NEWCASTLE United came up short in their bid to bring in an extra defender before Tuesday’s deadline.
MIKE Williamson must have been the only professional footballer who spent deadline day willing his club to strike a deal for some direct competition.
But then the affable defender also happens to be close friends with Adrian Mariappa, the man at the centre of Newcastle’s extensive – but ultimately futile – efforts to recruit defensive reinforcements during the January transfer window.
Calls went back and forth between the two, and Williamson knew that Mariappa was desperately keen on coming to St James’ Park.
That much was backed up by his decision to snub Wigan in the final hours of Tuesday evening to try to smooth the way for a move to Tyneside.
Thanks to a combination of Watford’s stubborn refusal to deal on Newcastle’s terms it didn’t come to pass though, and his friend’s loss might just end up being Williamson’s gain.
Now enshrined as first choice for the rest of the season – barring form, favour and fitness of course – the defender can look forward to the final months of the season with the prospect of plenty of games on the horizon.
“To be honest, I was disappointed more than anything when it did not materialise,” he explains. “Adrian Mariappa is one of my closest friends – we were together at Watford and he really wanted to come here. He turned down the move to Wigan, too.
“I wasn’t thinking of myself because I think competition is healthy so I spoke to him a few times on deadline day to see what was happening.
“I don’t think he knew what was going on and in the end I was just disappointed for him on a personal level because I knew how much he wanted to come.
“But I know Watford are in a position where they are still battling to stay in the Championship. I think they were more concerned about their own survival.
“Anyone who comes here, it is outside my control. If he had come, I’d have welcomed him and just tried to play the best I can to stay in the side.
“I’m sure he will get another chance. Adrian is a very good player – very similar to Colo (Fabricio Coloccini) in that he is quick and good on the ball. But I have got the jersey at the minute and that is how I see it. I have just got to train and play hard.
Simply to be able to do that is a bonus for Williamson after the way his season started. Bumped down to first reserve by Steven Taylor’s flying form, the former Watford man then suffered a complicated ankle injury that left him on the sidelines for nearly four months.
As Newcastle clambered up the Premier League with their superb start, Williamson acted as an avid spectator – and admits to “enjoying” watching from the terraces for a few weeks.
Now he has been pitched into battle and Newcastle need him to continue improving if they are to book that place in European competition.
It is a remarkable reversal of fortune, but the defender takes his changing status in his stride. “If you ask anyone in the squad, you never shut down, never stop believing,” he said.
“You need to have the belief within yourself that you can come into the team at any time. That is what the training ground and gym are here for – to make sure you are ready for your chance.
“Football is so unpredictable, you never know what will happen. One day you can be out in the cold, the next you are grabbing the headlines.
“Everyone knows how quickly it can change and I am just trying to take my chance now.”
The next opportunity comes against Aston Villa, with Williamson tasked with job of silencing England striker Darren Bent as he returns to the North East.
The former Sunderland man was prolific during his spell on Wearside but seemed strangely subdued whenever he played in derby clashes.
With no goals in two encounters against Williamson it would be tempting to say the Newcastle man had his number, but you won’t find one of the most humble members of the Magpies squad echoing that belief.
“I had a couple of good battles with him when he was at Sunderland and managed to keep him quiet,” he said. “But if you watch him every week, you can see he is a natural goalscorer.
“He is also good in the air and has all the attributes, and we know what he is about.
“Those derbies were all about winning the battles and fortunately we managed to do that and keep him quiet. This is a completely different game, however – he has pace, self-belief and he can score from anywhere.”
Thoroughly pleasant and grounded, Williamson is the quiet poster boy of this Newcastle side. No ego, no superstar status – he gets on with his job in the most efficient way possible.
It is an approach that has brought United close to the Champions League places but, unsurprisingly, he will not be drawn into speculating about a push for the top four. You would expect nothing else from him.
“I think I will leave you guys to speculate about that. There has been nothing said in the dressing room about taking each game as it comes,” he said. “Our mindset as a group of lads, the only way we can achieve something like that is by working hard and grinding out results. Our mindset has always been like that.”