With their Premier League season not going quite as harmoniously as the club saw last season, Newcastle United fans will be happy to see their Europa League campaign going pleasantly.
The Magpies’ latest result was an encouragingly astute 3-0 win over Bordeaux that sees the English side move to the top of Group D.
Alan Pardew’s men have massive expectations heaped on their shoulders after an incredibly successful 2011-12 campaign and it’s performances such as these that Newcastle must learn from if they are to improve.
The landmark of any team that succeeds in Europe is the ability to combat on an elite level with a squad—an ability that only some can develop.
It’s no secret that to make a go of things in any European competition, a team needs to perform to an altogether higher standard, different than how they might perform in their domestic leagues.
In their midweek victory, Newcastle proved that they have a squad that could shine not only in the English top flight, but amongst some of the best that the continent has to offer.
It’s all well and good having a starting XI capable of sensational play, but to be able to draft in players from the bench and rely on them to bring home the result is a critical point in the club’s evolution.
The fact that the likes of Gabriel Obertan, Shane Ferguson and Shola Ameobi can play a rare start and perform as is needed speaks volumes, telling us that Newcastle may have the kind of depth needed to play on numerous fronts.
It emerged last week that Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, had given his manager an eight-year contract that won’t expire until 2020 (via Guardian).
Needless to say that a deal of this length is incredibly long for any player in the football fraternity, never mind a manager, someone who's perhaps more scrutinized than the men on the pitch.
Inevitably, the agreement was met with confusion by some and desribed as "staggering" by Damian Spellman of The Independent, a mentality that often emerges in football.
If Pardew is able to progress in the Europa League while maintaining a respectable league position, however, then perhaps Ashley’s considerable amount of faith was well-placed after all.
Long though the contract is, Pardew’s Newcastle is undoubtedly showing growth, and if that is happening season after season, what more can a supporter or owner ask for?
After a prolific first six months in the Premier League last season, Papiss Demba Cissé took an eventual dip in form this campaign, failing to score for over a month of the new season.
The Senegalese international had instead trading scoring patterns with fellow striker and compatriot, Demba Ba, who revived the kind of form that he missed so much after Cissé’s arrival at the club.
Cissé started in the game against Bordeaux and rewarded Alan Pardew’s faith with a goal four minutes into the second half.
This score builds on the first goal of the season that Cissé scored at Manchester United in the League Cup a week ago.
Regardless of a lack of goals, Cissé proved last season that he has a quality that is impossible to repress, and although Bordeaux may not be the most difficult opposition, the momentum the forward is building could be invaluable come season’s end.
Having been at the club for the last 17 years or so, you could understand if Shola Ameobi feels he deserves more first team opportunities, given his servitude to the club.
The Nigerian turns 31 years old next week but is still a loyal contributor to the Newcastle cause, 12 years after he graduated from the club’s academy.
Against Bordeaux, Ameobi scored the opener and went on to use that massive stature in setting up the second score, effectively putting in a man of the match-worthy performance.
With the likes of Ba and Cissé at the club, it can often prove easy to overlook a player such as Ameobi, but perhaps the veteran deserves more of a shout for a starting place than some give him credit for.
Although a number of Bordeaux’s usual starting team didn’t begin the match, it speaks volumes that Alan Pardew is able to use some fringe players and still bag a result, particularly in defence.
Rob Elliott is the third-string goalkeeper on Tyneside and with Tim Krul still injured, Steve Harper was rested so that Elliot could get his chance.
Not to mention, with the injuries of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson and James Perch were left to deputize in the centre of defence. In fact, Danny Simpson was by far the most senior player in Newcastle’s backline with Shane Ferguson filling in for Davide Santon at left-back.
While they’re far from the choice back four at St. James’ Park, the combination worked and managed to keep a clean sheet, proving that resources run deep for the Magpies, in a part of the pitch where any manager would hope to have the most assets.
Last season, teams became very wary of traveling to the northeast after Newcastle developed a fearsome defensive record when playing on their home turf.
Pardew’s side kept clean sheets in 47 percent of their home matches, conceding an average of just 0.89 goals per game when playing at St. James’ Park.
So far this campaign, Newcastle have only built on that record and have conceded an average of just 0.67 goals per game.
The Magpies are yet to be beaten in front of their own crowd this season, and the Europa League win over Bordeaux was a particularly encouraging display.
While they may have troubles on the road, it’s nice to be able to rely on your home strength to bring you points, and the English outfit can rely on that indeed.