Signings stall but Newcastle United spirit soars

Assessing Newcastle United’s progress in Portugal, Neil Cameron finds cause for optimism although acquisitions are still required

Newcastle United's Yoan Gouffran

An observant supporter working at Newcastle Airport would have counted them all out and counted them all back in again as his team left and then returned to the city over the past seven days.

The same number of players are at the football club as there were when they left for Portugal and seven days of intense training, mixed in with two competitive matches, a week ago.

This is not something Alan Pardew envisaged last Wednesday when he and his Newcastle United first-team squad flew out to Braga.

The Magpies manager’s hope was at the very least one new signing would be waiting for him on his return him, sealed and delivered.

All that is waiting for him is the unresolved Papiss Cisse situation. There are some in the club that believe the whole Israel/Palestine nonsense will be sorted out before an agreement can be made with the star striker, Wonga and the club’s owner, Mike Ashley.

So in many ways Newcastle are no further forward than a week ago. This is not a sentence any supporter wants to read.

What to do and what to say?

Us folk who earn a humble crust from observing Newcastle United would love to write about a new signing. It makes this job more interesting than having to speculate when anything is going to be done in that department.

When the manager is not up to speed, what chance the humble hack?

So is it all doom and gloom, then? Again.

Actually, that genuinely isn’t the case and those few of us who were granted close access to the team over the past seven days could, hand on our hearts, say there is cause for optimism.

Training wasn’t full of laughs and jokes. Instead every single player seemed to be working, working some more and then in the afternoon session really earning their money.

Players, both on and off the record, spoke of a renewed focus that perhaps had been lacking.

Spirit was good. The French lads still seem to stick together. Same goes for the more senior players and the younger group such as Paul Dummett and Adam Campbell keep together for safety.

However, they all went out for dinner twice – once without a chaperone – and they even all sat together in the same section of the departure lounge while waiting for their flight back home.

Take it from me, this rarely happens.

The only sour point was John Carver shaking his head whenever a player went down with an injury during practice games that mysteriously cleared up within a matter of seconds.

They don’t make ’em like they used to, alas.

Last season hurt the players’ pride. They don’t want to go through that again. For things to improve, they must stick together.

Everyone had to accept a certain amount of guilt. “We all know we screwed up last time,” one said to me. That is a given.

The average supporter, however, is less than convinced of the garden’s rosiness. Who can honestly blame them? Joe Kinnear has so far failed to deliver a signing. The whole Mick Harford thing just seems bizarre. Same old Newcastle, they say, always getting it wrong.

Alan Pardew is either the world’s best actor or he genuinely senses there is something different this pre-season to last, when he felt in his bones that something wasn’t right.

“I honestly can say that it’s been a brilliant week,” said Pardew, as he prepared to fly home yesterday.

“You saw for yourself how hard the guys worked.

“Myself, John Carver and Steve Stone have been right on them every day to make sure that when this season begins, we are ready.

“I’m really happy with the condition of them all. They are at different stages, but are all in good nick.

“I keep saying how important the start will be to us. If we can hit the ground running, which is our aim, then we will be OK.”

If this Newcastle team can get their best players fit, on form and on the park, they won’t be anywhere near a relegation fight. They won’t finish fifth – it will take more good players to get even close to that – but as Pardew said, they will be OK.

He was pleased with the 1-1 draw with Pacos de Ferreira on Tuesday, a game that saw Fabricio Coloccinio sent off and four other players booked.

While that was regrettable, the performance was encouraging.

Pardew said: “I thought on Tuesday more of our established players made their mark, which was important to see because that’s who we will be looking to as we move forward.

“Cheick Tiot� looked more like his old self, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was strong all game, while Colo looked good, although obviously he got sent off, which was disappointing and avoidable.

“I felt Jonas (Gutierrez) looked good as well as Sammy Ameobi, who has impressed all week. Shola got another goal and he, too, has been sharp.

“All the players did well. We are in a good place. Tuesday was good in that it was a proper game. The referee needed to stamp down on the tackles that were being committed and he didn’t do that.

“Two players got sent off, which could so easily have been avoided. I thought the team were terrific on Tuesday night. You could see because of the work we’ve done, we were a lot stronger than them in the second half.

“Our internationals are still just a bit below where the others are, so that was a really good workout for them.

“That was a terrific performance to get a draw against a Champions League side who, let’s not forget, finished just behind Benfica last season.

“So we are at a good level already.”

That level must be improved. Signing two strikers and at least one other player – a creative midfielder should be a priority – can only do that.

This is not Pardew’s department. He has done his job this summer. It is time for others to do theirs.

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