The sight of happy, celebratory Newcastle fans has been a rare one in recent years as season after season of financial and football mismanagement saw the club slowly decline and decay, resulting in relegation from the Premier League last year.
According to many sceptics this was to be the start of an even steeper fall from grace. They pointed to Leeds United as an example of just how far a club can fall after demotion from the top flight. The likes of Charlton, Norwich and Leicester were also worrying templates for further Newcastle failure, as the club franticly sought to balance the books, heal the fractured squad and somehow plan for a season in the Championship.
One man who has appeared to keep a calm head throughout the ensuing chaos was Chris Hughton. The unassuming former Spurs assistant manager came to the club as part of Kevin Keegan’s ill-fated return to Tyneside.
Houghton’s appointment as caretaker boss last summer was seen by many as a temporary one, and not knowing when he might lose his job must have made things hard for him. But the fact no one, including Alan Shearer, appeared keen to touch the club with a bargepole showed the scale of the task facing Hughton last summer. Indeed, the football betting odds suggested Newcastle were almost as likely to be relegated as they were to win the league.
He deserves enormous credit therefore for piecing together a promotion winning squad from the shattered pieces that tumbled from the Premier League so limply last May.
With just four league defeats to date the season couldn’t have gone much better. Youngster Andy Carroll blossomed into a powerful forward and will be hoping to take his form into the Premier League. Kevin Nolan finally began to earn his hefty transfer fee with some vital goals from midfield, while a solid defence was ably marshalled by Steve Harper.
The club must now heed the painful lessons learned in the last decade, which saw the club hit the heights of the Champions League and then slide downward without looking back. Gone are the excesses of previous eras as the club seeks to rebuild on solid foundations. The confidence and momentum of this year should carry into next season and with some astute purchases they should ensure this year away from the limelight was just a blip.
Meanwhile, stars like Jonas Gutierrez can start preparing for the summer and the 2010 Football World Cup.