Cast your mind back to January 19th: a Saturday on which Newcastle suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Reading, leaving them just two points above the relegation zone after an alarming slump in form. The seriousness of the situation was not lost on Alan Pardew, who recognised the desperate need to strengthen a squad of players lacking in confidence and depth.
This was subsequently facilitated by the Magpies hierarchy, who paved the way for Pardew to bring in the new personnel he craved to assist in averting his team’s slide down the Premier League table. Fast forward six weeks and Pardew has overseen an emphatic achievement of this objective, with the Magpies sights now firmly set on those sides above them rather than below.
Yesterday’s 2-1 win over Stoke was a fourth in six league games for a rejuvenated Newcastle, revitalised by a combination of their January recruits – particularly Matthieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga M’Biwa, Moussa Sissoko and Yoann Gouffran – and the return to full fitness of influential midfielder Yohan Cabaye.
Victory over the Potters also represents the third consecutive home game in which the Magpies have overturned a deficit to secure three points. This new found resolve has also been evident in recent strong away performances against Tottenham and Swansea, even though they ended in narrow defeats, and during Europa League ties against formidable eastern European opposition.
It is therefore the club look with significant optimism to the future and attention of Pardew and his players now turns to Anzhi Makhachkala at St. James’ Park on Thursday night, with a place in the quarter-finals of the competition at stake.
As was the case during their 1-0 aggregate victory over Metalist Kharkiv in the previous round, Newcastle produced a committed if unspectacular performance to secure a goalless draw from the first leg against their Russian opponents, whose fortunes on league duty yesterday were in stark contrast to those of the Magpies.
The presence of key figures such as Samuel Eto’o, Yuri Zhirkov, Lassana Diarra and Odil Ahmedov, could not prevent Anzhi falling to a 2-0 defeat to lowly FC Mordovia, who moved off the foot of the Russian league table as a result.
A notable absentee from Guus Hiddink’s side, as they fell five points behind leaders CSKA Moscow, was £30million frontman Willian. The Brazilian landed awkwardly during the first half of last Thursday’s encounter with Newcastle and it is unclear as to whether he will recover in time to feature in the return leg on Tyneside.
What is beyond doubt is that given their recent resurgence over the past six weeks, particularly at St. James’ Park where they are unbeaten in the Europa League this season, Newcastle will go into the game full of confidence. They can take a step closer to delivering a trophy to the Toon Army, in a season which has been turbulent but now appears to be headed very much in the right direction.
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