton, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea on the horizon they will be put to the test but there is no reason to believe that they can’t come out shining.
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