The end of the season is finally upon us. A season in which defied all expectations. A season where even the most optimistic of Toon fans would have struggled to predict what would be.
Newcastle United gate-crashed the top six, and also knocked on the door of the Premier League’s top four. As it turned out at 5pm on Sunday the 13th of May 2012, Newcastle United were confirmed as finishing in 5th place, above Chelsea, above Liverpool, and above the majority of peoples expectations.
The Europa League awaits the Magpies next season, a new chapter or perhaps a new beginning is on the horizon. But before we look forward into what might be, I’m now going to relive the season that was. Cast my mind back and tell the tale of Newcastle United’s 2011 / 2012 season. I hope you are all sitting comfortably…
Pre-season – “If Sammy scores we’re on the pitch” / U.S.A / Heavy rain.
First up for Newcastle United was a trip to Darlington, where a 2-0 victory was overshadowed by a pitch invasion. After Sammy Ameobi had rifled in a second for the Magpies following an early Joey Barton goal, some supporters deemed it necessary to wonder onto the pitch. This became the catalyst for the club to introduce the £25 membership scheme, meaning from there on, if you want to watch the Magpies away from St James’ Park you had to fork out for a membership. Not the greatest start to our seasons preparations…
Newcastle’s state-side tour began with a 0-0 draw versus Kansas City, and ended with a 3-0 victory over Columbus Crew. Sandwiched between was a 0-1 defeat to Orlando City. Hatem Ben Arfa had finally started to regain fitness only to injure his ankle in the opening match, meaning he would miss the rest of pre-season and the start of the Premier League. Along with Ben Afra’s injury, José Enrique finally achieved what Andy Carroll had the previous season and relocated to Kenny Dalglish’s big spending Liverpool.
A 2-3 defeat at Elland Road versus Leeds United was followed by a 0-0 draw at St James’ Park against Italian side Fiorentina. The match had to be abandoned due to heavy rainfall after 63 minutes. That was United’s last action of pre-season and to say it was ideal preparation for our League Campaign wouldn’t be telling the truth. Notably during the close season and throughout pre-season, Newcastle had boosted their ranks with the signings of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid. The main focal point however was the departures of Enrique and club captain Kevin Nolan to West Ham. After Nolan’s departure, Alan Pardew opted to appoint Fabricio Coloccini as club captain.
“The club are allowing all the major players in the team to go. The club will never again fight among the top six with this policy.” - José Enrique.
August – Season beginning / Barton leaving / Mackems slain.Our first fixture of the 2011 / 2012 season saw Le Professeur’s Arsenal make the trip up to St James’ Park. The match was an uneventful affair in footballing terms, and certainly didn’t live up to the previous seasons 4-4 thriller. However I stress “footballing terms” as the most notable incident that occurred during the stalemate was an altercation between a certain Joey Barton and alleged summer Toon target Gervinho. Barton seemed to take offence to Gervinho going over slightly too easily in United’s penalty area in an attempt to win a penalty for the Gunners. Cue an adrenaline fueled Barton helping Gervinho to his feet by the scruff of the neck, resulting in a slap from the Ivorian and a red card from the referee. Barton received a yellow card for his part, but the game fizzled out and both teams settled for a point.
The first away day for United saw Pardew’s troops visit a small shanty town referred to by the locals as Sunderland. Pardew kept faith in the team that held Arsenal the previous week, which meant Ryan Taylor kept his place at left-back. It was Taylor who became the Geordie hero by the time the ninety minutes was up, as it was his goal that separated the two teams come the final whistle as Newcastle secured a 1-0 victory. Taylor directed his pin-point free-kick into the Mackems net early into the second half and almost immediately became a cult hero on the terraces. “Ryan Taylor over the wall” was born. After two tough opening games, United had acquired 4 points, and had also obtained bragging rights over their local rivals once again.
The League Cup second round saw the Magpies visit Scunthorpe. Newcastle initially fell behind on the night but were rescued from an early cup exit thanks to another brilliant free kick from Ryan Taylor. As the 90 minutes ended level at 1-1, extra time ensued where a great solo run and finish from Sammy Ameobi helped settle the tie and throw Newcastle into the hat for the 3rd round draw. Newcastle’s next opponents would be Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
Our last fixture in August featured a home encounter with Martin Jol’s Fulham at St James’ Park. A Leon Best double helped the Magpies to a 2-1 victory on the day resulting in the Magpies reaching what would be a familiar position throughout the season – the top six.
The end of August also saw the transfer window slam shut, with Newcastle finally being able to get a replacement in for José Enrique by acquiring Davide Santon from Inter Milan, with Gabriel Obertan also joining the Magpies from Manchester United. But perhaps the most notable transfer however was that of Joey Barton’s to QPR for free. The Newcastle board had finally lost patience with Barton’s consistent berating of owner, Mike Ashley, and sidekick, Derek Llambias. Barton had failed to reach an agreement with the board over a new contract, which was alleged to have been withdrawn by Llambias due to both parties failing to agree terms initially. QPR backed by Tony Fernandez’s millions stepped in and offered Joey a four year deal, rumored to be worth around £70,000 per week.
“What they’re trying to do is bring in cheap foreign players a bit like Tiote, they’ve had one player that they bought for £3million and they’re trying to go down the same route. What doesn’t make sense to me is the players that they’re bringing in from all over Europe don’t know Newcastle, they don’t know how the city works, it is cold up there.
If they get a lot of foreign players in they need to hit the ground running next season because we know the Premier League is unforgiving and there’s only one way they’re going to go – down.“ - Micky Quinn.
September – Ba introduces himself.
Two draws for United at the start of September against QPR and Aston Villa saw the Magpies break into the top four, and still remain undefeated. The League Cup encounter with Nottingham Forest saw United triumph 4-3 thanks to a last minute header from Fabricio Coloccini. Steve Kean’s Blackburn Rovers would be next up for Newcastle in round four.
The final game of September witnessed Demba Ba finally opening his Newcastle account in style by netting a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Blackburn. Newcastle remained in fourth spot by the end of September having reached twelve points. Hatem Ben Arfa made his first Premier League appearance of the season, replacing hat-trick hero Ba in the 75th minute. Mike Ashley had also used the month of September to remove the iconic east stand “Newcastle United” sign, and replaced it with an italic equivalent to fit in with the new Sports Direct logos which now flanked either side. That, as we now know, wouldn’t be the last significant change the stadium would endure.
October – Shola strikes / Bonjour Cabaye / Ba makes it two trebles.
Newcastle continued their fine Premier League form by beating Mick McMackem’s Wolves at Molineux thanks to a Demba Ba header and a terrific solo run from Jonas Gutierrez. The result propelled the Magpies into 3rd position in the table, but the media still had the opinion that we’d “still not played anyone yet”. The following match would see Harry Redknapp’s Champions League chasing Tottenham make the trip to St James’ Park, and much to the medias delight, they predicted our unbeaten start to the season would come to an abrupt halt.
With United trailing with five minutes to go, enter Shola Ameobi. Advancing towards Spurs’ box, It looked as though he’d taken the ball too far out wide for anything to happen. But in a flash Ameobi lashed the ball with his left foot beyond the reach of Brad Friedel and into the far corner. A truly excellent strike from United’s number 23 which insured that Newcastle would remain in the top four and still be undefeated after eight games.
Roberto Martinez and Wigan were next up for Alan Pardew, and the game was finally settled by a late strike from Yohan Cabaye. It was the Frenchman’s first goal for Newcastle, a first time strike from the edge of the box following a neat lay-off from Sylvain Marveaux. However, Blackburn put an end to Newcastle’s League Cup aspirations by defeating the Magpies 4-3 in the last minute of extra-time. The game saw United trailing 2-0 approaching the 90th minute until a fine strike from Danny Guthrie and a wonderful free-kick from Yohan Cabaye had rescued the Magpies. In the end though it wasn’t enough.
The last fixture of October witnessed yet another Demba Ba hat-trick, this time at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium. Not only was it another three points for United, meaning we’d reach the top three, it was also our best collective performance so far during the season. Pardew set the team up exceptionally well, with our players even mimicking Stoke by taking an age to dry the ball with a towel for throw ins. But the night belonged to our Senegalese hit-man Ba, who was earlier shunned by Stoke after failing a medical there. This brought his total of goals to eight after his free transfer from West Ham.
November – All good things come to an end…
David Moyes brought his Everton troops up to St James’ Park with the challenge of finally trying to halt United’s impressive undefeated record since the seasons start, but ultimately failed in doing so as the Magpies ran out eventual 2-1 winners. Ryan Taylor’s thunderbolt from the edge of the box being the highlight of the 90 minutes. Next up were tricky visits to Manchester to take on United and City, but before the Magpies were to make their first trip, Newcastle issued a statement that informed us that St James’ Park would now be known as the Sports Direct Arena.
Managing director, Derek Llambias, also added his own words of wisdom in unison with the club statement, with notable quotations such as “showcase”, “interested parties”, and “commercially attractive” being the most standout of his mutterings. Anyway, onto those trips to Manchester I was telling you about…
United were finally defeated in the Premier League by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Two penalties converted by Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero, either side of a Micah Richards strike, helped City to a 3-1 victory. Dan Gosling scored his first goal in black and white as he netted a consolation for the Magpies. Our next visit to Manchester the following week saw Newcastle pick up an excellent point at Old Trafford thanks to a Demba Ba penalty. Newcastle remained in the top four as December approached, with Chelsea being next up to visit St James’ Park…
November also sadly saw the death of former Magpie, Gary Speed. Tributes poured in from all over the country for the Wales manager, with Newcastle United paying their respects through various statements from the club, staff and former players. A rendition of “Cwm Rhondda,” led by Gwyn Hughes was sung at St James’ Park before our fixture with Swansea in December, including a minutes applause before the match. As the eleventh minute approached during the game (Speed’s newcastle United shirt number was 11), the Toon Army chanted Speed’s name and twirled their black and white scarfs.
December – Defence becoming an Achilles heelChelsea inflicted Newcastle’s first home defeat of the season thanks to goals from Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge as the Blues ran out 3-0 victors. The scoreline never reflected the game itself as Chelsea should have been reduced to ten men after David Luiz blatantly pulled down Demba Ba as he was advancing towards goal towards the early exchanges of the match. The game also saw United lose defender Steven Taylor to an Achilles tendon snap, meaning that he was ruled out for the rest of the season. Fabricio Coloccini also picked up a knock, though less serious than Taylor’s, he would be unavailable for our next fixture against Norwich City at Carrow Road.
With Mike Williamson still unavailable, coupled with Taylor and Coloccini’s injuries, Newcastle had no fit center backs for our trip to Norfolk. Inevitably Newcastle lost the match losing 4-2 on the day, with makeshift center back pairing of Danny Simpson and James Perch struggling to cope with the aerial threat of Norwich’s Grant Holt and Steve Morison. Dan Gosling was also sent off during the match.
A goalless draw with Swansea was then followed by another home defeat, this time it was Roy Hodgson’s West Brom who left with maximum points courtesy of a 3-2 win. Newcastle finally got back to winning ways though thanks to three points at the Reebok Stadium versus Bolton, with Demba Ba opening the scoring in the second half. Hatem Ben Arfa also scored his first goal of the season after being introduced from the bench.
2011 came to a close with a visit to see ex-Magpies, José Enrique, Andy Carroll and Kenny Dalglish at Anfield. What seems to have become customary in the Premier League to date took place once again, with Newcastle losing to Liverpool on Merseyside, and conceding three goals. The month of December saw Newcastle slide from fourth to seventh, but that would be the lowest Newcastle would sit from there on.
The first part of the 2011 / 2012 season saw Newcastle obtain an eleven match unbeaten run, and all the pre-season nightmares had faded entirely. It wouldn’t be truthful to sit here and say that we had played well in every game throughout our unbeaten period, with QPR sticking in the memory as a fortunate result. But all in all, it was an exceptional start from Pardew and the lads. Much focus was on our defence and how solid it looked. Steven Taylor was outstanding alongside the brilliant Fabricio Coloccini. Simpson and make-shift left-back, Ryan Taylor, were also in great form. Our seasons start had got the Geordie public dreaming of what might be, a far cry from the beginning of August where many had thought we would be at the bottom, and that Pardew wouldn’t even be in a job. The new signings had taken to Newcastle like a duck to water. Ben Arfa was getting fitter, Ba was on fire, Taylor and Coloccini were in fine form, Krul was taking his chance as number one in style. Everything was positive, there was much to look forward to as the new year approached. Onwards, upwards:
“Long may their good start continue. The results for Newcastle have been surprising, but they are doing very well.
“You’d hope they can continue it. They don’t want injuries as they haven’t got a massive squad. If they do avoid them they could finish in and around the top six, which would be an amazing achievement.” - Kevin Keegan.