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Newcastle profit from Pardew's methodical approach

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 16:46 UK time, Thursday, 13 October 2011

One of the hard truths about football coaching is that while many managers recognise the value of defensive discipline and team shape, spending hours doing it on the training pitch is a sure-fire method for ensuring most of the team get bored.

Newcastle, who have hardly been known for their strength in this area in recent years, have come up with a straightforward solution which has kept their players switched on and helped earn them the title of the Premier League's meanest defence heading into this weekend's fixtures.

Twice a week manager Alan Pardew splits his training sessions into two and drags his defenders away to work on positioning and covering and, while it is not exactly rocket science, the regularity of the sessions is clearly making an impact.


The Newcastle defence has significantly improved since last season.


First-team coach Steve Stone says there have been several factors in the Magpies' success this season, which has seen them rise to fourth in the Premier League table.

But combining hard work on the training pitch, detailed video analysis and weekly "defenders' meetings" has led to the usually porous defence conceding only four goals in seven league games.

"Newcastle have been a bit gung-ho in the past with the centre-halves marauding forward and the like, but you can't really play like that in Premier League," Stone says.

"If you are out of position and you lose the ball, teams can cut through you so quickly. When you play Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham, for example, you are at your weakest when you have the ball, when you are attacking or when you have a corner.

"That's when they can hurt you because you are out of position so we try and make sure we are in position as much as possible.

"Me and [assistant manager] John Carver take the forwards, and the manager takes the defenders away and we've introduced certain principles into the tactics so that, for instance, it doesn't matter if Ryan Taylor was to play right-back or left-back, he knows exactly what he has to do adjacent to the positions that the centre-halves are in.

"Basically, the manager runs through every scenario of where the players should be when the ball is in a certain position, whether it's a wide area, a central area, a goal kick, or whatever.

"It is something that actually started to come together last season and the manager said we'd be better at it this season once they understood his principles."

Those sceptical of Newcastle's lofty position will argue that they have yet to face any of the Premier League's big sides this season.

The team's equilibrium will be put to the test when they play Tottenham on Sunday before they come up against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in the space of three weeks beginning in November.

But Stone, who was promoted to the first-team staff when Pardew replaced Chris Hughton last December, believes the squad has an added depth to combat those challenges.

The departures of Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique and Joey Barton left some fans feeling that the club was going in the wrong direction, particularly as there was no big-name signing to replace the £35m Carroll.

In their places, however, the likes of Demba Ba, Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux have all added extra pace to the side, while Yohan Cabaye has proven a perfect foil for Cheik Tiote in central midfield.

"We now have five or six strikers vying for two places so they know they need to do well otherwise they'll be out [of] the team," Stone adds. "Last year we had to play the same two strikers, the same wide men and we didn't have any options coming from the bench.

"Now it's very strong and we have good players available. Look at Dan Gosling, who is an England under-21 international - he couldn't get in the squad recently; Shane Ferguson too. That's another reason why we have started well, because we have a fighting team spirit."

There is still money in the pot to bring in another striker in January, Stone says, but he insists that any potential purchase will have to suit what the team needs. There will be no star signings for the sake of it.

That sort of reasoning, combined with praise from his players, gives the impression that Pardew has not only restored some method to the madness at Newcastle, but also a significant boost to his reputation.

After his sacking by Southampton in August 2010, Pardew's appointment was met with indifference by Newcastle fans last winter.

Yet Stone has been impressed with the former Reading, Charlton and West Ham boss and says his man-management is a real asset.

"Tactically, he is as good as anyone," says Stone. "Some managers dither on the sidelines and that can cost you, but he will change things because he believes in his own ability and his own decisions. Managers earn their corn on match days don't they?

"He's got to work with the team all week, but he speaks very well and speaks in a way that gets players on side with him. It's not a rollocking, it's asking them to do it rather than telling them to do it so everybody feels part of a group.

"He treats players like adults where I've seen other managers treat players like kids and they don't respond to that at all. He has been in the game a long time as a manager so it's not like he has stepped in at Newcastle and it's all new to him. He understands the game."

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 2.

    Before we get carried away and start penning lengthy missives on how great Newcastle are, consider their results...

    Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal
    Sunderland 0 - 1 Newcastle
    Newcastle 2 - 1 Fulham
    QPR 0 - 0 Newcastle
    Aston Villa 1 - 1 Newcastle
    Newcastle 3 - 1 Blackburn
    Wolves 1 - 2 Newcastle

    Hm, hardly played any world beaters as yet...no Man Utd, no Chelsea, no Liverpool, no Spurs...only a draw at home to Arsenal, who were really poor early season...let's see how things look when their upcoming run against these teams is over...

  • Comment number 3.

    Why publish this report now???

    Could you not wait until AFTER we've played Man City, Man U & Tottenham on Sunday?

    That's the kiss of death for our defence, our goal difference and points tally!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    ^^^
    Sorry, that reads like we're playing all 3 at the same time. I meant Spurs on Sunday, the other two are next month!

  • Comment number 5.

    A good start, and Pardew doing well with what he has got. It suits Pardew to sell the bigger players and bring in lesser known quantities. He showed at West Ham when Tevez and Mascherano arrived that he couldn't integrate bigger stars, ie he just couldn't manage them. Whereas he could get the best out of Hayden Mullins.

    But in terms of substandard players, he will motivate these to produce bigger performances than perhaps they are consistantly capable of. He will be parying that he has an empty transfer pot to hide behind come January

  • Comment number 6.

    I've been impressed with how Alan Pardew has conducted himself since taking the difficult role of managing the club and supporters' expectations. The backdrop of Newcastle Utd for a number of years is one that is perennially in the media, either for player indiscretions, off-the-field turmoil or a boom-or-bust cycle of onfield success.

    The departures of their high profile players I think maybe led some to believe that the club would do well to avoid a relegation battle this season, but Pardew has been astute in the acquisitions he has made and used the old formula of good old coaching in order to provide the club with a decent enough foundation for the season ahead.

    I don't think anyone is suggesting that Newcastle will remain in the top-4; however, it is nice to see a club, and manager, going about their business relatively quietly and doing rather well.

    http://thethoughtsofphil.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 7.

    @thoughtfulphil - great post. As a Newcastle fan I'm delighted with how the side are doing and caustiously optimistic for the long term but of course we are not going to stay at 4th and any sensible Toon fan will say that. If we finish top 10 I'll be very happy, anything like 7th/8th and I'll be delighted. I'm hoping for careful long-term improvement that is sustainable, not instant gratification that then causes a ruccus when we can't keep up with it.

    Also, as you alude to - it's about time Newcastle were one of the clubs to be 'going about their business relatively quietly and doing rather well' - it's been a long time coming and it's nice not be a laughing stock for once!

  • Comment number 8.

    In response to #2 comment

    "Before we get carried away and start penning lengthy missives on how great Newcastle are, consider their results..."

    Those are the results that in the past Newcastle would have failed to get. Pardew, despite not being the man the Toon wanted has done a good job.

    www.arlombardi.wordpress.com for a preview to an unlikley Champions League battle at St James Park.

  • Comment number 9.

    Let's be fair, we Newcastle fans are happy, but there is no talk of Champions League football.

    Whilst the fixtures posted above can be viewed as "easy", they can also be read in a rather different way

    Newcastle v Arsenal: This season 1 point, last season 1 point (0)
    Sunderland 0 - 1 Newcastle: This season 3 points, last season 1 point (+2)
    Newcastle 2 - 1 Fulham: This season 3 points, last season 1 point (+4)
    QPR 0 - 0 Newcastle: No comparison(+4)
    Aston Villa 1 - 1 Newcastle: This season 1 point, last season 0 points (+5)
    Newcastle 3 - 1 Blackburn: This season 3 points, last season 0 points (+8)
    Wolves 1 - 2 Newcastle: This season 3 points, last season 1 point (+10)

    So, in reality we are 10 points better off on like for like games than last season; indication of some improvement even if our current position can be seen as unsustainable.

    We know that we have tough games a head, and we know that realistically something like 8th place is the height of our ambitions (i.e. where we would have finihsed last year had we concentrated when 3-0 up in the final game)

  • Comment number 10.

    I have to say that i'm really pleased with the way things are going under Mr Pardew. I wasn't sure about him to begin with and i was disappointed about Chris H leaving. Glad to see him back with the blues.

    It's true we haven't played any of the "big" teams yet (although i'd still include arsenal in that bracket), but we are playing the sides that are going to be around about our level in the league and we are doing well against them. That's good enough for me. I'm a realist, staying in the division is really the only requirement. Cup run would be nice too tho.

    For me, i hope we don't make big name signings in January. It'll only cause instability. We don't need egos. Couple of versatile players to see us through the inevitable plague of winter injuries and i'll be happy come may.

    It's really nice to be talking about my club for the football for a change rather than all the other shenanigans that go on.

  • Comment number 11.

    Miss Feenee

    We ve gone and stolen your long held and cherished title as the Seasons laughing stock and how well we re holding our own arent we girl!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Aaargh thoughtfulphil, Stop with the supporters expectations nonsense. Us Toon fans don't expect to be all conquering world beaters, spending hundreds of millions on AAA players. All that we ask is that we see the players that we have showing some desire, see the manager playing the best team available in a positive manner and see Shola take more than three steps without falling over. We don’t all ruin our bedsheets with miss spelled, poorly thought out slogans for the benefit of the Sky cameras.

    At the start of the season I think 99% of us would have been happy with ending up not finishing in the bottom six, maybe a cup run, and giving the Mackems a hiding. Anything more would be a bonus. Yes, we’ve had a decent start but I still think a good solid upper mid table finish (10th to 8th) would be decent progress.

  • Comment number 13.

    MOTD called it right when they said Newcastle are best of the rest - and have been in that position going into 2 international breaks, that builds a lot of confidence.

    Realistically, losing to Man C, Man U & Chelski only drops your 18 points a season and you expect your rivals to lose points there tool. Mick McCarthy got it right when he fielded a weakened team against these before.

    Gain anything against Spurs, L'Pool and Arsenal and you are heading in the right direction.
    Beating everyone you want to finish above is what counts and the closer you get to 78pts the better, who would not want that total come May?

    (13 teams x 2 fixtures x 3 points)

  • Comment number 14.

    As a toon fan i am pleased with where we are however people are right to point out we havent played any of the big hitters yet....

    We need to remember the QPR game and Wolves..... We could have been beaten 4-0 by QPR if it wasnt for Boothroyd (who couldnt hit a barn door never mind the net) and Wolves had a pen and goal disallowed.... meanest defence.... no

    Lucky..... yes.... and its about time we got a bit of luck. I am enjoying it while it lasts but even the most optimistic Toon fans knows its a matter of time. That said Colocinni and taylor have played well every game, its Simpson and Raylor that are the weak links

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 What I mean by supporters' expectations is not neccesarily an all-conquering team, but I think it would be fair to say that not only Newcastle fans, but most people, were expecting Pardew to have use of £35million to spend on a couple of 'big name' signings. I think the acquisition of Cabaye in particular looks incredibly astute and I look forward to when Ben Arfa regains fitness... I think he potentially could be a very special player.

    #9 That's exactly how I try and review my club's form in comparison to the previous season and this formula shows that there are definite signs of improvement on Tyneside. You can only beat the team you're playing so fair play to Newcastle; who knows, after a string of positive results they may go into a game against 'the big boys' with confidence and achieve a result?

    #7 Cheers. I think my early season prediction had Newcastle to be lower half but I like what Pardew is doing there and I sincerely hope they achieve that top-10 finish. I think under Pardew, for once maybe, Newcastle are looking a little more long-term stability and progression rather than a quick-win scenario which they may have been accused of before.

  • Comment number 16.

    The only thing that has disappointed me this season is a good moustatche in the starting line up. It seems to me that the days of Micky Quinn and Phillipe Albert should be ressurected by a cheeky pencil tash from Ryan Taylor or perhaps a full blown handlebar from Leon Best?

  • Comment number 17.

    @ thoughtfulphil. Sadly, I think that most of us DIDN'T expect to see the 35mil spent on a couple of big names. We know the fat shopkeeper well enough now to know that was never going to happen.

    I've liked what I've seen of Ben Arfa so far, but I also think that Marveaux has the potential to oust Jonas from the team if given the chance.

  • Comment number 18.

    Yeah, think there have been some good points about Newcastle's like for like results as compared to last season. Pardew has made a solid team who look very difficult to beat against the weaker teams in the division. I think we've only lost two games at home since he came in and only one against a non 'top three' team, Everton.

    The core to the team this season has been very strong. Through the middle, Krul, Coloccini, S Taylor, Tiote, Cabaye have been excellent and, to some people's surprise, Best and Ba have come good up front in recent weeks as well.

    It's also been mentioned that we have strong players on the bench at the moment. I think we're all really excited to see Ben Arfa back in the first team, who's looked extremely exciting every time he's pulled on the shirt. Santon should push Ryan Taylor or Simpson for a starting berth and Marveaux and Gosling are good backups to the midfield.

    However, I'd like to reserve special praise for someone I haven't mentioned, the vastly underrated Jonas Gutierrez. He's perhaps our most important player in many ways. He's one of the best ball carriers in the league and it's very rare that you see him lose the ball - he'll generally take us int othe opposition half and win a corner/throw in or free kick. He's also fantastic defensively and has really helped out Ryan Taylor whilst he's been at left back. Add to this the fact that I don't think he's been injured once during his entire time here and you have a very useful player. I would certainly drop Obertan ahead of Jonas if Marveaux were to get a starting berth.

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't think you need worry as long as Taylor can keep getting away with fouling the oppos striker as he did against RVP.

  • Comment number 20.

    Fair play to Pardew, if they've worked hard then they deserve the points.

    Maybe Arsenal should have 'defender' meetings?

  • Comment number 21.

    First of all don’t bring up the user name I’m still a big Toon fan

    Easy start, easy for who? It’s worth mentioning that four of our “easy fixtures” did finish above us last season. And hang on, shouldn’t every game be hard for team that sold the “heartbeat”, “foundations” and “best players” from last season. And as so many pundits predicted "would surely be favorites to go down".
    In terms of, as Lawro put, “ridding our luck this season” I strongly disagree - against Wolves yes, against QPR? No that was just poor finishing from a championship striker and cannot think of any other game where it’s been backs to the wall.

    In terms of not singing any big name players, I’m glad with the ones we did sign. Give me £4.3 million worth of Cabaye or £3.5 million of Tiote any day as oppose to £12 million on Crouch, £20 million on Henderson, £8 million on Connor Wickem etc ect. Graham Car deserves a huge amount of praise. I also can’t really think of a big name player that would come to a team with a strict wage bracket and playing in only its second season in the EPL.

    Now of course I’m not expecting Newcastle to finish in the top 4 (top 8 would be pushing it). But under Pardew we are winning games we didn’t use to and picking up points away from home – a top half finish could be achieved.

  • Comment number 22.

    ^^^^^
    In terms of not signing anyone.. I know people on here like to contribute heavily to the debate by correcting peoples grammar.

  • Comment number 23.

    So nice to join an opinion site where people can spell and write sensibly!
    As a Spurs fan I'm looking forward to getting a positive result on Sunday, and agree with most of the comments about Alan Pardew's management of Newcastle. Lots of realistic expectations from Toon fans, and honest assessments of the manager's abilities. I have a lot of time for coaches who work to improve their players rather than rushing into the transfer market, so, even though I thought Chris Hughton was harshly sacked, I think Pardew is doing well and they deserve to finish top half.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think Steve Stone should be the beneficiary of any compliments here.Pardew is simply a very very lucky man who is reeping the plaudits for other peoples work.He remains a completely inept,way out of his depth and clueless manager on the pitch which is further fortified by his seedy and unsavoury behaviour off it.One would assume that it will all come crashing down for Newcastle before xmas and we shall see the true depths of Pardews inadequacy brought to light then.

  • Comment number 25.

    On a simple level, we kind of swapped success levels with Arsenal!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    Firstly, #21, I'd like to bring up the user name - tut tut

    Secondly, Newcastle can only play the teams on the fixture list and, under Pardew, they have developed an extremely effective way of playing the bulk of the teams in the Premier League and should be praised. It's easy to dismiss Pardew as somehow 'lucky,' but his West Ham team wasn't too bad - should have won the FA Cup after all.

    However Tottenham will provide a different order of challenge for the Tynesiders. My team is mercurial, but - on the evidence of the last month - are rightly considered top four favourites. Tackling Messrs Bale and Modric is going to be a lot tougher for the Newcastle defence than anything they have faced thus far. Got to say, I'm with Lawro when it comes to predictions

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    I can see a point in the quality we have played so far but the way I look at this is that it is better to take points off teams that would be around us. I see playing against bigger clubs as a test and whilst it would be great to take points from them I think what will be more important is how we rise to the challenge of technically better teams.

  • Comment number 29.

    While the stats are quite interesting, the flaw in the analysis is that we are 8 games in to a 38 games season, so their first 8 games are pretty much down to the luck of the fixture computer.

    With that in mind, the most important stat is this one:

    Pub-standard teams played against in season 2010/11: 50%
    Pub-standard teams played against in season 2011/12: 68.75% (Villa count as a half).

    So the most telling statistic so far this season is their pub team to average/reasonably good team ratio, which you'll find is well up so far this season.

  • Comment number 30.

    Yet some people fail to understand the departure of certain key figures of the Newcastle starting 11. Unfortunately it is not up to Newcastle as such who and when they play and i say that this has fallen to there advantage. I see the hardest tests coming up in the coming weeks for the Newcastle faithful, the team and the managerial staff. Some people seem to forget that we only came back up from the championship last season, secured a place in the premiership the next and Newcastle have had the best start to the season in two decades. So unless you have some sort of constructive criticism i say that the back room staff and the players have started well and they will continue to perform. I would think that Newcastle are not aiming for a top 4 finish as they are not one of the more balanced and stabilised teams in the premiership. However if they do, all for them as for the good start what more could you ask for.

  • Comment number 31.

    As usual not one word of praise for Mike Ashley the man who appointed Pardew and saved Newcastle from being another Portsmouth.

  • Comment number 32.

    There is one simple reason for the upturn in Newcastle's defensive qualities:
    Steven Taylor is fit and playing.

  • Comment number 33.

    That looks like 2 reasons...

  • Comment number 34.

    Sack Sam Allardyce and re-hire Pards at West Ham! He'd come back in a shot!

  • Comment number 35.

    I always rated Pards when he was at West Ham. He's a strong personality and he gets squads to gel together and play for each other. He doesn't get seduced by 'star players' and he puts team unity above any individual. He's growing an exciting team at Newcastle and although I wish he was back at West Ham, I wish him and Newcastle all the best.

  • Comment number 36.

    It is nice to bring a blog about another team than the traditional top five-six.
    But to talk about the Premiership's meanest defense after the 8th game in the season, without having been tested against any of the top sides? It's only inline with many articles, written with the mind traveling on cloud 159, to keep safe distance from reality.

  • Comment number 37.

    36. At 23:40 14th Oct 2011, Football_UK wrote:
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm glad you're in full agreement with me on this one, F_UK. ;)

  • Comment number 38.

    @ 37. At 00:22 15th Oct 2011, The_soul_patch_of_David_Villa,

    For a minute I thought I didn't express the opinion I wanted to!

  • Comment number 39.

    Well so far Lawro has predicted us to lose almost every week, The longer we prove him wrong the better as far as I am concerned. When we had the useless article as a defensive coach we had the worst defence I have seen in 30 years of following my club. Right now the results have flattered us, its been a strange old start to the league but I have not been truly surprised in ay game, we have ridden our luck and more than anything I am hoping we can hold onto players like Krul(i can see him going top 4 easily) Tiote, Cabaye and laughably after his first 2 years in english football the excellent Fabriccio Collocini.

  • Comment number 40.

    What the score when NCU played against ManCity, CFC, Man***, Spurs etc in the 2011/12 season? The point I am making is that so far NCU have had it easy, in the early days teams like Blackpool, Hull and even WBA have been very near the top and even led to premature accolades for the managers. Where those managers are at the present time is a clear indication of just how good their teams were? Brown was even touted as a possible manager for Team England.

    For NCU the tough part starts this weekend. Let us see where they stand in a couple of weeks!

  • Comment number 41.

    When articles like this come about, a logical thought is who would be served better by the article. Is it Newcastle fans? I don't think so. Newcastle are a prime selling club - without re-investing. Is it Mike Ashley? Write a "yes" as loud as you can.

    Why does my mind goes to all those occasions of Real Madrid, Barcelona, etc., being hot favourites to land a Crystal Palace nobody?

  • Comment number 42.

    Many geordies would happily take top 10. I myself, would take it. However when you say that Newcastle have yet to play the top four, I would argue you aren't giving them the fair crack of the whip. Last season, Newcastle drew against Arsenal and won. Drew against Man U and drew twice against Chelsea. This shows we are no pushovers. The truth of course is in the pudding but even without figures any football fan would tell you this is a different Newcastle team defensively.

  • Comment number 43.

    Yeah OK we are more of a team (that was already in place with Hughton) but there is still a glaring lack of quality in attack. Not one of those strikers wil get more than 12 goals which means the midfield has to weigh in with about 8 each. Wins (3 points each) keep you in the right half of the table, not draws (1 point). We lost fewer games than the 2 teams who finished above us the season that we went down, but only won 7 times all season.

  • Comment number 44.

    If Pardew is such a tactical genius then why does he wait until after the 80 minute mark to make a substitute? Shola Amoeba (yes I know what I typed) has been consistantly ineffective and downright bone idle this season but is only withdrawn with about 7 minutes of normal time remaining. Marveax is an excellent player and has far more idea than Obertan but only gets 5 minutes to try and produce some magic. We could have beaten Arsenal and Villa if we had made double subs in the 70th minute and not the 84th.

  • Comment number 45.

    In response to MICHAEL, can I just point out that Newcastle's unbeaten run actually goes back to the 1st of May of this year, & if you would care to look a bit further into things you will find we have played both Chelsea & Man U in that run, drawing with both & were unlucky not to beat Man U.. just thought id enlighten you

  • Comment number 46.

    First Thing: Lawro hates Newcastle Utd, i struggle to remember the last time he predicted a win for us. Seriously, when was it?

    Second thing: No Newcastle fan is deliriously dancing about expecting a top four finish, we know our limits but why can't we be pleased at how we've performed this season? You say we've ridden our luck so far, how? Other than Wolves we've been solid defensively, something that we've never had to my mind. We've also been forced into providing opportunities to Leon Best and Sammi Ameobi and look at the return, something any fan would be proud to see from last years' 'fringe' players. The idea isn't that we've played 6/7 (depending on how you view Arsenal) low ranked teams, it's that we've played them and remained consistent, not one team has maximum points this season so the consistency of the top 4 has already been tested. Given that we haven't spent Millions upon Millions on this squad i'm proud that they are where they are, they could lose every game against the top six and i'd still be proud, because unlike most, at least we're going in the right direction.

    By the Way RE:19 i can't begin to describe how ironic it is for an Arsenal fan to complain about fouling. If you do need a description though, feel free to ask Alex (the stamp) Song or flying fists Gervinho, i'm sure they'll give you some pointers.

  • Comment number 47.

    Newcastle can't be blamed for the run of games they've had but if they've got some confidence to go and have a go at the big clubs, even if they get beat (and they might take even 2-3 points from those games - even if it's 3 from 8 games, that's to say MUFC x2, CFC x2, MCFC x2 and LFC x2 - they've taken x1 from AFC) then that's better than a few so called "bigger clubs" will get this season. Good building blocks to at least get top-half of table and hopefully a decent cup run in either of the cups. The major issue is this IMHO and yes it's based on a BIG IF...say NUFC get to the League Cup final and win the thing (or the FA Cup final and even lose say against MCFC) then they'd have to go into the Europa League, with Pardew knowing to some extent that as the owner can't make shedloads on being in Europe, not wanting to spend a lot to finance then being in the PL, FAC, FLC and Europa League - you'd imagine the Europa League being the one that's pushed aside (or the League Cup) but as winning either of the remaining competions only gets you back into the EL then it's a rock and hard-place for under resourced managers (in terms of playing staff). This leads me to one suggestion to UEFA - make the winner of the Europa League get a place in the Champions League - even if it's just a unseeded 3rd quali. spot in the draw i.e. the one before the Group stage (unless you qualify via the League) and that would concentrate minds.

  • Comment number 48.

    We have been doing much better than we did last season - we couldn't get the same results last season against any of the teams we've faced so far (except of course, Arsenal).

    Storms & Hurricanes up ahead. Let's see if we can weather any of them. People can predict that we cannot. Even some of us think it's quite retarded to think or hope otherwise. But there's this thing about forecasts and football - uncertainty.

  • Comment number 49.

    It is the cheapest,smartest,well planned team in Premier league

  • Comment number 50.

    I agree with Greenmarketfo - Fans may not like Mike Ashley but he's the main reason they're not watching League One football at St James's. Come on show some appreciation to Mr Ashley and his choice of Manager.

  • Comment number 51.

    Who writes the captions for the BBC? For the picture of Demba Ba celebrating against Spurs the caption says he is French. He is Senegalese. He has never played in france and has no french family. Which amateur made this massive mistake? Its like calling Miroslav Klose Swiss because he speaks the same language.

 

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