NEWCASTLE United's dressing room leaders of last season have gone - but the lessons taught by Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton have been learned, according to Shola Ameobi.
Newcastle’s unbeaten start to the season continued with Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Aston Villa. Ameobi, the team’s senior figure with Steve Harper frozen out of the goalkeeping picture, takes it as a sign that even with their big characters gone, the mental fortitude remains.
Villa took the lead against the run of play through Gabriel Agbonlahor after 14 minutes, but Newcastle responded with Leon Best’s 57th-minute equaliser and had the better chances to win.
“It’s never easy to win games in this league and we knew as a team and a squad that a good start is always important,” he said. “All the players have really cottoned on to what we need to do to win games and get results.
“There are a few of us still here from last year and we know how to win games.
“After finishing last season on a high we’ve just kept kicking on. It’s great for our confidence when we come to places like this and get a result.
“I thought after about 20, 25 minutes we started playing and showed that character we have all season. To come back from a goal behind again, away from home, was great. For most of that game it looked as if we were the home side. We can take great confidence from that into the next game.
“It’s not an easy place to come as we’ve found out in the past, but we came here with confidence and beside the first 20 minutes I thought we dominated. If it hadn’t been for Shay (Given) we could have had three points. The most impor-tant part of a season is the end but if you get a good start it sets you up nicely. To be unbeaten six games in is fantastic.
“The fans will back the team at home, hopefully we can grab another three points against Blackburn on Saturday.”
Ameobi had to settle for a place on the bench on Saturday, although he could get another chance to push his claims at Nottingham Forest tomorrow night.
Injury caused the striker to drop out of the 11 but he is being kept out by the form of Best, who has nine goals in 12 Premier League starts. Ameobi believes his rival’s form is good news for everyone.
“He’s just grown in confidence, that’s what scoring goals does for you, especially strikers,” he reflected. “When he first joined us he found it difficult to adjust. Experience is a big thing and he’s continued to grow. He’s leading the line well and getting goals.
“You want to be pushed all the way. That’s what I’ve got to do to get my place back. It can only bode well for the team.
“I was disappointed to get injured after the Sunderland performance. When you come in you want to take your chance.
“I’m never going to moan when a player does well for the team. I just have to work hard to show the manager I’m worth a place. No one deserves to be playing, you have to earn that. I’m no different.”
While Best scored the goal, Yohan Cabaye took the eye with a cultured midfield display that deserved better reward than hitting the bar and forcing the save of the game from Given.
“What a performance,” commented Ameobi. “He could have had a hat-trick if it wasn’t for the crossbar and Shay. Playing a little bit further forward than he has been for the last couple of games, I think that’s the position for him.
“Him and Cheick (Tioté) worked well in tandem, with him covering in behind.”