Twenty-fourteen promises to be a great year for Shola Ameobi, but the striker thinks it can be a “special” one for Newcastle United too.
Ameobi is due to play for Nigeria at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, but before that he believes the Magpies can have a memorable season. Just as importantly, he says the whole squad think likewise.
“We’re going into 2014 thinking we can achieve something special, and that’s pretty incredible when you look at where we were 12 months ago,” he said. “When you compare that to where we are today, it’s testament to the manager and his staff, and the job they’ve done. The players have been responding to what we’ve been told off the pitch, and it’s great to have a dressing room that’s together and wants to get better. I think that’s the big difference for me – we all want to improve and know we can get better together.”
Last season Newcastle flirted with relegation, finishing just two places above the bottom three.
They end 2013 just two off the likely European places, however, four points adrift a Champions League spot, after a run of seven wins and a draw in their last ten matches.
“With the start we’ve made, it’s important we continue along the path we’ve started on. We’ve given ourselves a good base, but halfway through the season, that’s all it is. It’s no good having this great first half of the season and then dwindling away.
“We want to continue to keep that pressure on the teams above and maintain that momentum we’ve created. Who knows where we can finish? We have to aim high, although there are obviously a lot of teams above us who have a lot of quality.
“We’re not getting carried away with anything – it’s going to be a tough ask for us to finish in the top four, five or six. But there’s no reason why we can’t give it a go because we’re right up there.”
Fifth place is guaranteed a Europa League place, and sixth will get one too if the winners of either cup competition finishes higher. With Manchester City facing West Ham United in the League Cup semi-finals, that is a distinct possibility.
Newcastle lost 1-0 at home to league leaders Arsenal on Sunday, but even that has not taken the wind out of their sails.
“The confidence is sky high at the moment, and that’s probably reflected by the fact we were disappointed not to have got something from the Arsenal game,” Ameobi said. “We felt it was a game we should have won, and that just shows how far we have come as a group of players, especially at home. The fans have been fantastic for us and they were again at the weekend. With them behind us, we know we can score goals and put pressure on teams.
“It’s just disappointing – not so much because of the performance because we gave everything, but more because of the manner in which the goal went in.
“You can forgive it when they pick you apart and score a great goal, but conceding from a set-piece is always disappointing for us because we know in essence it could have been avoided. As players, that’s where the disappointment is for us, but we showed a lot of character. That’s a good Arsenal side that have come here and found it hard to break us down. We can take the positives, but we’re disappointed because we wanted to go out of 2013 with a win. But that wasn’t meant to be.
“From a personal point of view, 2014 could be really special for me. I’m playing for a great team that can achieve something really special, and I’m starting the new year with the hope of playing in a World Cup finals. It’s a wonderful thing that’s happened to me in the last six months – being involved in the World Cup squads and giving myself a chance of getting on that plane to Brazil. It’s something I don’t take lightly. I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting there and that means working hard and trying to get in the team at Newcastle. That’s the only way I’m going to do that.
“It’s important for me in the next four or five months that I work very hard and make sure I produce performances that the (Nigeria) manager looks at and thinks, ‘I want him on the plane’. It bodes well for me and hopefully for Newcastle as well.”
Meanwhile, manager Alan Pardew has warned Loïc Rémy he may regret not joining Newcastle permanently at the end of his season-long-loan from Queens Park Rangers. The France striker has already turned the Magpies down before, when they competed with the Rs for his signature in January.
“With Loic, he is a QPR player,” he told Absolute Radio. “He will remain that until such time as the valuation is met.
“Loic, his agent and his representatives will decide where his future is. But I do feel, 50,000 Geordies, there is not a lot of clubs who can beat that. That’s what I say to my players.
“They think the grass is greener, and we have lost some good players. Joey Barton moved on, Andy Carroll, and actually you have to argue, have they moved onto better clubs?”