Fast forward 11 months and things now seem different. The smiles have returned and the feel good factor has been creeping back, a feel good factor that came to head on Monday evening as Newcastle announced their return to the Premier League at the first time of asking in front of a packed St James’ Park and a worldwide television audience.
Gone are the visits to Glanford Park, Bloomfield Road, London Road to be replaced with trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield, venues for which we have now earned the right to play at. Amongst the mutual back-patting however there is still a job that can be done this season and the lads can put on hold the romantic thoughts of visiting those famous grounds whilst they finish the season in style and bring a deserved trophy to Tyneside.
Of course a huge chunk of credit for being in a position to do that must go to the players. Their ability to knuckle down and get results has been the difference between us and the rest with a new found team spirit and togetherness playing a key role in everyone pulling in the same direction. Credit must go to Chris Hughton aswell, his team selections and ability to instill that previously mentioned team spirit have been essential. We all watched the post-match interview after the Sheffield United match, we all saw how emotional he was after guiding the team to promotion, we all saw how much he cared about pointing NUFC in the right direction.
Finally, and I may get hammered for this but, owner Mike Ashley must be awarded some credit aswell, after all it is his money that has bankrolled us back to the big time whilst carrying a wage-bill and calibre of player the Championship has never seen before, and may never see again. When the team looked like it was struggling in January he dug into his pockets again and brought in reinforcements, as Hughton and the players had asked for, to the tune of around £5 million. Of course people will point out that his mistakes speeded up the relegation process, I just hope some of them can hold their hands up and say the reverse this time around and give credit where it is due.
Despite all of that though, the job isn’t finished. We started off this season with very low expectations from the majority of fans, mainly down to not knowing what to expect on the pitch or off it. As it’s panned out we have been top of the league for most of the season, something we should be aiming to keep up. Yes, promotion had to be the main priority but now we have achieved that I would feel slightly gutted if we just gave in now and relinquished the top spot, and the trophy that goes with it.
I don’t expect that to happen though. The players we have now may not be the most skillful set we have ever witnessed at St James’ Park but they are very effective and very determined, two things that we weren’t last season and they, along with Hughton, have collectively confirmed that they want the title. We also now have something money can’t buy, a team spirit, something that we haven’t had for a long time and that can be worth it’s weight in gold.
Will there be players coming and going in the summer? Yes. I just hope that whoever leaves the club and whoever is brought is can compliment what we have already. Let’s not kid ourselves, for next season the goal has to be survival. Another relegation would be catastrophic and next time we may not have such a willingness from our owner to delve into his pockets.
I’ve given Mike Ashley credit for keeping us afloat this season, and now is his chance to shine by giving Chris Hughton and the club the tools to survive and thrive in the big money league. The realisation that £20 million wont be spent on a single is sinking in and most of us realise that going down that route got us nowhere in the first place. Sensible investment is a different matter though and I hope Ashley see’s it the same way.
Anyway, where is that trophy?