Ronnie Whelan: Magpies’ surprise rise will not last
MIKE Ashley certainly knows how to pick a manager. Whether it’s divine inspiration or blind luck, he has managed to find two men in quick succession capable of turning lead into gold.
It comes as a great surprise to me and probably everyone else that Newcastle United have managed to rise to fourth in the Premier League table after Saturday’s 3-1 win over Blackburn.
But I would confidently predict that they will not be fourth by Christmas or even close to that; nearer the relegation zone more likely.
It’s an old story with Newcastle, and Geordie fans tend to view a good start to the season as nothing more than a tease before reality sets in.
They know that there is a calamity just around the corner and that their club is still based on very shaky foundations.
They know Ashley, too, and watched his attempts to first ingratiate himself with them by standing with the faithful holding a mug of beer wearing short sleeves in the depths of winter before showing his true colours.
Gestures like that only last as long as a headline or a video clip and I doubt that many Geordie fans were surprised when reports emerged that Newcastle was for sale and that Ashley was trying to find a buyer with enough money to supply him with a big chunk of the cash he had invested.
With the club in crisis and relegated to the Championship, they watched Chris Hughton work a small miracle with a patched up squad when he dragged Newcastle back into the Premier League and better than that, made them competitive in the top flight with virtually no investment.
They saw Hughton shown the door in dreadful circumstances and they must have wondered what was happening to their club when they saw Alan Pardew appointed as his successor.
Whatever thoughts they had about Pardew changed to sympathy when they saw Andy Carroll sold from under him for a truly enormous amount of money and very little reinvested to strengthen the Newcastle squad.
Mind you, Carroll looks like a fantastic bit of business for Ashley as the weeks roll by and the expectation attached to a man labelled as England’s best prospect for years dwindles around Anfield.
But Pardew had every right to expect a big wedge of cash to spend this summer and it never really materialised.
Against the odds and I must say, contrary to my instinct, Pardew has been good for Newcastle and has managed to hold onto the squad unity which Hughton fostered so successfully.
He has built on that, and found a striker in Djemba Ba who seems committed to single-handedly lifting Newcastle into an area of the table they haven’t seen in a decade.
Pardew lost a mainstay in Hughton’s team, Kevin Nolan, and then handled the Joey Barton situation very well while keeping the rest of his players focused on the task at hand.
Inevitably, however, Pardew and Newcastle will reach a point
where there simply aren’t enough loaves and fish to go around and whether through injury, suspensions or pure fatigue, they will falter and slip back down the table to more familiar ground.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Geordie fans. St James’s Park was always a great place to visit for all the right reasons.
In my day, there were grounds where Liverpool were guaranteed a level of abuse which was truly intimidating on a personal level, but St James’s Park felt a lot like Anfield. It was a shrine to football, first and foremost.
That quality made lads such as Michael Owen, Ian Rush and, of course, Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes sign for Newcastle and feel at home there.
Kevin Keegan did more for the club than any of the other ex-Anfield recruits and it nearly destroyed him, but I can understand why he gave so much of himself to Newcastle. Fans like that deserve a high level of commitment.
Unfortunately, the Geordies have been used or abused for so long that they would be well within their rights if they viewed the modern game with a very cynical eye.
Like me, they are waiting for everything to go wrong but, like them, I would be absolutely delighted if Newcastle proved me wrong. I’m not going to hold my breath for long on that one.