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Q&A With Coming Home Newcastle

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Yeah, no more of this Sunday
Yeah, no more of this Sunday

Our friend John over at Coming Home Newcastle was kind enough to answer some questions. Might want to get comfortable, it gets a little lengthy.

We'll be honest, we thought Newcastle would have faded from the chase for 4th by now, but apparently other clubs decided to take that tactic. Why have Newcastle been able to hang around?

I’d love to say it was due to our incredible poise, skill, consistency, and talent... but it simply wouldn’t be true. The calling card for many a commentator this year has been, “Do not confuse Premiership parity this season for anything other than mediocrity.” Chelsea’s Champions League run aside, I think English performance in Europe this season does lend some truth to that sentiment. The Manchester teams have obviously been a class apart, but the ensuing gaggle from #3 (Arsenal - 58) to #15 (Aston Villa - 33) truly aren’t separated by all that much on a given match day. The eight point drop between our two squads (#6 NUFC with 50, #7 Liverpool with 42), is perhaps more significant, but teams like Liverpool, Everton, Fullham, WBA, and even the Scum have shown astounding flashes of form from time to time in this wacky season.

That being said, I do think it’s a little bit more than “luck of the draw.” Newcastle have been relatively lucky with injuries this season, with only two major ones to speak of. One came in the preseason (Marveaux, who was untested anyway), while the other was far more significant (Steven Taylor), but not season-threatening. Newcastle have also done a wonderful job this year playing to the level of the opponents, which can be seen as a bad thing sometimes, but has worked masterfully for us. When we put our best foot forward, this Magpies side, as currently built, can hang with the best of the Premier League (see: Newcastle 3-0 Man U) when we show up. We lay duds sometimes (see: Newcastle 0-5 Tottenham), but overall we’ve been pretty good at showing up. Alan Pardew also has had a wonderful season as manager, making the locker room a happy and committed place, and bringing calm sanity to a club that is infamous for disorganization and chaos.

5 goals in six appearances for Papiss Demba Cisse. New Newcastle hero, and isn't it illegal to have two strikers with the name Demba?

Thank God the answer is no, and five is about three less than he should have (he’s been millimeters away from poachers in nearly every match). It’s been interesting to see Pardew experiment with his new addition to the strike force, and the early results have definitely been encouraging. Last week, it felt like we finally hit the magic touch, allowing Demba #1 (that’s Ba) to play just behind Demba #2 (that’s Cisse), while Hatem Ben Arfa went bonkers somewhere between the two of them. Once again, Pardew found a relatively hidden gem in Papiss, who seems genuinely thrilled to be at a Newcastle side filled with French flair. Definitely a strong and welcome addition to an over-achieving front line.

Tim Krul has turned some heads this season. The real deal or just a freakish season?

I have been saying since early last season that Krul is the real deal. Watching him mature this season has been something to behold. Even though he is much younger and more inexperienced than his back line compatriots, he has slowly but surely been able to take a solid command of his defense, and now seems completely confident in his position, which has bred some brilliant play. Our back line has some players (notably Mike Williamson and Danny Simpson) who make some horrific gaffes every now and again, but we can usually count on Krul to cover and coach accordingly. He’s also been getting better as his distribution off the back line, a point of contention at CHN early in the year. The Flying Dutchman is, without a doubt, the real deal.

I also think it’s worth noting that I believe, currently, that Krul will emerge as the best keeper from the current young goalie crop of the Premiership. Hart, De Gea, and
Szczęsny are all absolutely class, but they also play for teams where the environment is one of constant pressure, little patience, and full coiffures for another keeper if needed. Newcastle are overachieving incredibly right now, and if Krul produces a dud (like he did at White Hart Lane), there isn’t that huge surge of rage that can crush so many young keepers into oblivion (see: Kraft, Thomas). With that security and support, he can easily continue to produce incredible results. I also think he’ll be getting national attention over Maarten Stekelenburg and Michel Vorm for the Netherlands with the absence of one Mr. Van Der Saar. Flying Dutchman for Euro 2012, baby!

Alan Pardew had a great season with West Ham after bringing them up from the Championship, but then found himself quickly on the scrap heap. Why won't that happen now?

Pardew was hired, according to the club brass, to “take Newcastle United to the next level.” In the context of where we’ve been (HOLY CRAP! We were IN RELEGATION two seasons ago... can you just wrap your head around that for a second!?!), where we are now is an astounding feat of managerial brilliance on the part of the handsome faced silver fox. He has bought low and sold high, though not necessarily in that order, and he definitely seems to have the lads playing at a wonderful clip with a smile on their faces. In short, his results speak for themselves, and West Ham can shove it.

That being said, I do think there is a more concrete rationale behind the idea that AP is going to be at Newcastle for the long haul, and it has a lot to do with the slow but steady maturation of owner Mike Ashley, which we’ll cover in the next question. I think that the Newcastle managerial structure looked at clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United and saw what stability can do for a club. Our owner, Mike Ashley, and Managing Director, Derek Llambias, have never once wavered in their support for Pardew. It seems that AP truly was the man they wanted for the job. Together, the team have formed a lovely (and thus far successful) three-headed beast of managerial prowess we at CHN affectionately named Cerberus.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point two other, under appreciated pieces of our puzzle: Head Coach Steve Stone, who runs the training ground with an efficient iron fist, and Chief Scout Graham Carr, who is doing wonders with Pardew at the helm in finding diamonds in the rough.

Do Newcastle fans still throw things at owner Mike Ashley?

The short answer is: “yes, but I wish they’d stop.” Ashley has the club out of the red, in a wonderful position both financially and competitively, and has kept most of his clothes on recently. I understand why Newcastle fans loathe him (ignorance, petulance, arrogance, and xenophobia... I’m probably going to get in trouble for that one, but I think it’s right on the money), but I think they’re daft. Ashley is one of the best things to happen to Newcastle, especially given the small fact that he completely saved the club. Honestly, looking at where we are now, I think relegation may have actually been a good thing, as we clearly learned a TON of lessons from that first Premiership plight, and are now refusing to make the same mistakes again. Newcastle United circa 2012 look markedly different from our soiled recent history. We seem polished, intelligent, and forward-thinking, and I think Ashley (along with the other pieces of Cerberus, Pardew and Llambias), should be credited with a lot of that maturation.

Is the season already a success, or do Newcastle have to secure at least a European place for it to be?

I need to be responsible here. *Deep Breath.* OK... given that we were seriously worried about getting in a relegation dogfight during the preseason, and considering that were discussing the fact that finishing over 10th would be a definite improvement... yes. There is no conceivable way any true Newcastle fan could possibly be disappointed with the club’s effort this year. We have overachieved in so many ways, and have completely maxed out our potential in others. To even be considering the idea of a European spot, much less be in serious contention for a possible Champions League spot,* with only eight games remaining, is a dream come true. Now, all that being said...
I really really really really really really really really want to have the team I love playing in Europe again, and we’re so friggin’ close to guaranteeing it happening, that I’d be totally lying if I said I would be completely crushed if we end up in 6th with nothing to really show for it. After such a roller-coaster of a season, it’d be an incredible heartbreaker for us not to play in at least Europa next year... but if there is one thing the Toon Army totally understand, it’s heartbreak.

*I think this might be the first time a CHN contributor has openly said the “C” word when it comes to European competitions. Because we’re all so fervently focused on the Europa spot right now, the fact that we’re just five points behind a shaky Tottenham squad, with only a heavily distracted Chelsea standing between us, has been totally overlooked. Is it wishful thinking? Totally. Would Newcastle stand a chance in the Champions League? No... we’d get destroyed. Are we close, though? Yes. Is that enough for now, given recent history? *Deep Breath and shit-eating grin* Toooooooooootally. Life is very, very good for the Toon Army.

Prediction for Sunday?

It’s late season... it’s Newcastle-Liverpool... it’s got the taste of Europe hanging over it... it’s at Sports Direct Arena... awwwww, screw it! 4-3 Newcastle!!