Two years ago Newcastle earned an impressive draw on the opening weekend of the Premier League season at Manchester United. The result and notable performance of debutant, Jonas Gutierrez fuelled predictions of a resurgence under Kevin Keegan. The following month saw the resignation of Keegan which left the club in disarray. Newcastle fans will know that this time round, the Magpies face Manchester United on Monday, the result will not dictate the trajectory of their season. After defying the critics and returning swiftly back to the top flight, is survival the aim or do fans harbour more lofty ambitions? Will Chris Hughton, once the loyal caretaker, be able to deliver what so many high profile managerial appointments couldn’t?
Hughton argues that a season in the Championship, despite being hugely successful, has tempered the usual pre-season optimism which permeates the Newcastle faithful. The manager is confident of Premier League survival and flatly rebukes those who question the lack of summer spending at St James’ Park. Similarly to other clubs there is a requirement to reduce a substantial wage bill and search for value in the transfer market. Accordingly he has acted shrewdly, signing the resourceful James Perch from Nottingham Forest and swooping for Dan Gosling and Sol Campbell on free transfers. The seemingly rotund Campbell appears a smart signing as the veteran centre back showed he was still capable of operating at this level for Arsenal last season and will bestow knowledge and experience to his team-mates. The other acquisitions together will the possible loan signings of Hatem Ben Arfa and Tom Cleverley suggest the club is looking for a youthful, attacking zeal in midfield which may surprise and unsettle opponents.
A year in the wilderness has had a rehabilitative effect on many of Newcastle’s most prominent players. The Argentine duo of, Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini have started to justify their considerable price tags. Coloccini was named in the Championship Team of the Year and the ‘Spiderman’ developed an excellent understanding with Jose Enrique on the left flank. Kevin Nolan and Alan Smith both flourished last year, displaying their battling qualities and commitment to the cause. The Liverpool born midfielder scored 17 goals from midfield last season and will be considered along with Smith to inherit the captaincy following Nicky Butt’s retirement.
The continued efforts of these senior campaigners will serve the Magpies well next season but goals from midfield will be harder to come by against Premier League defences. Andy Carroll emerged as a powerful, burly centre forward who can score goals and formed an effective partnership with Peter Lovenkrands. A tally of 19 goals last season aroused the attention of Fabio Capello who may call up the player for England’s Euro 2012 qualifiers. Should injuries or suspensions disrupt Newcastle’s attack, fans will be unenthusiastic at the prospect of relying on Xisco or Shola Ameobi. Nile Ranger has been tipped for a bright future as a tall and fast forward but is still just 19-years old. The old adage that a goal-scoring centre forward can propel a team up the league still stands.
A mixture of youthful, raw talent, seasoned professionals and veterans should guide Newcastle to Premier League safety this term. Naturally fans will demand more than this but should be mindful of the new financially responsible approach adopted by the club. Further loan signings may be imminent as Newcastle seek to add creativity to their midfield. A decent cup run and taking the spoils in the Tyne-Wear derby would be a welcome bonus. If come next May the club finish above Steve Bruce’s Sunderland and secure survival it would be a good start back to life in the Premier League.