IT has been a good start to the season for Newcastle United. Andy Carroll has a matchball to underline his credentials as a Premier League striker, Hatem Ben Arfa has provided some early je ne sais quoi, Mike Williamson looks as dependable in the top flight as he did in the second, and but for a home defeat to Blackpool, Magpies fans would be giddy at a place in the top four.
But in football, one man’s joy is another’s disappointment. Peter Løvenkrands is one of those with a long face.
Until Saturday’s impressive win at Everton, manager Chris Hughton had gone four Premier League matches without changing his team – virtually unheard of in an era of rests and rotation. For the fans it is another sign of how things have gone right so far, but for those on the fringe it is no laughing matter.
Løvenkrands was one of the heroes of last season. An underwhelming debut campaign on Tyneside ended in relegation and a “thanks but no thanks” from Newcastle when the time came for his contract to be renewed but 2009-10 was an entirely different story.
Drafted in during the early weeks partly out of financial expediency, the versatile Dane went on to score 16 goals, only three less than flavour of the month Carroll.
His goals, approachability and a catchy terrace song combined to make the 30-year-old one of the most popular figures of a fondly-remembered season.
That, though, was the Championship. The adventurous days of 4-4-2 have gone, replaced instead by a more pragmatic 4-5-1. Carroll is the one, a hat-trick against Aston Villa making his place copper-bottomed.
On the left, Ben Arfa has ousted Argentina World Cup player Jonás Gutiérrez, while the second striker spot is the property of captain Kevin Nolan (though Ben Arfa can play there too). Every route to the first team looks blocked – for now.
“It’s been a strange season for me,” Løvenkrands reflects. “It isn’t easy to get back in the team because they have been doing so well. I just have to be patient and wait for my opportunity. Hopefully when that comes I’ll take it.
“It makes it hard with the formation we are playing because Andy has been playing up front on his own. I could play out wide, but with Ben Arfa, he can play on the left. I can’t see why I should play out there. I will play wherever I’m asked, in goal even, I was quite good there when I was younger!
“I prefer up front through the middle, but we’re playing a different system this year. Kevin Nolan is the captain and he is playing behind Andy, so it’s very hard for me to get in.
“I’ll just wait and see what happens through the season. I’m experienced enough to know I need to be patient. It’s the same as last season in the Championship.
“It took me a while because I missed pre-season and I wasn’t playing at the start of the season. But eventually I got back in so hopefully the same thing will happen. I’m not content just to play a super-sub role this season. I want to be back in. I’ve scored for the reserves and in the last Carling Cup game, so hopefully I’m pushing to get back in. From a personnel point of view, after the fantastic win at Everton, it makes it even more difficult.”
The League Cup could be his salvation. Løvenkrands started and scored at Accrington Stanley in the previous round as Hughton made 11 changes to the team which beat Aston Villa.
Tonight’s opponents, Chelsea, will provide a massive step-up in class, meaning starting spots will not be dished out so charitably.
“Who knows what will happen? I hope I can get a run-out,” says Løvenkrands. “It probably wasn’t the team we wanted to get, it’s a bit disappointing in one respect, but you have to play these sorts of teams at some point, so why not now?
“I don’t know what sort of team they will play, but I’m sure their focus is on the Premier League and Champions League. Even if they rest players, they have excellent people to come in. We will probably rest players as well.
“The strength of their squad is ridiculous, it doesn’t really matter who is playing. The players they bring in are almost as good as the ones they are replacing. It’s going to be a tough game.
“This is a very different game to Accrington Stanley, most definitely. Of course it’s going to be tough.
“I don’t think we have ever beaten them in the Carling Cup so it would be nice to put that record straight. They’re a pretty awesome outfit.
“It’s a fantastic squad and they are playing so well at the moment. It’s between them and Manchester United for the title again I think, but they won’t play their full strength side so we’ll see.”