It may have ultimately ended with the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser, but Newcastle United’s performance in their weekend draw at Sunderland looks as though it could be the turning point in their season.
The Magpies were far and away the better team in Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby at the Stadium of Light, bossing the game in the first half an hour and comfortably leading 1-0 until Cheik Tiote’s red card.
Even then, Newcastle dealt with everything that Sunderland threw at them (which was not a lot, admittedly) and looked sure to see the game out until a late Demba Ba own goal gave the Black Cats a lifeline they didn’t deserve.
But there was a spring in the Newcastle step, a solidity and a menace on the counter, even when playing with ten men for an hour, that suggested the Toon’s season might just be getting back on track and the way in which Alan Pardew saluted the away fans at the final whistle shows he is thinking the same.
I have continually stuck up for the Magpies this season, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, because I believe that the hangover they were suffering from their unexpected exploits last season is/was temporary and that they would eventually get themselves together.
It has been quite a poor start, with many of the displays turgid and uninspiring, but Newcastle have too much about them, too much attacking talent and spark for that to remain the case for too long and I expect things to improve, certainly domestically, over the coming weeks.
In the Europa League, things have always been ticking along rather nicely. Pardew has often taken the opportunity to rotate his squad, but whoever has played has done the job and I don’t see any reason why that will change when Club Brugge visit St James’ Park on Thursday evening.
The Toon are 13/20 to pick up three points, with the draw at 27/10 and Brugge at 17/4, and I fancy Pardew’s side to have a comfortable night.
The former West Ham boss might have stated that the Europa League is last on his list of priorities, but that could well change should Newcastle begin to get a decent run in the competition and he knows winning a first trophy for the club since the 1969 Fairs Cup would ensure his place in Toon folklore.
We are a long way away from that (you’re always a long way away from the end of the Europa League at this stage) but Newcastle can take another step towards qualification for the knock-out stages this evening.
Brugge are top of the Belgium Pro League, but that is largely thanks to their immaculate home form: Georges Leekens’ side have not won in four away games and were hammered 4-0 in their last Europa League trip to Bordeaux.
And with Pardew looking likely to pick quite a strong team – Tiote, Papiss Cisse and Steven Taylor look set to start – I think Newcastle can have a fairly routine night. The Magpies have conceded just once in four Europa League matches so far and the 7/4 they beat Brugge and keep a clean sheet is my bet here.