Club Focus – Newcastle – Hughton leads Magpies’ revival

Newcastle United ended their short stay in the Championship with a last day of the season win over QPR. They will bid a fond farewell to the Football League where they have enjoyed a season of domination over most of their competitors. Premier League football awaits in a few months time when the Magpies’ credentials will truly be put to the test. But for the summer, the fans, players and staff can bask in the glory of a title winning campaign.

The statistics certainly make for pleasant reading with the three points gained from Sunday’s win making it a grand total of 102 points, becoming only the fourth side to go over the century mark. In addition, they have gone the whole season unbeaten at home while only four defeats have come on the road. In the final standings they held an 11-point gap over second place West Brom and a massive 23 points over the next best side Nottingham Forest. Sunday’s game against QPR never saw Newcastle reach some of the heights they have achieved this term but they still came out with maximum points. Their cause was helped no end by the sending-off of former player Peter Ramage for a professional foul. Peter Lovenkrands again underlined his potent finishing with a well taken goal from Joey Barton’s clever pass. Stand-in goalkeeper Tim Krul made some impressive saves to show why Steve Harper has had to perform to a high standard all season in order to keep the youngster out of the side. One worry will be the performances of strike pair Leon Best and Shola Ameobi who did little of note during their time on the pitch. But for the Magpies’ fans it was another day of celebration after years of turmoil.

At the beginning of the season there were few pundits who were tipping Newcastle for automatic promotion. Despite possessing a squad of big name players and the highest wage bill in Championship history, everything at the club was very much in limbo. Owner Mike Ashley had put the club up for sale for a second time and although there was speculation of new buyers coming in, the global recession meant few banks were willing to lend money. Coach Chris Hughton had been put in temporary charge alongside Colin Calderwood with the task of guiding Newcastle until a new manager or buyer was found. A 6-1 defeat to League One Leyton Orient in a pre-season friendly really had the alarm bells ringing around St James’ Park. But in a way that game was the turning point for a club who had reached a new low. After the game a meeting was held by the squad’s senior players with the message being either commit to the Magpies’ cause or get out of the club. That saw the likes of Damien Duff and Habib Beye join the summer exodus leaving behind a squad short on numbers but high on quality and commitment. Newcastle opened their campaign with a step into the unknown with no-one quite sure how they would handle the rough and tumble of the Championship. They began with a respectable 1-1 draw at West Brom before embarking on six game winning run. An away to defeat to Blackpool showed they were not untouchable at this level and for a period between September and October there were some disappointing results and performances. But the Magpies soon returned to top form with long unbeaten runs becoming a trademark of their season. In fact in 2010 they suffered just one defeat in the league – away at Derby County.

Hughton has made the successful transition from Coach to manager this campaign that few people in the game would have thought possible. The unassuming figure has led the Magpies’ revival in his quiet, calm style and has rightly been applauded for the job he has done. While he will never be the most flamboyant of personalities, he has created a side that is well organised and hard working – traits that have not been associated with Newcastle teams in the recent past. The players have been allowed to have their input into how things should be done but it is Hughton who has had the final word. He has also displayed some good acumen in the transfer market with the £5m-6m spent in the January window largely well spent. Mike Williamson has emerged as a solid defender and Wayne Routledge has been a creative force down the right wing. Hughton may not be a big name but he deserves a chance next season.

There have been a number of outstanding individuals who have become heroes from zeroes after last season’s relegation. Kevin Nolan has been the stand-out performer with his 17 league goals – an impressive tally from central midfield. Joining him at the top of the scoring charts is young striker Andy Carroll who has earned a reputation as one of the best young target men in the country. In defence, Jose Enrique has been different class to many of his opponents and Fabricio Coloccini has done well after a nightmare first season in England. The summer is likely to be less stressful than the previous one with a sense of stability that has not been at the club for a long time. Hughton will be limited by what he can spend in the transfer market with big money signings a thing of the past. Probably only five or six players will be brought in and they should be players who can add quality in key areas. They also need to be of the right personality in what has become a tight-knit group of players.

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