IN a city of some 300,000, Leon Best knows he was one of only five cheered by Newcastle United’s inability to land a new striker on deadline day.
Best, Peter Løvenkrands, Sammy and Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba (pictured right) make up the happy quintet – every other black-and-white inhabitant of the city of Newcastle was praying for the cavalry to arrive over the horizon on August 31.
But it didn’t happen and Best, for one, is happy to have the uncertainty and rancour of the transfer window pushed firmly into the long grass. It gives him a chance – he acknowledges – to finally progress from prolific in spells to established Premier League striker.
And after a short St James’ Park career of almost implausible extremes, that is all the Republic of Ireland striker has ever wanted.
“It was a little bit of an uncertain summer at the start of it,” he admits. “But to be honest, when deadline day came I didn’t even watch the coverage. I played Call of Duty instead because either way, I knew where I was going to be.
“I know my job, if a new striker comes in I believe in healthy competition. All the top teams have many strikers and if you’re not doing your job another one comes in and takes you place. But when it was all done and dusted we’ve got the same number we had last season, so obviously I’ve got a much better chance now, especially with the manager looking to play two strikers. If I’m scoring you can’t take somebody out of the team so it’s definitely down to me now.”
Thus far, you could not accuse the Nottingham-born forward of failing to deliver.
Granted, there was a barren debut season when Best failed to find the net following his January switch from Coventry City. Having been signed by Chris Hughton as the final piece in the promotion jigsaw, he found form and confidence flat-lining as Andy Carroll and Peter Løvenkrands powered the team to an almost effortless promotion.
Alan Pardew was hardly convinced either, responding to Best’s imploring pleas for a start with a contention that the striker simply hadn’t done enough.
Then injuries hit, Best was handed his chance against West Ham and a golden run of goalscoring began.
“I didn’t really fear my career was losing its way but I’ve feared not being given the right opportunity – I feared I wasn’t going to be given a chance to achieve what I wanted to achieve.
“Whatever club I’ve been at, whether Southampton or Coventry, I never felt like I was the man. Like the manager has said, I’ve always been in and out of the team, either through form injuries or not scoring. This is the first time in my life I’m scoring and feeling good and I’m in the Premier League.
“I feel very good at the minute.”
Good enough, indeed, to accept the challenge laid down by those within the club to hit 20 goals this season.
Given that Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov were the last two players to hit those kind of numbers, it would be an incredible achievement from a player who’s previous season-high was ten for Coventry in the second tier. “Can I get 20 is the big question. I hope I can do that,” he said.
“With no new striker brought in, now I’ve been scoring, people might be looking at me thinking I should be doing that.
“I had the first chance last year and he has brought in new players but he still gives me a chance. I’ve got to take it now. When I first came here I came from the Championship, I wasn’t a massive signing and I wasn’t proven. The fans took to me and they maybe weren’t expecting 15-20 goals a season.
“I’ve been in that position most of my career, the only way I can prove myself is scoring goals. I can handle that.”
Honest and down-to-earth, Best is unfazed by the curious comment from Pardew in the wake of his Fulham brace that he “needs to keep proving himself”.
Given the goals it would appear he has already done that to an extent, but Best is not interested in self-promotion. He knows his CV is not yet bold enough to call himself a top tier forward.
“I know I’m still unproven, I’ve started only 11 games in the Premier League, I’ve got to keep fit and play as many games and score as many goals,” he said.
“But I believe this league is better for me. I love every minute of playing in it and when you score it’s the best feeling.
“I just tend to look at my goals per game ratio. That’s been the case my whole career. Everyone told me, keep scoring, right back to when I was a young kid. As a striker it’s about scoring goals, I believe I’m a Premier League player.”
Having begun the season well, a trip to Aston Villa just five days after a tough engagement at QPR will be a test.
But fourth in the league, there will be an expectation of a better performance at a ground with bad memories for Newcastle supporters.
“The manager was saying if we beat QPR it would be best start for 15 years, which given some of the players who’ve come in and out of the club is a massive achievement.
“I think we’ve also conceded the least goals, as long as we keep clean sheets it’s down to us to get the goals – and that is what I have to help us to do.”