Inside the Opposition: Newcastle United

With City’s title hopes now completely dead after the defeat to Everton a fortnight ago, finishing second and winning the FA Cup is the best we can hope for this season. Any more slip-ups and we could face the prospect of Chelsea or Tottenham overtaking us. This weekend we play Newcastle, so I got hold of Leazes Terrace again to get an insiders view of Newcastle United.

Alan Pardew’s 8 year contract suggests the owners have faith in him. How do you feel about that contract?

I have mixed feelings on it, to be honest.  It’s well-known Newcastle has lacked stability since Robson was sacked – too many revolutions, too many root and branch reforms performed by men incapable or inappropriate for the job. The board’s steadfast backing of Pardew over the horrendous run of results was encouraging in hindsight, as was their backing in the January transfer window.

However it has to be remembered where Newcastle were when he took over and in particular the job he’s performed since.  His has been one very much of settling and integrating – heavily man managing to build the reasonably strong squad we have now. However, owning that squad has highlighted his limitations strategically, often looking unsure of a player’s best position and making rash changes when unnecessary, or non when necessary. I’m not convinced he’ll learn the latter – which underwhelms when considering the length of his contract.  But, removing him would be very unfair and easily could have an adverse affect on the team, so for the time being I’m just hoping he gets a little more help in his backroom staff to patch the areas in which he’s lacking.

Cabaye is a player I really enjoy watching. Will Newcastle be able to keep hold of him?

I can’t see much problem with keeping a hold of him, unless the very biggest clubs coming knocking with a silly transfer fee tabled.  He’s one of the most professional players I’ve ever seen at Newcastle – very settled, very focused.  He’s evolved into now being considered vice-captain (although not official role) and if Coloccini is to leave at the end of the season it’s widely expected Cabaye will become club captain. Plus, he’s practically tapping up players in the French national team telling them to come to Newcastle!

Where do you need to strengthen in the summer?

Definitely need a striker – for numbers first, but I’d argue we need one to seriously challenge Cisse, who’s had to take on a whole different game without Ba and Ben Arfa – one he’s not suited to.  Beyond that, we’re lacking options on the right-wing (good ones – not Gabriel Obertan) and a defender to replace Coloccini if he goes. Core of the squad now is pretty good though so nothing too drastic is required.

You signed a few players in January. Which ones have started well and which haven’t?

Sounds too perfect but all of them have started well in their own way.  Sissoko has been the most overt smashing his way onto the scene against Villa and Chelsea, but for me Debuchy has performed the best – in all honesty I’m surprised he’s not been bought already by a bigger club. Gouffran is a very functional and effective winger / striker, Yanga-Mbwia looks a real class act and at 23 he could be a huge player for us in the coming years. Haidarra is promising, and although bought to develop, he looks capable enough to start games already. Providing he’s not being assaulted…

What’s the relationship between Mike Ashley and the Newcastle fans like these days?

Still  plenty of stubborn aggression out there – some lads will never forgive him, even if we win a trophy under him (which to me is crazy).  But that outright anger at St James’ has gone towards him – the vocal insistence for him to leave has long gone.  In my view, the problem is it’s often forgotten how broken NUFC was when he arrived, but not what he contributed to only break it further.  In 2009 the club was a wreck; rotten to the core.  But the right steps have been made to comprehensively overhaul the club so that it’s in a much healthier state long-term.  Mistakes are still being made, like the transfer policy of last summer which has landed us in bother – but you only need look at the mess we were in four years ago to know we’re heading, slowly, in the right direction.

Given last year’s 5th place finish, what is reasonable this time out in your eyes?

Anything above relegation will suffice – I’m not really that precious about places in the lower half.  However, as a disclaimer, that’s mainly because the Europa League has given our season some long overdue excitement.  On the latter, we may not be favourites but I fancy us to give a good go at winning it. We’ve already beaten the two favourites (Spurs and Chelsea) this season and, personally, I think we’ve been drawn against the best team left in it. If we pass Benfica, it’s there to be won…

Is Keegan still the messiah?

Ha ha – not really!  Still have a lot of affection for him as a man, but his time was in the past.

Let’s go back a bit. The whole Joe Kinnear saga was an odd one, and I ended up feeling sorry for him given he was pilloried from the off for just trying to do a job few managers wanted to take. What was your opinion on all that?

He never received stick from the fans – at the time it was almost exclusively aimed at the board.  He did okay in my eyes – if he had not been struck down ill I’d have fancied him to keep us up in ’09, if only just.  His PR was atrocious though, and he’s not helped himself by flat-out lying about his treatment here and perpetuating a ridiculous stereotype about Newcastle fans.

Prediction?

Your home record is far too strong, our defence is missing key players and are already conceding too many goals without key players missing. So 2-0 Newcastle…

interview by Rob Pollard

You can follow Leazes Terrace on Twitterwww.leazesterrace.com

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