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Newcastle: Magpies aim for a top ten finish


Colin Illingworth

Colin is a sub-editor on a regional newspaper and is a die-hard Aberdeen fan. He's prepared to sell his soul to the Devil for the Dons to return to their former glory so Satan, if you're reading this, give him a call!...
[full biography]
14/08/2007 12:00:00.
read: 1077 times.

Newcastle fans are ever the optimists but following the arrival of Big Sam, Joey Barton, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and co, there is a real belief on Tyneside that the Magpies will be much more of a force this season.

Under Glenn Roeder last season the Toon only managed to finish 13th and just five points ahead of relegated Sheffield United. For a club the size of Newcastle that is simply unacceptable and it came as no surprise when Roeder was given the boot. The club needed a big personality to come in and stamp his authority on the club and they don’t come much bigger than Sam Allardyce. The former Bolton boss is not afraid to speak his mind and manages to get the best out of the players at his disposal. He guided Bolton to the Carling Cup final and qualified for the Uefa Cup twice through the league, but he left the club after eight years as he felt he had taken the club as far as he could. But after Graeme Souness and Glenn Roeder, is Big Sam the right man for the Toon? Newcastle fan Bill Gordon, 51, believes he is.

“Sam had a good record at Bolton and to date he has made some good signings. On that record alone, he looks like he is going to transform the Magpies. He will also take no nonsense and seems to have gained the respect of the squad. But I will not build my hopes up until maybe Christmas. We have had a good few torrid seasons, which started from the Dalglish era. I think every fan in Newcastle is expecting good times under Big Sam. He has certainly started off well.”

Everybody seems to have been impressed with Allardyce’s forays in the transfer market to date. Alan Smith and Mark Viduka had a successful partnership at Leeds United and they will give the Magpies a greater attacking threat. The defence, which has long been an issue at St James’ Park, has been bolstered with the arrival of Jose Enrique and David Rozehnal and the exit of Titus Bramble. And although Joey Barton is not everyone’s cup of tea he certainly has the skill to help drive the team forward. Newcastle have a great set of fans and a fantastic stadium and if any club deserves success it has to be to be them. The squad still needs a few reinforcements here and there but the feeling amongst most pundits is that Big Sam can get Newcastle into the top 10 at least this season and Bill has to admit the future is looking good.

“Sam appears to have great powers of persuasion (although I’m not totally convinced he persuaded Owen to stay, or whether Owen just decided no one else wanted him). Sam has persuaded some good players to come to Newcastle and they have proved good quality in the friendlies we have played to date. We still need one or two more defenders for me to say we have enough strength in depth. As for challenging for top six, I don't like to predict things like that, certainly not yet anyway, as many other clubs have also made some very good signings. But yes we have to be in with a shout, even though it is Sam's first season with the club. I think we may finish 7th.”

A number of players have been allowed to leave St James’ over the past few months. Scott Parker has headed back down south to West Ham United, Titus Bramble and Antoine Sibierski have left for Wigan Athletic, Andy O’Brien has joined Hibernian while Craig Moore, Olivier Bernard and Pavel Srnicek have all been released. Bill, whose current favourite Toon player is Nolberto Solano, believes the club will only miss one of them.

“The only one I was sorry to see leaving was Sibierski. Scott Parker gave us one good season and then lost it. All the other were poor, except maybe O'Brien who was never really given the chances he deserved and on the times I saw him looked OK.”

One player who looked to be on his way out of the club was Kieron Dyer, but his proposed deal to West Ham fell through at the last minute, putting the former Ipswich midfielder in an awkward position. The fans have made their feelings towards Dyer, who has spent more time on the treatment table at St James’ Park than on the pitch, perfectly clear and if he is picked by Allardyce he’ll have to put in some breathtaking performances to win them over. Bill, who says the two 4-3 defeats at Anfield in the mid 90s were the most exciting games he has ever seen, would like to see Dyer go and believes he has it all to prove on Tyneside.

“People go on about Michael Owen owing Newcastle. I personally think Dyer owes Newcastle a lot more than Owen. Dyer has been at the club eight years and done nothing. His antics with Bobby Robson (a man who has achieved everything) were totally unacceptable. There is no doubt Dyer is a good player, but only when HE wants to be and that has been on about 10 occasions in his time at our club.”

One thing that all Newcastle fans are looking forward to this season is the return of the Tyne-Wear derby. Sunderland stormed to the Championship title last season and Roy Keane has got the Black Cats purring. He’s smashed the British transfer record for Scotland international Craig Gordon and signed former Magpie Michael Chopra but Bill believes Sunderland will struggle in the top flight.

“I always think it is good to see North East clubs in the Premiership. Matches for us against Sunderland are like World Cup finals. We hate then and they hate us. But I like all football and from what I have seen of Sunderland in their friendlies they just don't look like a Premiership team.”

Newcastle fans love to have a hero. In the past they’ve had Jackie Milburn and more recently it’s been Alan Shearer, but who can be the hero in this campaign? Bill believes that’s a tricky question because there are a number of potential candidates, but he thinks that honour may bestow a certain England international striker.

“Star player this season, well that really is a tough question. Viduka hasn't played for us yet but he had a great season last year. Martins was excellent for us last year and I feel will do better this year. I think because Michael Owen has a lot to prove to Big Sam and the club, he will prove to be our best player this season. Mind I have also been impressed by Geremi.”

Nobody is expecting Newcastle to challenge for the title straight away but the fans do expect to see some entertaining and winning football. There is certainly enough attacking flair at the club to achieve that aim and with Big Sam taking steps to strengthen the defence you have to believe that a successful season is in store for the Magpies.

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