Newcastle head to the seaside today looking to turn the tide of an inconsistent season. Stuart Rayner talks to Mike Williamson
IN front of a packed St James’ Park, Newcastle United provided yet another reminder they can live with best this week. It is the rest they struggle with.
Manchester United’s serene progress towards a record 19th championship stumbled on Tuesday, held to a 0-0 draw by the Magpies. The Red Devils were in good company. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton – all have come a cropper against Newcastle this season. Yet Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Aston Villa and today’s opponents Blackpool have milked them for victories.
A trip to Bloomfield Road this afternoon will put them under the microscope. Their last visit to a ground smaller than Carlisle United’s was not a happy occasion – not for them at least – Brett Ormerod and Jason Euell putting the Championship big boys in their place.
With the sun shining and top-flight safety secure, Newcastle’s fans could be forgiven for having their minds more on candy floss and Kiss Me Quick hats when they pitch up at the Las Vegas of the North. The worry is the players might also be metaphorically on the Golden Mile. It is a fear Mike Williamson shares, even if the centre-back admits he can also be guilty of dropping his standards when the pressure is off.
“It’ll be a difficult match for Blackpool potentially, but it’s important we approach it with the same mentality as Manchester United,” he says. “We can’t take our foot off the gas, as has been the case at times this season. We’ve shown time and time again that when we get the mentality right, we can beat anyone.
“We need to play with the same tempo we did last Tuesday. It’s all about how we approach the game.
“You saw in the Wolves game when we needed to win, we got a big three points. When the pressure’s on, we’ve got a lot of players who react well.
“Teams like Manchester United have the ability when they don’t play well to get a win and that’s the key for us finishing seventh, eighth, ninth.
“As far as the lads are concerned, this is a massive game for us, so it shouldn’t be too hard to focus. Blackpool are desperate for the points and we know what’s at stake. It’ll obviously be a contrasting occasion to the other night. We’ve just got to play well, turn up and do what we did against Manchester United, which is work hard. Hopefully if we get the rub of the green, we can get the three points.
“Survival was our primary target (this season). To secure that at any stage of the season would have been good. Next season, we want to be setting our targets higher.”
It is that tougher mental approach – typified by a Red Devils side who compensate for their (relative) lack of flair with a surplus of fortitude – which manager Alan Pardew sees as the key to Newcastle making the next step. “I’m trying to instill a winning mentality in every game,” he says. “We’re getting that message through and if any player wants to come here that’s the mentality I want.”
Such sides are always built on defence. Manchester United’s is this season’s embodiment, Blackpool’s is rocky. Williamson’s partnership with Fabricio Coloccini – the archetypal English centre-half and the flashy foreign libero – is a good starting point for a team wanting to be more like the former than the latter. “He’s a brilliant footballer,” Williamson says of the Argentinian. “To play with somebody of his talent is fantastic. It’s a joy to play alongside him. It’s amazing the ability he’s got. He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He’s very warm and welcoming and makes you feel part of it. Everyone knows his English isn’t as fluent as most of the other lads, but he’s a really nice guy, family-orientated.
“Everyone has got their own friends and family, so we don’t spend a lot of time together away from the training ground. He’s got his own family – two young children, so he’s got his hands full – but when we’re all in each other’s company, we get on very well.
“He’s a very cultured player, very laid back. He’s very good on the ball. I play to my strengths – I try to be aggressive and win my headers and I let him do the ball-playing.
“I came here to try and prove myself at this level. I wanted to play as regularly as I could. I’m very appreciative of the number of games I’ve been able to pull on the jersey this season. It’s been a fantastic season both for me and the team.”