I have to admit, my faith in Newcastle United becoming the side that they were last season is wearing dangerously thin as I desperately try to convince myself that the Magpies are still Champions League contenders.
With their exploits so impressive last term, I have wanted to be on the side of Alan Pardew’s team this year as I fully expected another tilt at the top four of the Premier League, not to mention a good go at the cups both at home and abroad, taking into account all the talent at his disposal.
But it hasn’t happened, has it? No matter what Pardew said in the aftermath of Newcastle’s draw against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, his side were very disappointing once again (after I thought they had looked a monster price at 5/1).
Only the Reds’ profligacy allowed the Magpies to escape with a 1-1 draw in a match in which they offered so little going forward it was hard to believe this was the same team who played with such vim and vigour for most of 2011/12.
And that has been the story of their season so far. Performances have been uninspiring as star players such as Papiss Cisse, Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote have, for differing reasons, failed to play to their maximum and it shows in Newcastle’s results.
The Toon are 10th in the Premier League, with their only wins being pretty fortunate ones, and my patience is beginning to run out. I’ve been a champion of Pardew’s work at Newcastle and I genuinely believed that a top-four push was to be expected: I still think it can be with that fourth spot wide open, but I want to see some evidence that things are moving in the right direction.
All of which makes their trip to face Club Brugge in the Europa League on Thursday a tough one to call. Perversely, given the fact that Pardew has clearly stated he doesn’t care for the tournament, the Toon’s European campaign has been going very well indeed, even with the ex-West Ham boss making wholesale changes to his starting line-ups for every match.
The Magpies top Group D with seven points from nine games and will all but secure qualification with a win against Club Brugge in Belgium. The odds are interesting: Brugge are 27/20 favourites, with Newcastle at 9/5 and the draw at 5/2, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that taking the latter, which also happens to be the biggest price of the three, is worthwhile here.
I can’t be having Brugge – they are in disarray. Coach Georges Leekens has just been sacked following a poor run of results which has seen them lose five games on the bounce and fall to seventh in the Jupiler League table. Brugge drew two blanks and and conceded 13 goals in that sequence and they just don’t look like a team who you should be backing, especially against a side you would say are more talented.
But can we have Newcastle, either? The Toon are yet to win an away game all season in any competition, drawing six and losing two of their eight games on the road. Those two losses came against Manchester United and Chelsea, but failure to win at Reading or Sunderland in the Premier League, plus Atromitos and Maritimo in the Europa League, won’t have you falling over yourself to back them here.
Going back to last season, Newcastle have won just one of their last 11 away games and have scored just 11 goals in that time, so I think they are also worth swerving.
That leaves the draw at 5/2, the biggest price and most sensible play in light of the changes Pardew will certainly make to his team.