Newcastle now need just one point from their remaining three games of the season to secure the Championship title. Tuesday night’s 2-1 win away at Reading saw Newcastle go nine points clear at the top of the table as their record breaking season shows no sign of letting up.
In-form Reading were the latest team unable to stop the Newcastle steam train as they made it 14 league games unbeaten. Attacking midfielder Kevin Nolan yet again unveiled his goalscoring prowess that has become as much a hallmark of Newcastle’s season as a Steve Harper clean sheet. Nolan has revelled in the greater freedom he has been given this season, especially away from home, where he has often played in an advanced role behind the main striker. He has rediscovered his goalscoring touch that was a trademark of his game when he broke into the first team at Bolton. His double strike against Reading put the division’s Player of the Year on 17 league goals for the season, putting him back in front of the club’s goalscoring charts. In truth Nolan could well have had a hat-trick but he was denied by the woodwork in the second half. The 27-year-old will no doubt remain a key member of the first team and of the dressing room in the Premier League next season. He believes that Newcastle have what it takes to do well next term. He said: “As a club we are all coming together as one now, and that’s nice. Hopefully with the supporters behind us we can take that into the last few games and into next season. This is going to be a club that steadily climbs the ladder again. We have proved people wrong this season. All those so-called experts gave us stick at the beginning of the season, but we are not finished yet. The so-called experts are still knocking us, but we are not bothered by them. It’s about us and making sure we do the right things. We have proved a few doubters wrong this season and hopefully next season we will prove a few more wrong.”
Already plans are being made for next season with Chris Hughton due to meet owner Mike Ashley very shortly to discuss transfer policy. There will be a number of fringe players who will be playing for contracts and for places for next season. Veteran midfielder Nicky Butt and winger Fabrice Pancrate are both out of contract in the summer and could well be heading for the exit door. Butt has made 16 appearances in the league this season but his appearances in a black and white shirt have become increasingly spasmodic. He has been dogged by injury and at the age of 35 it is hard to see him competing against much younger legs in the Premier League. Pancrate has largely disappointed since joining on a deal until the end of the season in November. In his last appearance away at Peterborough he was hauled off at half-time after a poor opening 45 minutes. However, Hughton is unlikely to jettison January signing Leon Best despite a tough start to his Newcastle career. Best is yet to open his goal account for the club and is now fourth choice striker following Shola Ameobi’s return from injury. Hughton has publicly backed the player and he is part of his plans for next season.
The Magpies make the long trip to Plymouth on Monday night, possibly without influential defender Fabricio Coloccini who may miss out after limping out of the Reading game with a hamstring injury. Plymouth are deep in the relegation mire and will be fighting for survival with a win an absolute must. The Pilgrims are five points adrift of safety and need the points much more than Newcastle, so matching the home side’s desire will be pivotal in gaining the point to secure the at elusive piece of silverware.