IN the end, the Newcastle United Premier League roll call ran to 24 players.
Ten of those used in the Premier League made more than 20 starts, while Alan Pardew was afforded the luxury of naming an unchanged side 18 times in the season – including for each of the last three matches.
Pardew’s core proved reliable and, almost as importantly, they were durable – with the club fortunate enough to ward off serious injuries to any of their key men after the turn of the year.
It is an approach that has encouraged familiarity and that routine has led to success, but with Europa League football now on the horizon, that tightly-knit group will need to be unpicked. Pardew will need his fringe men and youngsters to step up to the plate if Newcastle are to prosper on four fronts next term.
That is certainly the view of experienced European campaigner David Moyes, who offered an interesting insight into life in the Europa League after seeing his side narrowly miss out on a return to Continental competition.
“It will be great for Newcastle. It’s something they should embrace and enjoy. I only wish it was us that was in their position,” said Moyes (below).
“All I would say for them next season is that you shouldn’t be disappointed if the manager is putting out a lesser team than you think he should be. You have to manage 50 or 60 games and that can be difficult.
“The schedule will have an effect at times, but I would certainly want those problems. I would be celebrating a lot more if we were in Europe than I will be for finishing seventh.”
Although Pardew will be active in the transfer market, the sparse funds on offer from the Europa League mean Newcastle will need to box smart again.
A few blue-chip additions will be joined by a couple of the trialists currently being showcased at the club’s Benton Park training base, but Pardew will be required to generate improvements from within.
That is a big ask – and will be a sizeable task for the Newcastle chief and his coaching staff, who have watched some of his fringe men make baby steps this year.
Perhaps he hopes that the promise of first-team football will give them the boost they need, because few made a significant impact on a Newcastle season that was notable for the contribution of the senior, seasoned pros.
The Newcastle manager consistently name-checked Mehdi Abeid during the campaign, but his reluctance to actually utilise the young midfielder illustrated the rawness of the Algerian.
Abeid played just twice – against Nottingham Forest in the Carling Cup and Blackburn in the FA Cup. For those who saw him, there was certainly proof of his ability and technique, but perhaps he should have accepted the offer to go to League One Preston in the second half of the season.
Sammy Ameobi’s stellar progress was cruelly checked by a serious injury, but he was mainly used as an impact player after making a good impression against Manchester City.
Rangy but with explosive pace and willingness to run at defenders, Pardew said he was the kind of player he would pay “big money” to sign when the club tied him down to a long-term deal. Hopefully he will deliver his first instalment next term.
There are others, too. Haris Vuckic has been around for a long time, but is still only 19, and returned to St James’ Park with glowing reports from Cardiff. Next season is the year when we find out whether he has the potential to be a Newcastle regular.
James Tavernier impressed all and sundry by coming on in leaps and bounds during a succession of loan spells, while Michael Richardson, one of Pardew’s favourites in the youth set-up, may also get the odd opportunity in the Carling Cup.
It will be interesting to hear whether Pardew intends to attack the Europa League, or whether – like Stoke City – he will sacrifice league points for a morale-boosting run in Continental competition. The Potters, by the way, used only 21 players in their league season, so it is little wonder they succumbed to fatigue.
Pardew still hopes to have the core of his side available next year. Cheick Tiote remains the most vulnerable of the big stars because of a belief within the United hierarchy that a defensive midfielder can be replaced.
But breakout star Papiss Cisse will not be sold. Nor does he want to leave.
“I hope to continue scoring goals for Newcastle next season,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the Europa League. We wanted to play in the Champions League, but we can be very happy with what we have achieved this season.
“It’s good to be in Europe next season, but I’m sorry for the supporters, we wanted to give them Champions League football.
“That was our objective. We are in the Europa League, and I thank God for the season I have had. But we are still a little disappointed.”
THE Europa League is often seen as the poor relation of the Champions League, but United’s European pedigree is matched by several other sides that have already qualified. Here are some of the best teams (and trips) that are already in alongside the Magpies.
Former European Champions are probably the biggest name in the hat so far. Sixth-placed Serie A finish is a disappointment.
Also: Lazio and Napoli could join the Milanese giants.
Bundesliga champions in 2007, the German side have been a fixture in the Europa League of late.
Also: Hannover 96 and Bayer Leverkusen.
Czech Republic: Sparta Prague.
Consistently in the Champions League, although the drain on Czech football has weakened them lately.
A League Cup win offers them a route into the third qualifying round.
Also: Lyon are already in the group stages.
Holland: PSV Eindhoven.
Courtesy of a Cup win, they’ll be in the play-off round with United.
Serbia: Red Star Belgrade.
The 1990-91 European champions are rebuilding these days, but Belgrade is still a wonderful place to play football.
A strong La Liga outfit who regularly do battle with neighbours Valencia.
Poland: Lech Poznan.
Where better to go than the originators of the Poznan, the celebration that the joyous Manchester City supporters made their own on Sunday?