Food for thought: What would happen if Aston Villa played the Newcastle Falcons on Sunday?
Robert Bishop of Coming Home Newcastle was kind enough to answer some question I had about the Toon prior to their visit to Villa Park tomorrow. If you're so inclined, head over to his site to read his Q&A with me.
At the start of the season, Chris Hughton was one of England's brightest up-and-coming managerial stars. Before the first of theyear, he was out of a job. As a fan of Hughton and something of an outsider where Newcastle is concerned, this decision very much baffled me. Can you talk just a bit about his sacking and what's gone on at the club in its wake?
Well, you're not the only one that was baffled. We were and still are Hughton supporters. He led this team through the wilderness, made several key signings on a limited budget (including Hatem Ben Arfa and the much-celebrated Cheik Tiote), and had the team in the middle of the table, exceeding everybody's expectations. In the end, I believe that he suffered from the perception of being too timid, though as a biased observer I preferred to think of it as a quiet strength. Alan Pardew has now been at the helm for just as many Premier League matches as Hughton, and the results are eerily similar. In the end, Pardew has been able to win over the supporters by achieving mixed results with a well below-average crew. I truly hope that Chris
Hughton lands on his feet somewhere. He's a good manager that deserves more of a chance to lead a Premier League team.
Last season Newcastle was playing in the Championship. This season they're at least outside contenders for a spot in European play. As Aston Villa fans, I think we're all a bit curious as to what that year in the wilderness feels like and what your thoughts in regards to Newcastle's ability to bounce right back to respectability might be.
Well, it's a mixed bag. The wilderness, as you call it, is definitely not an area you want to enter, but once you're there, it's fun to be the big dog. As you may know, Newcastle absolutely dominated the Championship last year. They didn't lose at home and won the league by 11 points over second place with a +55 goal differential. I found a highlight video on Youtube over the summer and in the comments a Hammers supporter actually expressed his desire for his team to be relegated so that he could be part of a winning atmosphere. I don't necessarily endorse this kind of thinking - the financial cost of
relegation alone is crippling - but I do acknowledge that it is fun to reasonably expect a win each and every week.
As far as the ability of the team to bounce back to respectability - It's a loaded term. I think you've got to respect the team for achieving a probable mid-table finish in their first year back, but the kind of respect that causes your opponents to characterize you as something other than "newly promoted Newcastle" is only going to be built over time. I think a solid transfer window over the summer using the Andy Carroll funds will give the team the ability to challenge for Europe, but as always, they'll have to fight that underachiever label.
That whole "We'll Meet Again" business has always made me uncomfortable, and despite my lack of belief in anything like karma it's just always felt like asking for it. We're certainly in an uncomfortable situation now, and in many respects Newcastle has been a looming figure over the season, from "too big to go down" to "6-0, I guess we're just a bit better than West Ham." Taking the wider view,how much of a factor do you think a need to redeem and/or reclaim pride has been a factor in Newcastle's rebound this season? If you don't mind stepping back into a more unpleasant time, do you seem any similarities between the Newcastle club that went down and the current Villa side? Is hubris really a factor?
I feel uncomfortable as well. I think I may actually be in the minority of Newcastle fans in that I don't necessarily care where Aston Villa end up, whereas many have a bad taste in their mouth from those now infamous banners that seemed to revel in the team's misfortune. I do believe that many of the players do want to prove themselves as top flight caliber players and a Premier League level
squad. In fact, I saw that 6-0 victory as the defiant answer to the question that everybody seemed to be asking at the time, "Can anybody step up and score for Newcastle at this level?" That pride continues to motivate, at least if player interviews are to be believed.
The most obvious similarity is the resignation of the manager toward the beginning of the season. It's true that stability at that position is so crucial. Fortunately for you, Randy Lerner hasn't gotten panicky and continued to spin a revolving door on the position, as Mike Ashley has and continues to do here. The encouraging sign for Villa is that in Newcastle's relegation season, they actually languished in the drop zone for several weeks at a time, where you all have just hovered near it.
Hubris did play a major part in that the prevailing attitude seemed to be that they could just flip a switch whenever they felt like it and get themselves out of trouble. How incredibly foolish that was.
(Here are the recycled questions!)
Most folks are aware of Newcastle's more well-known players, but who do you think might have an impact in terms of guys that tend to fly a bit below the radar?
Shane Ferguson is a player that's bounced between the reserves and the first team this year that has had a tremendous impact in terms of keeping possession and distributing the ball (something that's otherwise been lacking in the final third) every time he's managed to step on the field. He's been replacing Jose Enrique, who is due back this week, but I would bet that given his recent form Pardew finds a place for him. Also, center back Mike Williamson has recently emerged as a target man in the box on set pieces and has a shot at finding his name on the score sheet.
How confident are you in Newcastle's ability to take three points on Saturday? Would a draw be an acceptable result?
I'm not very confident at all. I'm very well aware that Aston Villa plays better football at home, and even though Newcastle looked very good defeating Wolverhampton last week, they'll be without Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote (both are suspended). The midfield will be very vulnerable. A win would almost certainly have to be a result of luck.A draw would be more than acceptable, especially since that would give the team their stated goal of 40 points on the season.
Were you Alan Pardew, who would you be starting come Saturday? Who do you think the actual Alan Pardew might start? Were you to place a wager, what might you expect to see from this one?
My ideal Starting XI would be:
Harper | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Jose Enrique | Barton, Guthrie, Ferguson, Jonás | Ranger, Ameobi
I imagine that Pardew might play Steven Taylor instead of Ferguson and will almost definitely insert Peter Lovenkrands in favor of Nile Ranger. A draw at 5/2 sounds like a good bet, but given even odds I'd take Villa. I'm still not confident in the strikers' ability to scorein free play, and with the core of the midfield out, I don't see the possession playing to the Toon's advantage.