So far, so good

The chances are Alan Pardew's side will not win anything of note anytime soon, but Newcastle United is the team of the EPL season so far.

In 1955 Newcastle United lifted the FA Cup and coincidentally, in a bid to stop Russia spying on missile tests, Britain claimed a small uninhabited islet 300 miles off Scotland called Rockall.

Some might say Newcastle, in terms of major trophies, have claimed much the same since. Yes, they paraded the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1969 and the Intertoto Cup in 2006, but major trophies? None.

The chances are Alan Pardew's side will not win anything of note anytime soon, but they are the team of the season so far. The unexpected package proving that football's tried and trusted values of hard work, inspired man-management and, above all, team ethic still count for something in a Barclays English Premier League dominated by individuals rich beyond reason.

There were pundits tipping Newcastle to struggle this season. Some thought the Championship beckoned when they sold Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton in the space of eight months.

Yet, after 11 matches, they stand third in the EPL, one point behind Manchester United and six behind leaders Manchester City but perhaps more tellingly three ahead of Chelsea and six ahead of Arsenal.

The job Pardew has done in restoring pride and faith and a winning mentality to a club with an almost insatiable appetite for turmoil is remarkable considering he was viewed with antipathy at best by large swathes of the Toon Army when he took over from Chris Hughton, a man who had been dispensed with harshly by owner Mike Ashley considering he had kept the listing Newcastle ship afloat following the second acrimonious departure of Kevin Keegan, the heart scare suffered by Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer's failed attempt to keep the club in the EPL.

Pardew has done it with stealth, not wealth, bringing in key players such as Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan, concentrating on team morale and instilling that crucial footballing ethic which says strikers are the first line of defence. A simple notion, but one often forgotten by big-money front men who understand their contract requires goals but not always the need to trouble the sweatometer.

It means Newcastle are no longer the great entertainers they were in the first coming of Keegan when David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Shearer smashed in the goals.

The goals Newcastle have conceded in those 11 matches, however, is the key. It is the best defensive record in the EPL. It is why Newcastle are one of only three teams in the Football League who remain unbeaten, the others being Huddersfield and Manchester City.

How refreshing it was after Newcastle beat Stoke 3-1 at the Britannia Stadium recently to hear defender Steven Taylor explain the simplicity of the Pardew success.

“We are just playing as a team, that is all we are doing,” said Taylor, who epitomised the spirit by playing with a mask to protect a broken nose. We can't afford to carry one person because we are a small squad and it has shown because everyone has pulled their weight.”

So far, so good. The difficult bit comes now as expectations build. Is the Pardew rejuvenation the real deal or another false dawn in the tumultuous history of a complex club.


Since moving from Manchester United to Real Madrid for £80m Cristiano Ronaldo's star has been partially eclipsed on the world stage by Lionel Messi and the sheer brilliance of Barcelona over the past couple of years.

Yet the statistics tell another story. Ronaldo, who scored twice for Real in their 2-0 win against Lyon in the Champions League in midweek, has scored 100 goals in 105 matches for Real. That is genius. That is why he was worth it.


Wigan chairman Dave Whelan says he will never sack manager Roberto Martinez even if they are relegated.

At many clubs that statement could be taken with a large shovel of salt. But Martinez turned down Aston Villa to stay with rock-bottom Wigan in the summer out of loyalty to his chairman.

Now Whelan is repaying that loyalty, despite Wigan having lost their last seven matches.

Wigan are not leaders in many things where football is concerned, but in terms of dignity and respect they are top of the heap.

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