NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Hatem Ben Arfa (centre) of Newcastle celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers at the Sports Direct Arena on April 9, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Greetings, my friends. If you are fortunate, your long Easter weekend treated you as well as it did our beloved Newcastle United- and I hope that you were fortunate. Before the start of the weekend, Toon fans' European aspirations were still mainly fixed on the Europa League, and we still were in a position of needing help from Liverpool in the FA Cup to even guarantee that. As the results from the weekend played themselves out, however, any perceived barrier between Newcastle United and outright European qualification (that's right, even potentially the Champions League) seemed to fade away. It is all still out there to do- Newcastle have one of the more challenging slates remaining of the European contenders- but it is not only in the realm of dreams that this season can find its end in the continental competition.
The links are pretty thick today, as they pick up a few from over the weekend that didn't find their way past the early game yesterday, so I'll skip right to it. We'll have plenty of time to talk Europe in the next 10 days.
Alan Pardew Speaks
Pardew, writing in his programme notes ahead of Monday's match against Premier League strugglers Bolton at St James' Park, said: "I took no satisfaction from seeing our former players Andy and Jose enduring a difficult day as they were fantastic for us during their time at this club. "But maybe this season has changed a few perceptions and sent out a message to players tempted by offers to join so-called bigger clubs in the Premier League," he added. "Newcastle have proved time and again over the last few months that we can compete with big-name clubs like Liverpool, and maybe it will encourage players to think again if they dare to believe the grass is greener elsewhere."
It may or may not be the case, and it certainly ties to each individual club's spending potential, but if the table holds or if (gasp) Newcastle even manage to pull up even higher in the table, it's hard to see a player justifying a move away from Newcastle over the summer to join, say, Chelsea or Liverpool. This season is the epitome of small sample size so far as club trajectory goes, but this season is the only one that specifically influences next season's competitions.
"I don't give him too much information offensively. Somebody like Hatem, you have got to let them have their world - it's his world when he has the ball. "My world is when he hasn't got it, and that's really where I have focused on him and given him the freedom to go and express himself. "It was a fantastic goal, absolutely fantastic.''
It took an entire season, but it finally seems clear what AP was trying to convey to HBA before installing him completely into the starting lineup: Do what you want when you have the ball... but when you don't have it, you have these rules. Thankfully, they have both bent the other enough to make this situation fruitful.
Victory yesterday also ensured United will finish ahead of Sunderland in the table as they fell 17 points behind the black-and-whites.
There is a lot of other information in this article, but this is really the snippet that I personally took away. It wasn't very long ago that a certain fan base was bleating about being "Top Dogs of the Northeast" and whatever other drivel their little brains could patch together. What now, you So-called Arthur Kings? Silly Sun'lun Mmmmmmmakems?
That is all.
"It’s always good to get on and play my part," Ferguson told the Gazette. "I just tried to work hard and keep the shape. I just tried to get the ball back, and carry it down the channel for the team. "It’s great to get a few games. It’s more experience each time. I’m loving it. "The way things are going, you never know what could happen. The way we’re playing, Europe’s in our sights.
What a spark Shane was when he came on at halftime v. Bolton! He brought energy and industry to a match that was dying on the vine, and while he didn't have a direct hand in either goal, he sure rescued Newcastle from a very boring performance. He injected pace, energy and an idea: GO TO GOAL! For that, I think you, Mr. Ferguson.
"Demba was upset when I brought him off, as I’d just had a go at him about something," Pardew told the Gazette. "I was trying to get a reaction from him, if I’m honest. I want him to be angry and fight. He’ll come out fighting. I know Demba, and I’ve got no worries about him. "It wasn’t Demba’s day, but it might be in two weeks’ time."
Pards went on to say that Cisse was putting in the work and was rewarded with a goal... it could be unfortunate construction in the article, or it could be what it sounds, a bit of a dig at Big Demba. I'm still not too concerned about the whole thing at this point, but I really hope Demba Ba can get off the marks early against Stoke and the rain that follows is made of candy canes and sugar drops.
Williamson has not always enjoyed a straightforward relationship with United supporters, some of whom feel that more glamorous defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor fit the bill. But with both players spending the last few weeks on the sidelines, Pardew told the Chronicle: "Willo’s played about 20-odd games, and no one mentions him, so I’m mentioning him. He doesn’t get much praise, does he? But I tell you, he’s smart. "I know that Perchy’s got a song from the fans but Willo hasn’t yet."
I have a hard time elevating Williamson from the low esteem that he holds in my brain, and I don't really know why. I mean, I do- he seems good for one or two good turn-arounds or other gaffes per match, and I feel like we're ultimately going to be punished for them. The facts are, however, that he has been part of 8 clean sheets since Boxing Day. Perchinho changed our minds... why not Willo?
And the reason is simple: Dutch citizenship. Douglas has expressed an interest in representing Holland at international level and Oranje coach Bert van Marwijk is keen to consider the defender. However, Douglas will have to remain in Holland until late August, when he will have completed five years in the country and therefore gain his citizenship.
This is less than ideal news... but I don't think it's ultimately terminal to his move to Newcastle. You'd sure like to have him available for those very early matches, especially if we're talking in terms of European qualifiers- but if Steven Taylor is back fit and playing at the level that he was early in the season, I don't think this will be too much of a problem.
On League Position
After being hammered 5-0 at White Hart Lane on February 11, Newcastle were 11 points behind Spurs and in danger of losing their top six place to Liverpool. However, after dusting themselves down the Magpies have put together a hugely impressive string of results. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that form is vital at this stage of the season, and while Pardew's team have the league's third-best record from the past eight matches, Spurs are third from bottom. It's clear where the momentum lies with only five games remaining.
I had of course remembered the dip in form that we saw not so very long ago... but I hadn't ever quantified it with numbers and other pesky things like facts. The 5-0 loss to Spurs was certainly the low point. I was somewhat surprised to read that the loss put us 11 points behind Tottenham in the league... perhaps mostly because I was never using that as a measuring stick. My direct measurement so far as the table goes has been Chelsea for some time. Now, however, we sit here with 5 matches remaining, level on points with Spurs for 4th place (damn you goal differential!), on a winning sequence of 5 and other clubs around us hemorrhaging points. Surely Spurs or Chelsea will manage to stop the bleeding and this will all be hope for nowt, right?
Can we keep it up and get into the Champions League? Well, my heart says yes but my head says no. The fans are soaking it all in and expect more to come. Newcastle’s showed a lot of people what they are capable of, but long-term Mike Ashley will have to reinvest and bring in reinforcements. That’s what the Geordie faithful demand and deserve.
Warren Barton makes his full debut for the links today, and covers several tidbits through his column. I clicked on the story initially with the hope that we would no longer be considered the benchmark of second-half collapses to lose titles... but Warren sees the collapses differently on a fundamental level. He also has to give a shout-out to his old club Newcastle, which I included a bit of above.