Newcastle United returned to their top of the table perch on Sunday following a narrow victory over Cardiff City. With Middlesbrough and West Brom, who were both relegated with Newcastle last season, also gaining wins the pressure was on if Newcastle were to return to the summit. They just managed it thanks to a rare goal from defender Fabricio Coloccini in the first half. The Championship table is already starting to take shape with the recently relegated sides all occupying the top three positions, all three sides have managed to hold on to the core of their Premier League squads and have made few dramatic changes to their starting elevens. With the added bonus of the parachute payments they all look in a strong position to return at their first attempt. Last season’s promotion contenders Sheffield United and Preston have also made strong starts and look set for good seasons. The 1-0 victory away to Cardiff City saw Newcastle break a club record – no other side has won five consecutive games and kept five clean sheets in the process. The defence was again on form against previously free scoring Cardiff as chances were at a premium in a tight match with former Magpie Michael Chopra kept on a tight leash and he rarely threatened to haunt his old team. Coloccini’s header, his first ever goal for the club, saw him contribute at both ends of the pitch in a solid display. The Argentinean international, who was unused by Maradona last week, appears to have regained some of his confidence that was lost last season. He was happy to dedicate his winner to the fans who have yet to see the best of him.
One sour note from the game was the sending off of Alan Smith late on in the game. It was a shame for the captain who until then had enjoyed another outstanding display in central midfield. Since being given the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured Nicky Butt the former striker has been a revelation, Smith has led by example, encouraging his team mates and crunching into tackles in a typically whole hearted manner. Smith had been a major disappointment since signing from Manchester United in 2007 with injuries limiting his appearances. Now he has become a real fan’s favourite and has found a settled role sitting just in front of Newcastle’s defence. It would be nice to see him finally open his account for the club but protecting the defence is Smith’s number one priority at the moment. His drive will be missed away to Blackpool in mid-week. The man behind Newcastle’s unbeaten start to the season has distanced himself from reports that he is set to be offered the manager’s job permanently. Stories in some weekend papers suggested that Chris Hughton will be given the chance to lead Newcastle until at least the end of the season. The August manager of the month has certainly made a strong case for his appointment. He said: “That’s news to me. As far as I know the situation is still exactly the same. I’ve been asked to take charge of this team until told different and I haven’t been told different at this stage.” Focusing on the game Hughton said: “I’m very proud. I thought we limited Cardiff in their home stadium to minimal chances. We probably didn’t play as well on the ball as we have done in other games but as a group I couldn’t have asked any more from them.” A full-time appointment would appease a happy group of players but until Mike Ashley decides on where his future lies with the club Hughton may have to wait a bit longer yet.
Newcastle midfielder Kevin Nolan has revealed his surprise at the splits in the dressing room when he arrived in January. Speaking to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle he said: “When I first came to this club I found it quite astonishing that lads weren’t as close as they were at Bolton, where it was based on lads being there for each other every game.” Now the dressing room is a much happier place, no doubt helped by the loss of some big names and big egos. There is a sense of togetherness among the players and a committee has been formed to act as a buffer between the players and management. Forming the committee are Nolan, Alan Smith, Steve Harper and Geremi. The players’ battling spirits will be put to the test on Wednesday night with a trip to Blackpool. The 9,650 capacity Bloomfield Road must seem a million miles away from the likes of Old Trafford, The Emirates and Anfield, where Newcastle were playing just last season.
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
Former striker aims to shoot down Magpies – September 11
Newcastle return to Championship summit – September 15