Newcastle’s players have had a chance to put their feet up this week after beating Preston 3-0 last Saturday. For the first time in over a month they have had a free midweek, which is something of a rarity given the Championship’s hectic fixture lists.
They return to action at the weekend with an away game against Watford. The Magpies’ two consecutive home games have resulted in maximum points but now they must return to their problem of playing away from St James’ Park. They have not won in their last five away games and have generally reserved their worst performances of the season when playing on the road. Adding more substance to the game, manager Chris Hughton will be hoping for a victory to commemorate his two years with Newcastle. Hughton’s two years have certainly been memorable since he joined the club originally to work under Kevin Keegan. In 24 months he has worked under three different managers and had several spells in caretaker charge. Of course he has now made the job his own, which few people would have thought when he first joined the club. Hughton said: “A lot has gone on in two years; there have been a lot of changes and different managers. There have been highs and lows, with the ultimate low being relegation. But it is now my responsibility, along with the rest of the team, to make sure we make the club stable again and achieve our ultimate goal, which is promotion back to the Premier League. That all continues at Watford and we can’t afford to look at anything other than the Watford game.”
Although Hughton has earned most of the fans’ praise, and rightly so, his right-hand man Colin Calderwood has also been a key member behind the scenes at the club. Calderwood, unlike Hughton, has had previous experience of being a manager following spells at Northampton Town and Nottingham Forest. His time with both clubs saw some success as he achieved promotion with both teams, most notably getting Forest into the Championship. He has revealed how Newcastle have been spurred on by the jibes they suffered after the pain of relegation. The side were also hurt by some pundits tipping them to be relegated twice in two seasons. “At the start of the season we were probably relegation candidates in a lot of people’s eyes.” said Calderwood. “We shouldn’t forget that, and the fans shouldn’t forget that either. The rest of the country thought we might do a Leeds and go down again. Just as soon as you sit back and relax, go back to that moment in pre-season when, more or less, people around the country were laughing and scoffing and hoping we would fail, and we’re still proving them wrong. It’s worked out well so far, and I hope no-one would ever under-estimate it and think, if we did cross the line, that it had been easy.”
With the 2010 World Cup now just a few months away, invariably a few players will be eyeing up a place at football’s biggest tournament. For Newcastle the most likely candidates to be flying out to South Africa are their Argentinean duo of Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez. Injury permitting Gutierrez is almost a certainty to be getting a call-up to the World Cup squad. He is one a chosen few, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano, who controversial Coach Diego Maradona has guaranteed a place at the World Cup. Despite playing in the second tier of English football, Gutierrez has still been a regular for his country and has operated in his usual position on either wing or in some cases as a full-back. The summer plans for Coloccini are less clear cut as he has yet to figure under Maradona. The centre-back has been a key player for Newcastle this term but has not achieved the same recognition as that of his teammate under Maradona. As he has not been selected for next week’s friendly with Germany his chances appear slim of making the final cut. Aside from the Argentinean duo there will be few other players not booking a holiday for the summer. Goalkeeper Steve Harper has been in fine form all season and has been backed in some quarters to be an outside contender for one of England’s problem positions. But playing in the Championship means that Fabio Capello will have limited interest in the experienced keeper, whilst his lengthy spell as Shay Given’s understudy means he still has plenty to prove at top level football.
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