New Lease Of Life For Newcastle United

The Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew admitted that his side had been "lucky" to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, who "deserved a point at the very least." You needed the fingers of both hands to count the saves that the goalkeeper Tim Krul had to make at Molineux, including two impressive stops with his feet that kept Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher from scoring, and only a dubious call from the referee's assistant prevented a last gasp equalizer. It is still far too early in the season for the Premier League table to be much worth looking at, and Toon must navigate a course past Tottenham, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea in upcoming fixtures.

Still, Newcastle's start to the season (after seven fixtures they're unbeaten and four points behind the league leaders) is worth noting, at least for future reference. It is not even a year since Mike Ashley sacked the manager who had got the club promoted, Chris Hughton, in a move that seemed to symbolize the owner's shameless capriciousness; Hughton's replacement with Pardew was a conundrum in itself. The club has recently sold all of its biggest performers (Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique, and Joey Barton), and spent comparatively modestly. Barton departed discussing the club's fortunes in end of days fashion, yet somehow, Newcastle's form hasn't suffered for it.

The fullback Danny Simpson's insistence that the team is better now than last season might not be allowed to go completely un-argued (a better striker, maybe? A touch more defensive cover?), but at last Newcastle is starting to look more like a project of serious intent and less like a circus. The arrival of several young players - predominantly French, all relatively young, inexpensive, skillful and eager to impress - has given Pardew and his staff the satisfied outlook of a men crafting something from scratch using a straightforward blueprint. Though they conceded three goals to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, the fringe players promise refreshment of the team as the season proceeds, even if it is not quite zesty enough to keep Newcastle in the giddy heights of the Champions League places.

The remaining older players are playing their parts, too, with Fabricio Coloccini in good form so far this season and Jonas Gutierrez enjoying top rank on the left. Having looked at times last season to be little more than a lumbering assistant to Enrique, the leftback's Lurch, he must have enjoyed his individual goal (only his fourth in a year) against Wolves. Picking up a loose pass close to the touchline, he wriggled through two defenders, strode past another, drew back his left foot and rolled the ball perfectly into the far-bottom corner. Newcastle's league position may take a tumble over the next couple of months, but at least this year they seem worth watching for all the right reasons.

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