Mike Williamson has been called a lot of things during his Newcastle United career but after the latest chapter of his black and white story perhaps he deserves a new moniker: unbreakable.
From unfashionable fourth choice centre-back to Alan Pardew’s defensive rock, Williamson’s campaign has been one of extremes. Next up – in Cardiff – he will reprise a partnership that, statistically, is the best that Newcastle have had over the last 12 months.
Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini kept more clean sheets than any other partnership at St James’ Park, and surprisingly the defender racked up the same number of shut outs as the Argentinian last term. Steven Taylor, with eight, got the most but he is injured and hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since the first game of the season against Manchester City.
The missing element in all of this is Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who is under serious pressure after struggling to contain Romelu Lukaku at Goodison Park. There are known to be doubts among the management about his aerial ability and with Cardiff having signed Peter Odemwingie over the summer that is a concern ahead of the trip to South Wales.
So that brings us back to Williamson, the man who appeared to be heading out of St James’ Park over the summer. Malky Mackay – today’s opposing boss – was interested in taking him to Cardiff while Wigan, where his close friend James Perch ended up, also had a sniff.
But he’s back in favour today as Pardew rings the changes for a game that has assumed major impotance after the manner of United’s (first half) performance at Goodison Park.
If he plays this afternoon, Williamson will be defending the impressive record of Newcastle having not conceded while he’s been on the pitch. It’s two-and-a-half hours so far but a trip to upwardly mobile Cardiff City is the hardest assignment yet.
“It’s nice to hear that statistic,” Williamson says, employing the same level-headed attitude that has served him well in his four seasons at St James’ Park.
“Defenders, especially myself, take a lot of pride from keeping clean sheets and for me that’s what the game is all about. We were surrounded by a lot of disappointment on Monday and it was difficult, so I don’t feel as though I can take any credit from the game because we didn’t get a result.
“It’s nice to look back on but there’s a lot of work to be done and now it is all about getting prepared mentally and physically for Cardiff.”
Williamson is similarly non-plussed about the prospect of being the first England-qualified player to start for Newcastle since Taylor on the opening day.
“It’s one of those which shows you the global changes which have takenplace in the Premier League. It can be difficult at times but the fact is it attracts the best players in the world and I think the Premier League benefits from that,” he said.
“Has it changed the dressing room? The characters have changed and the dynamics have changed, but in terms of the spirit, no. All the lads are fantastic and we get on with each other. I suppose it has changed a bit but that’s the natural progression of football.”
Whatever the composition of the dressing room, Williamson has proved one of the great survivors of the French revolution. Lesser players might have sought fresh pastures but Williamson’s down-to-earth demeanour hides a steely belief in his own ability.
He said: “Not really. I’ve always maintained that I would fight for my place and I’ve made no secret of that. The manager said it was always going to be tough but Newcastle is a fantastic club.
“If you ask any player they would say they wouldn’t be around if they didn’t feel they could do the job. I feel as though I have a lot to offer the team. That has always been my thought from day one because I have always had that self belief, that I could come in and make a difference to the team.
“That’s what being a professional athlete is all about. You won’t find a player here who doesn’t feel he can come in and make a difference.”
Today is a big fixture for Newcastle and for Pardew too. Contemplating big changes for the weekend trip to South Wales, he is under a measure of pressure even if the internet rumours that left him under seige this weekend were completely false.
Williamson says that Pardew has not changed under the pressure. “He has been upbeat,” he said. “We have come in and had a meeting and basically looked to identify things we feel went wrong on Monday, but now it is all about preparing and getting the lads ready. The manager has been great.
“I think you have got to be that way. Football is a rollercoaster of emotions and I think you have got to try and find the happy medium and try not to get too high when you are succeeding and too low when you don’t. That’s the balance the manager strives for. It rubs off on the players and gives us the confidence to go out on Saturday and get a result.”