This isn’t how the season was supposed to pan out at all for Newcastle United.
Of the many plans Alan Pardew hatched during the summer, playing a 4-4-2 with Shola Ameobi leading the line was surely not written down on any page of his notebook.
The 4-4-2. So old-fashioned a formation that only the English national team utilises it these days.
And while everyone loves Shola, his day had come and gone a long time ago. Never mind him, would Mike Williamson even get a place on the bench?
Both were excellent at the weekend, as they have been all season.
Hatem Ben Arfa was going to be the key, not the man you put on with seven minutes to go to run down the clock. The Frenchman had apparently had a word with himself in the close season and was ready to set the Premier League alight.
And Moussa Sissoko was supposed to anchor the midfield, not operate down the right wing.
Oh, and Pardew would have at least three new signings to mould into his squad.
No matter how Newcastle and their manager got to where they are right now, or whether it was indeed ever in the planning, it’s working and working well.
As if trying to get his excuses in early, Pardew said pre-match that this home fixture against Norwich City was a game the club traditionally lost, and it happened way before he shipped up on Tyneside three years ago.
He was right, incidentally. It would have been just like United to trip up after two superb wins.
However, they didn’t. Instead, Newcastle for 80 minutes controlled the game, scored two goals, missed a couple of decent chances and, without being brilliant, played really well in patches. There was good movement, quick, clean passing, solid defending – apart from cross balls which were a problem all afternoon – and United even scored from a corner.
There would have been a few supporters who rushed home after the match to see if the news was reporting that wonders had ceased.
With West Brom to come at home next week then Swansea away before a trip to Old Trafford, Newcastle should be looking to take at least four points, but probably more from these three games.
If they do so, they go into the Christmas period in the top ten and not far off a top-six place.
Pardew should enjoy these times because Newcastle’s ability to shoot themselves in the foot has not disappeared after three good results.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa summed up where the team are right now. Asked to play right-back in place of the suspended Mathieu Debuchy, he did so without any problem.
The essence of the team wasn’t affected at all.
He is a centre-half by trade and yet he carried out his duties with great aplomb.
Yanga-Mbiwa said: “I know my position is centre-back, but the gaffer asked me to play right-back for this game, and I just tried to do the best job I could.
“We just want to play well, we want to win every game, and we’ll see where that takes us. If you look at the table, the Champions League or Europa League is still possible at this stage, there are many games left in the season.
“We’re going to be doing everything we can to finish as high as we can. We have had a taste of European football and we would love to have it back next season.
“The more we play, the better our defence is getting. We’ve worked hard in training to make sure we concede as few as possible. We were disappointed to lose a goal on Saturday, but our defence has been excellent in the last few games.”
The Frenchman has a chance to make the World Cup squad, which is as good a reason as any for him to get his head down, play well and cut out the daft mistakes that can occasionally trip him up. “I try to do well every week, on the training ground, during a game. I want to help myself to be as successful as I possibly can,” said the former Montpellier captain. “It was excellent for us to beat Ukraine. I had confidence in the team, that they would turn it around. It’s not frustrating for me to be out of the team. They’ve done very well to qualify. If I continue to play well for my team, that’s all I can do. The World Cup is a long time away and if I can have a good season with Newcastle, then I have a chance.”
Newcastle didn’t have a failure on Saturday, but Loic Remy again stood out. His day began with one minute 54 seconds on the clock when he headed home the ball at the back post, following a Yohan Cabaye corner.
His movement and willingness to take on players at every opportunity had Norwich reeling. If he had a bit more composure, he would be a £25million player.
Yanga-Mbiwa said: “Loic keeps the ball, he gets in behind the defenders, and he is a good finisher. Yohan provided him with a great ball for the goal, and we know he has a good finish and he’s a good goalscorer. He’s the third or fourth highest scorer in the league and that shows how good he has been for us.”
Ameobi was superb in the first half and was heavily involved in the second goal.
His pass allowed Remy space to send in a cross, which Ameobi got on the end of, only for John Ruddy to save. Yoan Gouffran, one of the Premier League’s most under-rated players, was on hand to send the loose ball home.
It should have been 4-0 before Norwich gave themselves a lifeline. Leroy Fer headed home from a corner with worrying ease. The manner in which Norwich continued to win headers close to Tim Krul’s goal was the only black mark on the day.
This meant the last ten minutes were more tense than they should have been. However, Papiss Cisse still had two good chances to seal the points and, in truth, the result was never really in doubt. This was as good a win as those against Chelsea and Tottenham, because it was so unlike Newcastle.
This isn’t supposed to happen. However, we should be glad that it is.