With a team seemingly devoid of confidence, direction, application and the uncertainty surrounding the owner, managerial position, and who was next to be sold, the toon set off for the season opener at West Brom. After being 1-0 down at half-time, a superb finish from Damien Duff earned us a share of the spoils. That was to be Duff’s only appearance for us this season as he was quickly snapped by Fulham and he followed the likes of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins, Seb Bassong and Habib Beye out of the club.
A week later, our first home game welcomed Reading to St James’ Park. A superb hat-trick from Shola Ameobi -which he later dedicated to the late Sir Bobby Robson – sealed the points in a 3-0 win. A few days later, Sheffield Wednesday visited SJP and were seen off 1-0, another strike by Shola Ameobi was enough on the day. Wins away at Crystal Palace, at home in a Carling cup tie against Huddersfield, and another league win against Leicester at SJP ensured an unbeaten August – something that was widely unexpected given the summer turmoil.
Our first September match wasn’t until nearly 2 weeks into the month. A tricky looking fixture away at Cardiff City’s brand new Cardiff City stadium. We won this 1-0, Fabricio Coloccini grabbing his first goal for the club. Just 3 days later we experienced defeat for the first time this season, going down 2-1 at Bloomfield Road to Ian Holloway’s rejuvinated Blackpool side. A 3-1 home win against Plymouth made amends for the slip up, with Andy Carroll scoring a belting left foot half-volley from near the corner of the penalty area. A 2-0 midweek Carling Cup defeat to Peterborough put an end to our participation in that competition for this season, our youth side being unable to match The Posh on the night. On September 26th, a very emotional and poignant meeting between two of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson’s favourite teams – Ipswich and Newcastle – ended in arguably our best result of the season so far, a 4-0 win away and a Kevin Nolan hat-trick doing the damage. September drew to a close with a 1-1 draw at home to QPR, but with still only having tasted league defeat just once, things were starting to look quite nice for us.
To start October off, a home game awaited us against Bristol City, giving us a chance to put the dissapointing draw previously behind us. We were unable to break The Robins down that day and the game ended 0-0. Back to back defeats away at Nottingham Forest and Scunthorpe United followed, and meant we were experiencing a disappointing month. Rumours of Chris Hughton being made permanent manager divided the fans opinion, some saying he was doing an excellent job with others saying he would just act as a puppet for our owner – Mike Ashley. October drew to a close with a hard-fought, injury time win over Doncaster Rovers at SJP, and a new full-time manager, as the rumours about Chris Hughton were confirmed.
Sheffield United awaited our visit at the start of November. A wickedly deflected Ryan Taylor shot combined with a string of excellent saves from Steve Harper meant we ground out a 1-0 away win. A 3-1 win against Peterborough followed and it clearly looked like our ‘blip’ was well and truly over. This view was enforced as we built on that with wins away at Preston and home to Swansea. We were starting to build up a very nice cushion over 2nd and 3rd place in the table.
Now we arrive in December. A 2-0 win over Watford at SJP – Fabrice Pancrate scoring a stunning goal – followed by another 2-0 win away at Coventry City kept up the momentum. A 2-2 draw away at in form Barnsley offered our promotion rivals a chance to close the gap, but they were unable to capitalise on that. Finally, our last match which was the ‘derby’ against Middlesborough on Sunday, winning 2-0 was enough to bring us nearly half way through the season, sitting top of the league with a 10 point gap to 2nd place.
In summary, I don’t think many of us expected us to be where we are now. We knew it was possible but when you look back to the summer, you realise what a great job is being done, whether we like it or not. The support has stayed with the team and things seem to have settled down for the moment. Lets just hope this continues and we can celebrate Christmas with a boxing day win, and hopefully a big promotion party at the end of the season.
Howay the lads!