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Can They Kick It (2): Newcastle

The second in our three-part series looking at whether the promoted teams can survive relegation this season in the Premiership.

Fans feel the pain of relegation in 2009

Newcastle’s relegation was a sad day for the Premiership. While any team going down is tough for thousands of supporters, the famous club was probably the biggest team (along with Leeds in 2004) to have suffered relegation. A huge stadium, diehard fans, a legend in Alan Shearer at the helm, none of these things could prevent the demise of the club into the Championship with a paltry seven wins all season.

While the relegation season was beset by off-field problems with Kevin Keegan and owner Mike Ashley, last year Chris Hughton came in and worked quietly and assuredly with the Toon Army topping the league at the first time of asking. This summer the club have brought in Sol Campbell on a free transfer to shore up the defence, but have been dealt a blow with Steven Taylor ruled out for three months. Highly rated youngster Dan Gosling joined in a controversial move from Everton while long-serving Nottingham Forest player James Perch has also arrived. Newcastle have most recently been linked with Marseille prodigy Hatem ben Arfa.

Pre-Season Form:

  • 3-0 winners over Carlisle, 2-1 defeat to Norwich and a 2-2 draw with PSV Eindhoven. Next up is Deportivo La Coruna tonight (Aug 3).

So how will Newcastle fare this time around? In our article on Sol Campbell’s signing we discussed how he would bring experience to a reasonably young, but able defensive line. Steven Taylor’s injury is a big blow, but Ryan Taylor stepped up to score against PSV in the last friendly and will probably get a chance to show why he should be in the team in Steven’s absence. Plus his goalscoring ability could be handy for Newcastle.

Elsewhere, the club is lucky in that it has that big name. Big players stayed at the club last year, players like Xisco who just won the World Cup, or Jonas Gutierrez who played for Argentina in the tournament. Along with the English midfield backbone of Kevin Noland, Danny Guthrie and Joey Barton, there are some good players who are above Championship level for Newcastle to get a solid grounding early on in the Premiership.

In Andrew Carroll the club have a talented young, local hero and a player who could become a star this year. After hitting 19 goals

Big things are expected of the new number nine, Andrew Carroll

last year, Carroll has been handed the famous Newcastle number nine shirt, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can step up to the plate. However in the likes of Xisco (returned after being on loan at Racing Santander), Shola Ameobi, Leon Best and even Alan Smith (remember him?), the team have goalscorers and have a coveted thing in Premiership football, a midfield in which all players are capable of getting 5-10 goals.

However Newcastle may be keen to bring in a big-name signing up front. A foil for Carroll would be needed, and while Ameobi has talent, he is woefully injury prone at the same time. At the moment the club have strikers who could score goals, but could equally go missing or find the going tough against top-class defences. Chris Hughton said this week that he hopes to add to the squad in the next week or so, with Tom Cleverley one of those being linked with a loan move from Manchester United.

Early season in crucial:

  1. Newcastle start with the worst possible fixture, a visit to Man Utd. A ground where they have taken many heavy defeats in recent years, a good performance could go a long way to reassuring fans that Hughton can lead the team to safety.
  2. Following that trip is a difficult home fixture with Aston Villa. However Wolves, Blackpool, Everton and Stoke follow. If the team can get to 10 points from their opening six fixtures they’ll be looking good. Unfortunately opening defeats to Utd and Villa would see potential six pointers as early as September.
  3. A good start is also crucial in that there are two weeks of the transfer window remaining from the opening day. It will go a long way to convincing players that they’ll be coming to a decent team and also reassure the volatile characters in the squad (of whom there are many) that they can play football rather than getting too frustrated too early.

Does Hughton have the balls for a relegation battle?

The difficulty in assessing Newcastle’s squad is that there is undoubted talent throughout the squad, but also a number of players who you can see play as world beaters one day and absolute chumps the next. Prone to errors, see Coloccini; tempers, see Barton; being a bit crap, see Leon Best. Chris Hughton needs to show he can get the best out of his players, who were too good for the Championship, but will find the going tough this year. TheFC100 thinks Hughton can do it however, but survival may be a close-run thing.

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