Newcastle United’s excellent start to life in the Championship continued on Monday night with a 1-0 home victory over Leicester City. The result sees Newcastle move to the top of the table, a position that few pundits predicted at the start of the season. Previously unbeaten Leicester provided stiff opposition for the Magpies but the win was just about deserved following an excellent second half showing. With injuries and departures stretching Newcastle’s threadbare squad to the absolute limit the result and performance were very encouraging.
One of the major plus points from the game was an excellent display from 18-year-old striker Nile Ranger. Making only his second start for the club the youngster gave a mature performance that belied his tender years. The London-born player has all the attributes needed for a modern-day striker. He is good in the air, powerful, has a good first touch and explosive pace to get in behind defenders. Against Leicester he did the simple things well – shielding the ball from opposition defenders and laying it off to his teammates. Since joining Newcastle from the Southampton academy in July 2008, Ranger has been touted as the next big thing on Tyneside. Last season he was a prolific goalscorer for the reserves and youth team, featuring on the first team bench towards the end of the season. Alan Shearer and Iain Dowie rated him very highly, putting him on the bench ahead of other more experienced stikers. Indeed in the SkySports studio before the game, Dowie had nothing but praise for the teenager. With only two recognised strikers in the first team squad, Ranger will get his chance to shine this season. Having been given the responsibility of leading the line as the lone forward against Leicester he was rewarded with the Man of the Match award by the SkySports pundits.
Newcastle were forced to field a makeshift XI against the Foxes as injury problems exposed the lack of depth in their squad. While the starting eleven contained 10 players with Premier League experience, the bench was made up of young players with little first team experience – having made a total of 20 appearances between them. As caretaker manager Chris Hughton looked to freshen thing up towards the end of the game he was forced to introduce Ryan Donaldson and Haris Vuckic for their league debuts. In defence, Hughton partnered Danny Simpson, normally a full-back, alongside Steven Taylor in the centre. This was due to the absence of Fabricio Coloccini who was away on international duty with Argentina. Many Newcastle fans must be thinking that Argentina are very short on quality defenders if the error prone ‘Colo the Clown’ is in line to face Brazil at the weekend.
Another big-money signing who has struggled to make the grade at St James’ Park has been sent out on loan. Francisco Jimenez Tejada, otherwise known as Xisco in his rare appearances for the first team, has joined Spanish side Racing Santander on a season-long loan. Xisco was brought to the club on deadline day last year in a £5.7m deal from Deportivo. It is believed that former Director of Football Dennis Wise was behind the deal to bring the Spaniard in, much to the annoyance of then manager Kevin Keegan. The Spain Under-21 international made only three starts for Newcastle, scoring his only goal on his debut against Hull City. Although he leaves the Magpies desperately short on striking options, few people will feel he is a loss to the team.
Chris Hughton will be hoping that the closure of the transfer window today sees no more players leave Tyneside. Newcastle really cannot afford to lose any more players if they are to stand a chance of promotion. It looks unlikely that any players will be joining the club on permanent deals, although some loans are a possibility. One player unlikely to be leaving is defender Steven Taylor who has pledged his commitment to his club. The 23-year-old has been linked with a return to the Premier League but he wants to stay, saying: “I’m going nowhere. I’m a Geordie and this is my club. This is where I want to be. I’ve heard all the talk about me leaving in the last couple of weeks, but no-one has contacted me or my representatives and that suits me down to the ground.”
Newcastle United Club Focus
Pre-season woe – July 29
Fans say goodbye to a hero – August 5
Bridge over troubled water? – August 12
Local boy steps up – August 18
Home-grown strike partnership takes effect – August 21
Geordie resurgence gains momentum – August 25
Takeover still talk of the Toon – August 28
St James’ Park Ranger keeps Magpies firing – September 1