The Special K Revolution Thus Far

Newcastle United are going to owe Premiership survival to one thing come May. Their good start under Sam Allardyce. Indeed, that might look all very pollyannaish come the end of the season, because not a few of the clubs beneath them are better run and are capable of overtaking Toon with a little luck.

As I write this – before most of today’s matches have finished – Newcastle have just been turned over by Aston Villa. They are 12th with 28 points. That’s a full seven points above the relegation zone, which means that Birmingham, for instance, need to overhaul Toon by that much by May in order for United to go down. But 10th place is eight points away, which tells where they really find themselves.

The sheer dominance of the top three this season means that, as with other recent seasons, the results of the bottom five or so clubs are generally so catastrophic as to make trends hard to discern. But it’s my impression that Reading have most of their difficult ties out of the way already, and can concentrate on their football, which has been pretty good even in defeat at times. Sunderland are either good or bad, but do seem capable of scoring more than one goal a game. No doubt they are inspired by the Special Keano.

Likewise, Birmingham have been working their way through the top three lately, and they have a manager who feels a good fit for them. Bolton are impossible to call, but the Gary Megson who is in charge now looks recharged against memories of the man who worked so hard and often so unavailingly at West Brom.

No, if Newcastle are to stay up, I think they can thank Sam, early season results, and Wigan Athletic.

But I fear for them next season. Nothing in all of the recent analysis of the “new team” that Mike Ashley has pulled together gives me any feeling that any one of them genuinely knows what to do to improve the current situation. To be fair, and starting from here, as they have, it might not have been rescuable from the beginning.

A lot is said, and a lot has been said here lately, especially in the comments, about the need to organize a team. Before Allardyce arrived at Newcastle, the Toon fear wasn’t relegation, but boring football. I fear that that might have been a “Charlton” moment. You’ll remember, a couple of years ago, all of that talk coming from the Valley about Curbs not being the man to take Charlton to the next level, to help them kick on for Europe…

Whatever Allardyce may or may not be able to do, I think, and most honest commentators would agree, that he can organize a side if anyone can.

Although Newcastle were excellent for long periods in his last game against a Stoke side that are probably rather better than either Derby or Fulham, Allardyce didn’t manage to organize Newcastle into a functioning side in the time he had to his own satisfaction. He said so, and commented that he didn’t want the set of players he had to have his future in their hands.

This was taken to mean that Allardyce was blaming his tools. But what if he was right – what if there simply weren’t the players at Newcastle to produce what Allardyce wanted, let alone what the fans wanted? The squad looks OK on paper, but so did West Ham’s in their last relegation year. What if too many have lost interest, or never had it at Newcastle, or just aren’t good enough? What if they just don’t mesh?

Granted that Allardyce had had a full summer’s trading and a complete pre-season to work with, and things didn’t turn around, but I note that Newcastle’s slump began at about the same stage that Aston Villa’s did in Martin O’Neill’s first season. It takes time, and O’Neill had the advantage that Villa were desperate where Newcastle have been demanding. It’s easy to forget which club has won a European Cup. But not so hard to guess which is more likely to win another.

And yet, and yet. I look at the players. Milner – Owen – N’Zogbia – Martins – Given – Smith – Emre – Viduka – Butt – Barton – Duff. I’d back myself to do well with players of that calibre. Things must be bad indeed, and if they are that bad, is there any way for anyone to turn things around without the help of a post-relegation clearout?

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6 responses to “The Special K Revolution Thus Far

  1. “But it’s my impression that Reading have most of their difficult ties out of the way already”

    I’m sure there are a million things wrong with this approach (such as the fact that a team’s points depend on how hard their early fixtures were, and it doesn’t distinguish between home and away) but if you take the remaining fixtures for each club, and sum the number of points the opposition have (as of today), then average it out, then this is what you get:

    Bolton 40
    Middlesbrough 37
    Wigan 37
    Newcastle 37
    Birmingham 37
    Derby 36
    Sunderland 36
    Liverpool 35
    ManUtd 34
    Chelsea 34
    Everton 34
    Fulham 33
    WestHam 33
    Reading 33
    Arsenal 32
    ManCity 32
    Tottenham 31
    Blackburn 31
    Portsmouth 30
    AstonVilla 30

    Not a huge range – it means Bolton’s average opponents left to go are where Man City/Blackburn are, whereas Villas are where Tottenham are. But it supports your view that Reading have got easier fixtures – on average the teams they are playing have 3-4 points less than the other relegation candidates.

  2. Why didn’t Newcastle go for Hoddle? Just a bit old for midfield now?

  3. Ah but isn’t God cruel to those who are already down on their luck? That prize ass Assley Cole slipped and slid all over Wembley, and suffered nothing worse than dirt on his shorts. Poor old Given slips once in yesterday’s league game, and injures himself.

  4. How long did Allardyce have, James? Certainly not long enough, we all agree.

    How long has Keegan had? You seem to think it was too long before he even started. I think you should give Keegan at least as long a time as Allardyce has had, and even then it would be too short. Or so we thought of Allardyce.

  5. Allardyce was brought in as much as anything to BUY and organize a new defence for Newcastle. To end the “Titus Bramble Comedy Defending” era.

    And he did move Bramble along. Sadly, despite some reasonably high spending in the summer period, the comedy defending remained. And that was always going to be the nails in Big Sam’s coffin, as the whole point of “putting up with boring football” is that, like Sven’s Man City, you look like a team who can nick some results, rather than give them away in new and interesting ways.

    If I was Ashley I would have stuck with Sam until the end of the season, since it’s already dead, there’s little to be gained from the Keegan saga.

    But, the business reality is that Sam spent a fair bit of money and made some bad choices and that is why he lost his job. No-one can look at the defence of the squad that Sam spent money to revamp and say they would want their job in the hands of those four players. Trouble is, it’s Sam’s fault that Sam didn’t buy some better defenders, or indeed buy more covering defenders for the squad, so I can’t really blame Ashley for making Sam carry the can.

    [Of all the quality players you list, arguably only Given (the GK) is a true defender, N’Zogbia is better as winger than wing back and Barton is not a true DM… and I think that illustrates my point…]

  6. Not fair, IMHO.

    Neither Vidic nor Evra bedded in to MUFC in the first few weeks, which is all Allardyce had. Realistically, he needed 3-4 years, with at least one “forgiven” relegation, to sort it out. Now the side faces 3-4 years with a possible relegation in the middle but without someone with a clear idea of what they are doing.

    That’s not an anti-Keegan thing, whatever impression you may have taken from me, George. I don’t have heroes, but I’ve always admired the man; I don’t agree with his decision to return, that’s all. I doubt very much that he’s under the illusions of his employers, though. This is, after all, the man who fronted up to his weaknesses with England, and who has had to deal with the consequences ever since. I thought that took courage, then, still do; that said, I admire Graham Taylor for the grace with which he’s taken all the rubbish that’s still being thrown at him after 14 years, and I admire Steve McClaren for his positive attitude towards what must have been and must still be an appalling experience.

    Keegan was a hero of mine as a child, and I didn’t know any boys who didn’t look up to him and see him as some kind of symbol of hope and belief. Then he went and built that beautiful team. Not little things. It doesn’t mean he’s the right man now. It does mean that he doesn’t deserve the chants which I understand are kicking off in that city of the greatest fans in the world.

    You won’t hear them here.