Everton welcome Newcastle to Goodison Park tomorrow for the last game of the Premier League season. Royal Blue Mersey carried out a Q&A with the fine folk over at the excellent Newcastle blog Coming Home Newcastle. Stay tuned after the jump to read the Q&A with John, and the link to our responses to the questions on their blog is here.
RBM: No matter what position Newcastle end up in, will the fans consider this season a success? What were your expectations at the beginning of the season?
CHN: Compared to our expectations at the beginning of the season, where we were anticipating a potential relegation dogfight at worst and a push for the Top 10 at best, yes, this has been an amazing season. Beginning the year with 11 games unbeaten set the tone for what would be an incredible Premier League campaign. I’m still a bit disappointed we crashed out of the Cups so early, though given our League performance and the probable push for Europe, it’s understandable. This season has been incredibly, amazingly, sublimely successful, and it has been an incredible time to be a Newcastle fan.
Now, that being said, if the chips fall poorly on Sunday and we end up a point away from Champions League, it’s going to be near impossible not to feel a touch disappointed. While making Europe at all is an achievement that we should celebrate and be thankful for, finding yourself just a draw, or even a goal differential, shy of Europe’s biggest stage still stings. We think Newcastle is absolutely set for Europa, but when the sweet glory of Champions League is so close, of course you’re bound to want just a little more.
RBM: Newcastle are definitely the pleasant surprise of the season, and came in from nowhere to finish in the top tier. What does the ownership and management need to do to ensure they remain in the top six and compete for the Premiership title in the coming years?
CHN: Pardew is on the record as saying he has closely monitored the practices of the teams that have “yo-yo’d” once they’ve made it to Europe, such as Stoke, Fulham, and Birmingham, and the cautionary tale of Leeds United still looms large over the Premier League, as we all know. I think the main thing Newcastle needs to do is add depth on the back line. We currently have a decently deep front line and midfield, but when Steven Taylor went down in December, it rocked Newcastle to the core, something we can’t afford to repeat next season when competing in more competitions. I think the current batch of players is poised to have an incredibly successful run of years at Newcastle, and some have even touted as soon-to-be title challengers.
The other we’re going to need to do, and this keeps Newcastle fans awake in cold sweats at night, is hold on to our marquee players. Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote have both been heavily linked to summer transfers, and losing them would shake up Newcastle to perhaps an unrecoverable state. That being said, the Newcastle brass, especially Pardew, have shown that they’re willing to make incredibly tough decisions (see: Carroll, Andy) in order to keep to books in the black and the team at the center of the equation over any individual player. Still, it’d be nice to hold on to our core, though the Toon Army is slowly but surely learning to trust Mike Ashley (score one for the Mayans).
RBM: Does the current squad have the depth up stand up to the rigors of a European campaign as well as the Premiership and two domestic Cups? What are the strengths of the squad, and where are the weak spots?
CHN: I think Newcastle will most likely continue the trend of bucking the Cups to focus on the League, and now Europe. It’s an unfortunate reality that both the Carling and F.A. Cups have lost a huge amount of their significance, but they have proven as excellent competitions for young lads to get a go.
Now, as for the European question: as I mentioned, we’re currently very, very shallow on the back line. While Mike Williamson and James Perch have acted admirably in the stead of starters Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor, they’re not exactly world beaters. Newcastle has stated very loud, public interest in full backs Douglas and Jan Vertonghen, as well as right back Mathieu Debuchy. If those promises are fulfilled, then Newcastle will be in excellent shape for European competitions. As far as our strengths, our midfield has been fantastic this year, and our striker corps is surprisingly deep. Tim Krul has been fantastic in goal. We also have a youth program that is beginning to produce some pretty exciting prospects, and we have the best (and most handsome) manager in the League.
RBM: Alan Pardew has little international managerial experience, and this will be his maiden venture into Europe. Does he have what it takes to pit his wits against the best on the European stage? Do you expect Newcastle to stay true to their style from this season in Europe, or develop a different strategy or two?
CHN: I think Pardew has what it takes to be counting amongst the European brass, though we all recognize there will be probably some pretty extensive growing pains. It’s going to be difficult for him to keep expectations reasonable, especially if we have some early success. Our fanbase had a penchant for getting a little... rabid. I think our initial campaign might not be the most exciting or successful, but the experience will be priceless. My gut tells me Pardew’s focus will remain firmly in the Premiership, so that our bid to Europe isn’t a flash in the pan.
Tactically speaking, I don’t think Pardew is going to do anything too crazy. If we do bring in those aforementioned defensive reinforcements, it may encourage us to play on our heels a bit, especially on the road in countries like Spain and Germany. If we do make Champions League, I certainly wouldn’t bank on us rolling out the 4-3-3 at Camp Nou, though I could be mistaken.
RBM: Newcastle have stuttered a bit in the closing run, the losses to Wigan and City must have been frustrating after an excellent stretch of wins.
CHN: The City was disappointing but the lads played great against a team that looks poised to hoist the trophy, so no shame there. Thankfully, for most of the year we’ve beaten the teams we “were supposed to.” The Wigan loss was much more frustrating, especially given how completely and totally we got spanked. Wigan is an infuriating bunch with their flakey form, and if we had nicked even one measly point out of those six available we might be in a Champions League spot today.
RBM: Hindsight is 20/20, but the 2 pts in 4 games against Arsenal and Tottenham are coming back to haunt the Toon now. Better performances then would really have put daylight between Newcastle and all three London clubs in the top 6.
CHN: Ugh, the return fixtures for both stung even more. Netting draws early in the season definitely helped build Newcastle’s confidence and poise moving forward. The 5-0 blowout at White Hart Lane definitely brought NUFC down a peg, and it came after a string of all over the place results. At the same time, it seemed to be the impetus that pushed Newcastle towards their incredible run in 2012. More recently, the LAST gasp loss to Arsenal at Emirates was infuriatingly frustrating, and Vermaelen’s goal definitely still haunts Toon fans in their sleep. On a personalized note to Toffees fans, Arteta was absolutely bonkers in that match, all over the pitch and completely dominating Tiote in the midfield. Thanks for selling him to the bad guys...
RBM: Papiss Cisse has been explosive since coming to Tyneside, 13 goals in 13 games. He was the only signing in the transfer window, and there must have been some murmurs among the fanbase. He has easily been the best signing of that window in the entire Premiership, right? (apologies to Jelavic at Everton, who has rejuvenated the club too!).
CHN: Without a doubt. He was easily the best signing of the season. For £10mil, Newcastle appears to have gotten a steal. I remember the signing came without a ton of fanfare or expectations, but Cisse came in and has been incredible since his entrance. The goals against Chelsea and the amazing flip against Swansea stand out as some of Newcastle’s best moments of the year, and more importantly he has rejuvenated a team which seemed to be fading a bit in the mid season. We LOVE Papiss Demba Cisse, and I don’t know if you’ve heard... but he loves the Toon Army as well.
RBM: Who are the young stars in the Newcastle Academy system? Will they be getting any exposure in the seniors side any time soon?
CHN: Two players who have already seen some limited first team action are left wingback Shane Ferguson and wing/fwd Sammy Ameobi. I adore Fergie, who I’m banking on being Gareth Bale Beta Model when he finally breaks out of his shell (ideally in Europe... Bale style). When he has come on, his work rate and pace have been like a bottle of lightning to the Newcastle side. Sammy Ameobi, who has a folk-legend-hero pedigree thanks to older brother Shola, has done well as a flanker, but has been hampered by injury, and it seems sometimes Pardew is struggling to figure out the best way to utilize him. We’ve also have Mehdi Abeid and Haris Vuckic, who have also seen limited, but exciting, first team action.
Coming up from the academy, two names keep the Geordie fans eager with anticipation. Striker J.J. Hooper has turned some heads with his cannon shot and high work rate, and he’ll probably break into the mold next year at some point. We also have Jak Alnwick in goal, who I’d imagine will very soon be taking up the #2 spot behind Tim Krul as Steve Harper and Rob Elliot keep advancing in age. Alnwick might serve as a valuable trade chip in a few years, and we should definitely expect to see him loaned out to prove his mettle soon.
RBM: Newcastle will need to win this weekend at Everton, and hope results go their way in the Arsenal and Tottenham fixtures. What do they need to do for the win? Who should we be watching out for?
CHN: Newcastle will come out guns blazing. Newcastle’s record when the opposition scores first is atrocious, whereas we are incredibly comfortable defending a lead. I would imagine that Pardew is going to employ the 4-3-3 again with Ben Arfa, Cisse, and Ba up top. Expect Cabaye, Tiote, and Jonas to be playing aggressively up the pitch and look for through-balls to the creators up front (especially Cabaye, whose assists have been glorious as of late). Newcastle need to play their game, and not allow Everton to hang around and push through the line. We should be aggressive, quick, and relentless, #Entertainersstyle
RBM: Everton have been dangerous at home, finding their goalscoring touch lately and also having accounted for big names like Chelsea, City and Tottenham. Who scares you? What is your prediction for the score?
CHN: The thing that scares me most isn’t an individual player (with all due respect to Jelavic), but rather a mindset. If Everton comes out guns blazing right back, Newcastle may buckle. The back line can only hold for so long, and Newcastle play so much better when their being aggressive and dictating the tempo on their terms. The Man City game is evidence enough that if NUFC don’t score relatively quickly, it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing falls apart.
I think Newcastle is going to capitalize on the chance to make history, though, and will really pile it on. It’s bold, it’s brash, it’s arrogant... but I’m thinking 5-1 to the Magpies, with a Cisse hat-trick to cap a wonderful season.