Newcastle will sign off for the year at Anfield having made net gains in 2011. Mark Douglas reports.
AN Anfield victory in front of the Friday night lights could lift Newcastle ahead of Liverpool into the top six of the Premier League at the turn of the year.
Given the way they ushered in 2011 – being put firmly in their place by the Reds’ raid for Andy Carroll – it would be some against-the-odds achievement for Alan Pardew and his band of black and whites.
Gently, the Newcastle boss sought to press home that fact at Wednesday’s pre-match press briefing when asked if Newcastle were now in a “realistic” position after halting a six-match barren spell at Bolton.
You barely get a moment to breathe over the frantic period that makes up the Festive rush and the January transfer window, but it is an appropriate moment to pause and take stock. In general terms, 2011 has been a triumph for the club.
“It is a young squad that has done very well,” Pardew said. “It’s not realistic for us to be where we are, we have done extraordinarily well to be where we are. Three points behind Arsenal. We have done incredibly and we are looking to continue it,” he said.
“Liverpool have invested a lot of money and are expecting to compete. They are a very good side and I would expect they would have a stronger second half than they did in the first half of the season.”
The Reds are stuttering though, and Pardew sniffs blood ahead of tonight’s televised game.
For while Liverpool are 1/2 on with most bookmakers, the Newcastle boss senses the kind of “desperation” for a win that assailed his own team’s hopes against West Brom last week.
Whether that will be enough to help United topple some 19 years of Liverpool ascendancy in Merseyside or not, it will not ruin a year spent on an upward trajectory.
United reached the 30-point mark at the Reebok and may have the 40 generally recognised to secure Premier League survival by early Springtime. Heady days indeed – and Pardew does well to remind observers of the distance Newcastle have travelled in such a short space of time.
After Carroll was sold to Liverpool in a move that seemed to reinforce United’s status as a selling club, Newcastle’s confidence suffered serious damage. The way they responded set the tone for the rest of the year.
“Bolton was an important landmark for us. To get to 30 points before halfway is very, very good,” said Pardew.
“I just felt that when Andy Carroll left it was as disappointing a week as I have felt at this club. You do not expect to lose such a player of such significance on the last day.
“It put us in to a very vulnerable position. It might well be that I look back on my career and say that the second half of last season was possibly the best as a manager.
“We never got sucked in to the relegation area and we lost a key, key player. Even though we were short we almost got ourselves into a top-ten finish.
“It was a great period of togetherness for the group and defensively we were sound in that period and that carried over into the new season with new signings.” That Carroll will be among the opposition tonight provides a certain symmetry to United’s year.
The decision to sell him seemed to spell trouble for the club and the immediate, short-term reaction was – as Pardew admits – the worst performance of his time at Newcastle up at Craven Cottage.
The response, that spectacular 4-4 draw with Arsenal, gave Newcastle fresh momentum.
“After selling Andy Carroll we lost at Fulham which was the worst game of my stewardship, without a shadow of a doubt.
“There is no doubt that was an after-effect of the Andy Carroll sale. We felt it on the pitch.
“I was feeling a bit dejected at that time.
“You arm yourself never to be in that position but you can’t help taking away human emotions. So I couldn’t fault the players either. The comeback against Arsenal was amazing.
“We carried the Fulham mood into the first half against Arsenal but then really turned our season around in the second half against Arsenal.”
Pardew clearly believes Newcastle will enter 2012 in rude health.
The confidence of the club has been refreshed, the team has been renewed and there is fresh hope waiting in the wings – as illustrated by Haris Vuckic’s terrific debut against West Brom last week.
The Newcastle boss would like to see his young stars develop in the coming year. It would confirm the club’s blueprint – often maligned – is beginning to bear fruit.
“It would be nice to see one or two players from just below the surface, like Haris Vuckic, Mehdi Abeid, Davide Santon, come to the fore, Sammy Ameobi too,” he said.
“There is a nice little undercurrent there.
“You like to see them coming through as a manager and rip up a few trees.
“That would be something.”