Ahead of Manchester United's match tomorrow with Newcastle United at Old Trafford, Coming Home Newcastle -- SBN's Magpie fansite -- was kind enough to do a Q&A with TBB. Many of the questions provided were from you, the readers, and they were supplemented by some of my own. The terrific answers provided were from John Murphy, a writer on CHN. Here is the Q&A:
TBB: How surprising is your astonishing start to the season, which includes being unbeaten until your past weekend's match with Manchester City? Going forward, what do you think the realistic floor and ceiling is for Newcastle this season? If you had to gauge the general pulse of the supporters, what do you think expectations are?
CHN: I'd love to arrogantly say that we knew this was coming the whole time, that Newcastle's meteoric rise was in the cards from day one, and that all the doomsayers speaking of a relegation struggle were just playing a funny little joke. Alas, none of that would be true... this season has been an absolute dream. If you had told a Newcastle fan that we would be undefeated in November back in August they might have reacted violently (Newcastle fans sometimes have an unfortunate tendency towards that) out of the shock of such an outlandish conceit. In moving forward, I think a top eight finish and a serious challenge for Europa may be in the cards. I think many Newcastle fans were so blindsided by our success that some are legitimately thinking Champions League (and, I must admit, even I write that point, I have a huge shit-eating grin on my face from the mere mention of it), but most rational minds would say that we are still a few players off from truly competing in Europe's biggest stage. I'd like to see us make a serious push for the FA Cup, though, seeing as how we haven't had a "top" domestic trophy since 1955.
TBB: From our perspective, it appeared that Chris Hughton was unfairly sacked when Alan Pardew took over. How did you feel about the events when they occurred? Quite obviously, Pardew is getting results this season -- In a general sense, are NUFC fans content with him?
CHN: Most Newcastle fans loved Chris Hughton, myself included. At the time, I was pretty distraught, but sports has an amazing way of forcing you to get over things quickly. Pardew rolled into town with a brilliant 3-1 victory over Liverpool, leading the best interview of all time. Mike Ashley's rationale at the time of the sacking was that we needed a manager to "take us to the next level," which seemed like an absurd rationale at the time, but lo and behold, here we are, heading into December in a Champions League spot. I agree that Hughton got a rough deal, but we're winning, and loving every second of it. Viva Pardew's French Revolution!
TBB: Newcastle has seen some fine players leave the club recently (e.g. Joey Barton, Jose Enrique, Andy Carroll, and Kevin Nolan to name a few), how confident are you about keeping your current top players such as Cheick Tiote? How did the fans feel about Barton's departure? Do you get the sense that there is more cohesion or less distraction with the likes of Barton, Carroll, and Nolan gone?
CHN: I've argued on CHN all the time that Barton's departure from NUFC was the tipping point that pushed into the next level, so I absolutely agree with your point about cohesion and togetherness. Pardew completely shuffled and restructured the basic core of the team, with the exception of just a few players, and he did it all in the course of a year, which is pretty damn impressive for my money. I think Pardew now has a team of "his" guys, who all seem to love him and will go to war for the man, which is lovely to see and reflects perfectly on the field. I think it was easy to point fingers at Ashley or Pardew for all the losses we've had (the roster looked like a hemorrhaging wound there in late summer), but all seem to have been for the best, like uprooting an infection of some kind, and now we have some more capitol to spend. Going towards the January window, I expect that we'll lose a few more guys, because thats the nature of the game. I also totally believe Pardew when he says that teams will have to pay an arm and a leg to get anyone, but some teams with money to blow... say, ones from Manchester, perhaps... might be willing to break the bank for some of our prolific stars. We seem to be following a relatively sound business model here: buy low, sell astronomical.
TBB: Can you give us your thoughts on owner Mike Ashley? He appears to be an unpopular figure at Toon. Perhaps related to that, how unsettled are supporters over St James' Park being renamed Sport Direct Arena? Will the financial benefits eventually help calm the dissatisfaction?
CHN: I'm going to start with the stadium thing, since I have a unique perspective on this one. I am a huge Saints fan, and happened to be visiting New Orleans the week they unveiled the "Mercedes Benz Superdome." The reaction was pure venom, with people shouting and angry and vitriolic and #occupying stuff to show just how MAD they were... then the Saints crushed the Colts on Sunday night, and everyone immediately stopped caring. Now, no one bats an eye when you say "Mercedes Benz Superdome." I think the same will happen with SJP, or er, SDA? It's a lovely and intelligent way to make money... go for it, I say. And, as always, winning cures all. I am also CHN's resident Ashley apologist. I absolutely love the guy and think he has made about two year's worth of good calls since relegation. He has finally figured out the football game, and I am totally and 100% behind our three-headed leadership (which I affectionately refer to as Cerberus on the site) of Pardew, Ashley, and GM Derek Llambias. He is an unpopular figure, you're right, but he is also proving his mettle as a good owner in the Premiership now, so NUFC fans should stop acting like spoiled children and recognize when the #fatcockneybastard has done something right, which as of late has been often. We're winning, our debt is slowly coming back under control, we're putting a high quality product on the field, our kits are still the best in football, and again, we're WINNING.
TBB: What sort of tactics has Pardew used this season to achieve the early season success? What formation does Newcastle generally play in? Do they soak up pressure and look to counter or do they press high up the pitch -- or perhaps something something in between? Do they play with width or do they look to attack through the middle? What is your predicted starting XI at Old Trafford on Sunday?
CHN: This is a highly blasphemous conceit I'm about to make, but I've only got five full games to go on (unfortunately, I'm a teacher, so life happens very violently and frequently, and likes to do right about the time Newcastle is playing). That duly noted and properly admitted, from what I've seen, Pardew's tactic has been a seminar on simplistic brilliance. I used to get on CHN and rant and rave about how we needed innovative and unique tactics for our skill sets, and Pardew told me to sod off (the nerve!) and proceed to role out a very droll, very standard 4-4-2. We play our wings all the way up and down the field, and Obertan and Jonas have done wonderfully in that system. Our back middle of Coloccini and Stephen Taylor has been wonderfully stout. Up front, Leon Best has been mint, and Demba Ba has done wonderfully, with Shola Ameobi and Hatem Ben Arfa providing solid relief every now and again. The best, however, has been the midfield pairing of Tiote and Cabaye. The two of them have controlled the ball so wonderfully together through the season that Newcastle has dominated the middle of the pitch, which has been key to our early success. It's simple, but with Tiote and Cabaye running the show, NUFC should be just fine.
TBB: Finally, do you care to reveal a prediction for Saturday's match?
CHN: I'm being wildly optimistic here, but NUFC hasn't won at Old Tafford in forever, and since you're having midfield woes while we feel stout between the lines, I'm going to go with a shocking 2-1 win for Newcastle. There's that stupid Magpie arrogance, again.