It is not quite time for the champagne to come out at St James’ Park after Newcastle finally won their second match of the season against West Bromwich Albion and lifted themselves out of the drop zone – although for a moment in the press room afterwards Joe Kinnear considered the idea.
The club still languish in 15th place in the table, but Kinnear’s arrival has sparked some much-improved displays which have triggered praise from all corners of the Premier League. Newcastle may have only won one of Kinnear’s opening four games at the helm, but it is the attitude and spirit of his players that has caught the eye. Because for so long it looked as if this great club were going to be embroiled in a fierce relegation battle this season.
After torturing their fans with abject displays at home to Hull City, Blackburn and Tottenham, Newcastle’s players have finally produced some performances worthy of applause recently, despite letting standards slip in the feeble loss to bitter rivals Sunderland on Saturday.
A narrow home win over poor opposition, coupled with a pair of 2-2 draws against mid-table sides, cannot soften the blow of a disastrous derby-day defeat, but the five points won under Kinnear’s leadership have still been well received by the club’s loyal followers. The win over West Brom should act as a catalyst for a turn-around in fortunes for the club. The signs had been there from the moment Kinnear arrived in temporary charge.
The team have played with a greater spirit and more belief than for a long time. Although the loss to Sunderland rather spoiled his early shows of promise, the positive signs that were present in previous draws against Everton and Manchester City have not been forgotten.
Disgusted fans still vented their fury and frustration at the Stadium of Light at the weekend, lambasting the weak display. Unfortunately for Kinnear, that is one of the two fixtures that the passionate and unforgiving faithful demand that the club do not lose each season. The other one is the return fixture at St James’ Park.
But despite the 2-1 defeat causing them to mourn in sadness and kick cushions in anger, most Newcastle fans still recognise that there remains a fresh air of optimism around the club.
To most supporters who watch the games carefully, the fixture at Everton in Kinnear’s first match in charge was when things really started to change for the better. Despite being consigned to the stands for the whole game because of a touchline ban, Kinnear’s effect was there for all to see. From two goals down, Newcastle players discovered new-found belief and confidence inside them and recovered to draw the match.
The body language was different and the attitude seemingly much more positive. The goals that day were the perfect example of this. First, Steven Taylor rose majestically to meet a cross and head the ball in powerfully via the underside of the crossbar and then the same player surged forward determinedly before laying the ball back to the rejuvenated Damien Duff to power home.
The celebrations showed their joy and the remainder of the performance showed their new enthusiasm. They deserved to win.
The comeback in the next match at home to Manchester City arguably deserved more plaudits after Newcastle were reduced to 10 men early on and had to grit their teeth and battle on. Whereas in the past going 1-0 down might have sent Newcastle heads dropping, under Kinnear the response was one of attack and belief. The players rallied together and fought hard for a deserved draw, courtesy of Shola Ameobi’s sliced effort and an own goal from Richard Dunne.
Whilst the team have become united as one in their bid to climb the table, players like Duff and Obefami Martins have stepped up their game to contribute greater quality to the side as well. Another individual who impressed against West Brom was Joey Barton, who was back from jail to score a penalty in front of the Leazes End. His celebration summed up Newcastle’s revival — he ran over to the fans, gleefully thumping the badge on his chest. This club means a lot to these players.
Kinnear’s reign at St James’ Park is supposed to be temporary but if the Newcastle board decide to recruit another fresh face to become the new manager then their hope for stability will look even bleaker. Why get rid of someone who has brought fresh life to the team? Why say goodbye to a man who has turned doom and gloom into a Toon full of bloom?
Kinnear must stay if Newcastle are to enjoy a fruitful campaign.
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).