In the mid-nineties Newcastle United thrilled the country with a brand of football which placed a high value on attacking flair, Kevin Keegan’s first spell in charge at St James’ Park giving rise to arguably the most exciting team to have ever graced the Premier League. Those were years in which Newcastle regularly competed at the summit of the division, something which has been repeated under Alan Pardew during the early stages of this season.
The Magpies’ 3-1 victory over Stoke City on Monday night represented the club’s sixth victory of the campaign, Newcastle still undefeated after ten games and comfortably nestled in third place. Attractive, forward-thinking football has traditionally been at the heart of Newcastle’s philosophy, but Pardew has instilled a more pragmatic approach of late and is reaping the rewards.
While his squad may not boast players as talented on an individual level as the likes of Philippe Albert, David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla, Pardew’s team – like Keegan’s all those years ago – is re-establishing Newcastle United as a major force in the Premier League. However, where Keegan always focused of the offensive side of the game, Pardew has built his team around an efficient defence and the ability of his tigerish midfielders to win possession.
Boasting the meanest back four in the league thus far, Newcastle have conceded just seven goals and are defending with an infectious confidence which has spread throughout the team. With Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor blossoming as a central defensive partnership and Cheik Tioté breaking-up play in front of them, Pardew’s team are – despite it not being a trait always associated with the Magpies down the years – extremely well-organised without the ball.
With these solid defensive foundations in place, Pardew has been able to afford his forwards greater freedom, Demba Ba and Leon Best maturing into a front two more than worthy of the top-flight. Supported from midfield by the dynamic Yohan Cabaye, Gabriel Obertan and Jonás Gutiérrez, Newcastle may not be as buccaneering as they once were, but they are as assured and efficient a team as St James’ Park has produced for some time.
Having taken over in the wake of the controversial removal of Chris Hughton, not to mention Pardew’s own contentious sacking at Southampton, the former West Ham United boss deserves huge credit for steadying Mike Ashley’s notoriously unsettled ship. Once ridiculed for his perceived egotism and alleged private indiscretions, Pardew is now positively developing the great promise he showed at some of his previous clubs and becoming an impressive ambassador for Newcastle United.
After signing astutely during the summer, Newcastle have defied the negativity which surrounded the club during pre-season to become a seasoned and genuinely competitive outfit. With Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all to be faced over the next few weeks, by the start of December we will have a clearer picture of how the Magpies’ campaign may pan out. Should they emerge from those fixtures still in the top four, then it may be time to start talking about Newcastle in terms of being real contenders for the Champions League places come the end of the season.
They may not be setting pulses racing in quite the same way as Keegan and his charges did fifteen years ago, but Pardew’s Newcastle have brought their own accomplished style to the division and can be very proud of the start they have made to the campaign. This is a different Newcastle stylistically to the one we have been used to, but they are making things work and proving their worth in the upper reaches of the Premier League.
Chris Mann is the founder and editor of equaliserfootball.com