It really does make you pose the question: “How good was Newcastle’s season?’’. If the season had finished in December, fans without a doubt would have unanimously described it as one of the most promising and fruitful in recent history. But this is of course only a hypothetical situation, and to use the mundane cliché: “it’s a marathon not a sprint”.
One of the best parts about the season is that they had finally seemed to find a style, an identity that had been evading them for almost over a year. No longer were they simply seeming to try and grind out results in matches, they had a system which managed to combine both discipline and flair.
Unfortunately, this system relied entirely upon Yohan Cabaye, and after he was sold in January for £19 million, fans could only watch in despair as their season unravelled in a sense that can only be compared to rewinding an old-school videotape.
The hope amongst the fans is that Newcastle can effectively replace Cabaye with someone of equal calibre in the summer, but failing to do so would all but reduce them to the unimaginative desperate style that fans and neutrals alike seem to dislike so much.
As a fan it really pains me to say this, it really does, but in a league as competitive as the Premier League, survival should really be seen as an accomplishment; especially after last season Newcastle were dangerously flirting with relegation in the last few weeks.
Let alone survival, Newcastle also narrowly achieved their pre-season target of a top-10 finish which most fans seem to conveniently forget, which is even more impressive considering the woeful form that encompassed the second half of the season.
However, once Newcastle did achieve their target in the Premier League, fans were once again disheartened following two early cup defeats. As one of the few teams that neutrals would consistently call ‘comfortably mid-table’, surely fans are right to be aggravated when the cups aren’t given priority over the league?
A recent statement from the new managing director Lee Charnley all but confirmed the worst: “Looking ahead to future seasons, our primary focus will remain the Premier League”, another hammer swing at the foundation of Newcastle’s by all accounts acceptable season.
At the end of the day (or should I say season) all fans tend to remember about past seasons are particular standout moments, good or bad. In this sense, many will have a positive holistic opinion of the season considering the relatively high volume of memorable victories around November-December, such as away victories at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford and a successive home victory to Chelsea. But in this same conversation, the season was also blighted with a terrible run of results near the end another two derby defeats to arch-rivals Sunderland.
To return to my earlier idealistic assessment, this was a very much a season of two halves, which in some sense should be assessed independently. If the season had finished in December few would have complained, but because it finished in May it left fans with a bitter taste that was to a large degree undeserved.