Cheick Tiote’s season is yet to get going. The powerful Ivorian midfielder will be at Goodison Park tonight hoping rather than expecting to be let loose on unbeaten Everton.
You can take it as a sign of how Newcastle United have improved, or how Tiote’s game has regressed.
Either way, it is a new situation for the 27-year-old to get his head around but, he will hope, not get used to.
Tiote was one of the outstanding players of Newcastle’s incredible 2010-11 season.
The side which defied all logic to finish fifth in the Premier League had a formidable spine: Tim Krul rock- solid in goal, Fabricio Coloccini an elegant leader at the back, the steel and silk of Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in central midfield and the potent Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse up front.
Last season it all went awry.
Krul proved fallible to injury, Coloccini and Cabaye were distracted by off-field matters which saw both ask to leave, Ba did and Cisse seemed unable to shoulder the goalscoring burden alone.
Tiote suffered too, at times becoming a parody of himself.
The man coveted by so many big clubs 13 months ago had gone from feared enforcer to a clumsy crash, bang, wallop merchant.
The new season brought a change of fortune for some, but not others.
Krul has enjoyed an injury-free start, Coloccini seems more at peace with himself.
Cabaye and Cisse’s rehabilitation is in its early stages but the Magpies will hope the transfer window closing on the French midfielder and the end of the Senegal striker’s barren run in front of goal on Wednesday can start those processes.
Tiote is still waiting.
In hindsight, he should not have played at Manchester City on Newcastle’s opening night.
It did neither any good, the Magpies losing 4-0 and Tiote having to work overtime with his team down to ten men for the last 42 minutes.
The calf injury he came into the game with was aggravated.
In his absence, Vurnon Anita has become the player Newcastle thought they were getting from Ajax last year.
He lacks Tiote’s physical presence but most top-flight managers prefer a more subtle balance between brawn and brain.
While Anita has looked the part and in recent weeks, Tiote has looked on from the bench.
Life of the field has been less than hunky-dory too.
Tiote’s disciplinary problems on it are the stuff of legend but this month he was in court accused of using a false Belgian driving licence, making a false statement to obtain car insurance and fraud in relation to use of the licence. His trial will be next month.
After making his first start post-Eastlands alongside Anita at home to Leeds United on Wednesday, Tiote is ready to make up for lost time.
He said: “Am I back to my best? I don’t know, I’m maybe getting there.
“Against Leeds it felt good and my timing was better than for a while, but I need the time on the pitch to keep improving, so I hope I have done enough to stay in the team.”
At least Tiote seems to have come to terms with only getting a game in a League Cup tie against Championship opposition.
He added: “It’s not been a shock because I’ve been injured ever since the Man City game.
“The team did well in my absence against West Ham and Fulham, but now I have returned I am getting the feeling back, so being out the side has not been a problem for me at all.
“I think everyone was fired up for the Leeds game because it is not easy to sit on the bench.
“Everyone at the club wants to do their best so the manager has trouble picking his best team. You want to do that to give the manager a headache.
“I always try my best but sometimes you go up and sometimes down, I always giving everything and I hope I prove that when I go on the pitch in every minute for Newcastle.”
Up and down would be a fair description of Newcastle’s early-season form.
“Against Hull City we missed a big chance (losing 3-2) and it was a massive blow for everyone at the club,” 86th-minute substitute Tiote reflects.
“We have tough games coming up and if we had won then we would have even more confidence, but at least we beat Leeds and that has to help us. That should improve our confidence for the game against Everton. It can only help.
“Wednesday was a welcome return to form and it was good for the players to show that kind of response because we missed a big chance to be in the top four in the league.
“Winning was everything against Leeds and the confidence we will get from that we can take into the Everton game because we showed we knew how to win again.
“Everton is always a very tough place to go. We need to show our confidence and togetherness in order to get a result there.
“I think with the changes we have made we do look more confident this season. We look better on the ball and we need to continue to play in that way. “