This time last year, Newcastle United’s season was in the process of unravelling.
Two wins from ten games between November 11 and December 29 was miserable, sapping and – ultimately – changed the course of the club profoundly.
Having sensed the golden goose of Premier League survival was under threat, Mike Ashley sanctioned funds to feather Alan Pardew’s squad - but it was not forgotten or forgiven.
When Joe Kinnear arrived during an arid summer of investment, it backed up the hunch Ashley hadn’t absolved anyone for the spiral which forced his hand during January.
United’s breadline existence on Ashley’s watch – they are the only club in the Premier League without a managing-director or chief executive – continues to this day.
With January looming menacingly over the horizon, the question nudging its way to the top of the black and white agenda is this: will United’s hot streak finally melt Ashley’s apparent indifference?
Pardew says he hates January, but it is traditionally when Newcastle do their best business. Having maneouvered themselves into European contention, the litmus test of Ashley’s intentions is about to start.
Those pining for structural changes at St James’ Park are bound to be left unfulfilled.
Ashley’s concern of late has not been to open up the club to dialogue with local institutions like the Newcastle United Supporters Trust or the regional newspapers but more to try and negotiate additional access for the friendly folk at Sky Sports and BT Sport. At a cost, of course.
Similarly, United have not offered assurances or explanations about the club’s stalling commercial revenue – or those free billboard adverts for Sports Direct plastered all over St James’ Park. Don’t expect them to, either, for the obfuscation is the natural end result when the club’s board is chiselled down to one man: Ashley himself.
Yet in the absence of a long-term strategy they have started doing something rather pleasing - winning games. Quite a lot of them, in fact – three in a row which has brought them nine points, more than they managed in the whole of November and December last season. Whatever debt Pardew might have owed Ashley for the latter’s decision not to pull the trigger over the summer looks pretty much cleared at this point.
By rediscovering the courage of his convictions, Pardew has fashioned a Newcastle United team which looks powerful and full of attacking presence. In short, the unravelling has ended.
Which brings us back to January: a defining month.
Having allowed Kinnear to set the tone for a chaotic summer when no-one at the club seemed to know who was running what, Newcastle have belatedly regrouped during the intervening months.
Yet in 33 days, we will see what has really changed. With decisions to be taken on Fabricio Coloccini, Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy (pictured left), United have work to do. That is before they even attempt to inject new blood into the squad, something that they proved spectacularly sub-standard at over the summer.
They must illustrate whether the lack of professionalism which ran through their summer dealings has been eradicated by United’s decision to circle the wagons over the autumn.
Having pulled things around after October’s mini-crisis, my feeling is Pardew deserves a break.
The summer promises, for the most part, are being fulfiled.
It is time, finally, for Ashley to forgive Newcastle’s bleak mid-winter.