Posted by Barrie on Saturday, 2 January 2010

Hands Up: Who Wrote Off Newcastle United?

After the mess they were in at the end of last season, relegated on the final day under the management of Alan Shearer, there was a dark fog on the Tyne at St James' Park.

Over the summer, Newcastle United were up for sale and no permanent manager was in place. They were in a mess to say the least.

Half way through the Championship season and Newcastle are 6 points clear of the division and one of the strongest sides in the division. They're scoring plenty and conceding few. Just ignore those last two games that saw them draw 2-2 against a manager less Sheffield Wednesday side and then 0-0 at home to an injury-ridden and poor-performing Derby County side. Apart from those results, they've performed above expectations in most peoples eyes. They've lost just 3 of their opening 24 games; 1 at in-form Nottingham Forest and the other 2 were midweek away games.

On paper they arguably have the strongest squad in the division. But credit needs to go to manager Chris Hughton for getting them to play well together. He failed to get them playing like this during his short stint as caretaker manager in the Premier League, but has quickly turned them into one of the most feared teams in the league. Shola Ameobi is scoring goals, Kevin Nolan is getting back to somewhere near his best after looking like a poor £4,000,000 signing a year ago. Alan Smith is their tough-tackling midfielder whom they need in this division (even if Robbie Savage did outshine him in their last game). At the back, Steve Harper is a dependable goalkeeper. And in front of him are Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini who head every ball back from where it comes from (although are suspect if teams decide to run at them). They have strengths all over the park and Chris Hughton is getting the best out of them.

January is a big month for Newcastle as they look to hold onto their key players during the transfer window. With their huge wage bill and previous rumours of administration, sales may be inevitable. But if Hughton still has the core of his team come February, Newcastle will rightfully remain favourites for promotion.

Today, Newcastle travel to Plymouth for their 3rd round FA Cup tie.

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