It was a quiet weekend for Newcastle United with no match and few players away on international duty. The enforced two week international break allows everyone connected with the club to take stock and focus on their start to the new season. The opening three weeks have been quite hectic with five league games and a League Cup tie all squeezed into a tight schedule. If you were to offer caretaker manager Chris Hughton an unbeaten start to the campaign and first place in the Championship before the season begun he would have snapped your hand off. That dream has become a reality with Newcastle making an excellent start, despite all the turmoil off the pitch. The new season has seen the players return with a drive and vigour that was sorely lacking for much of last term. The foundations for a promotion push are solid but Newcastle must increase their squad numbers to give themselves a chance.
A story that appeared in several of the Sunday newspapers featured Newcastle’s Spanish striker Xisco and his attempts to engineer a move back to his homeland. He got his wish with a season-long loan to Spanish side Racing Santander, but not before refusing to train with the Magpies. Xisco feigned a groin injury to prevent him from playing against Leicester last Monday, but was able to train with his new teammates just days later. He told the Sunday Mirror: “After a difficult first year in Newcastle, this year seemed it was going to be more of the same and a good time to leave. I even stopped playing in the last few days to force my exit. If they hadn’t accepted the loan at Santander, I would have regarded my situation at Newcastle as hopeless.” Most fans will probably say that he stopped playing the day that he arrived on Tyneside. While it must have been an infuriating time for the player there is no excuse for refusing to play, especially with Newcastle having only one fit striker to face Leicester City.
Stand-in manager Hughton has paid tribute to his remaining players for the way they have started the new campaign. He also praised a defence that has so far conceded just one league goal and that was in the season opener against West Brom: “Any plaudits must go to the players. They defend as a team and to go four league matches now without conceding is fantastic. If you do that then the chances are you’re going to win games and that is what’s happened.” For many years now Newcastle’s defence has been the side’s Achilles heel but so far it has been the foundation for success. Steven Taylor and Jose Enrique have both made outstanding starts to the new season and deserve a special mention. The way in which Hughton has deflected all praise for him on to the players sums up the dignified manner in which he has conducted himself in a difficult situation. A lot of managers would like to take all the credit for their team’s results but not Hughton. He also chose to reward the players’ efforts with a four-day break last week.
In-form striker Shola Ameobi has been given the chance to revive his international career with Nigeria, the country where he was born. A change in FIFA rules would allow Ameobi to represent the Super Eagles despite already representing the England Under-21s. Nigeria has a good chance of reaching the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and will use the new ruling to strengthen their national side. With Ameobi’s England chances almost certainly finished it could prove to be very tempting for the striker. Newcastle youngsters Nile Ranger and Ryan Donaldson could both feature for the England Under-19s on Tuesday night and Newcastle will be hoping the former can come through the game unscathed as he is their only fit striker. With the loan window set to reopen on Wednesday, the Magpies will look to boost their squad ahead of their crunch game with Cardiff City.
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
Ex-Magpie returns just as window shuts – September 4
Want-away striker leaves already thin squad – September 8