Rewind to May 2nd, 2012. A Newcastle United side, who many "experts" had tipped for relegation at the outset of the season, went to Stamford Bridge, home of the future Champions League champions, and won 2-0 thanks to two spectacular Papiss Cisse goals, putting the Magpies at fifth in the Premier League.
It was the result of a streak of seven wins in their last 10 games that propelled the club into the Europa League and to the chance of European glory. Seven months later and the dream of continental silverware is firmly alive: Newcastle have qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League, having ended Bordeaux’s 17-game unbeaten run with consummate ease.
Last season saw Newcastle win five on the spin when the goal of European qualification shone brightly. The winning run in the final straight showed a hunger and desire for success and, more importantly, an ability to get the job done no matter the opposition.
And how they got it done.
It was a period of golden football, with the majestic 4-3-3 fronted by Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse tearing teams like Liverpool and WBA apart. Newcastle played with energy, spirit, verve and swagger, scoring spectacular goals and letting no one keep up with them.
The anomaly of the 4-0 at Wigan was the exception that proved the rule and came after Newcastle took their foot off the gas having virtually secured European qualification with 15 points from 15. Any doubts that may have arisen were quickly and spectacularly quashed at Stamford Bridge.
As Alan Pardew reiterated on Monday night: "We are a side that on its day can beat anybody."
Look at how Manchester United played against Newcastle like it was the Champions League Final in their St. James’ Park clash in October, not forgetting that 3-0 spanking in January. Newcastle were off form that day, as they have been all season. Involvement in the Europa League had taken its toll on a thin squad, and injuries and suspensions have not helped recently.
Despite five defeats in their last six games, Newcastle are showing signs of recovery, of spirit, of organisation and of will to win in spring.
If Wimbledon were the Crazy Gang in the late '80s, then Newcastle today are the Crazier Gang. Between Mike Ashley, Alan Pardew and 50,000-plus Geordies baying for success, the club has a unique dynamic in modern football, proving time and again that they love to upset the odds. The slow league start may force the club to concentrate on cups.
When they were relegated, the nation rejoiced and said they’d be the next Leeds, consigned to football oblivion forever.
They bounced back in style at the first time of asking and then kicked on to a more-than-respectable 12th place in the Premier League in their return season.
Then they sold fan favourites No. 9 Andy Carroll and captain Kevin Nolan. Again, the doubters and critics spoke, this time of relegation.
Try fifth place in the Premier League and qualification for Europe.
Again, Newcastle’s name is being mentioned in the relegation fight. Again the critics will be wrong. An on-form Newcastle remain one of the most dangerous teams in world football.
Club legend Shola Ameobi, speaking to The Daily Mirror, has vowed that Newcastle will "really attack with all guns blazing" in the knockout stages of the Europa against the supposed big boys.
Demba Ba was unplayable versus Wigan and is joint top-scorer in the Premier League with 10 goals. Cisse is among the goal leaders again and if you can score at Stoke on a wet, windy night—so the football proverb goes—then you can score anywhere. In Hatem Ben Arfa, they possess an unstoppable attacking weapon who is becoming more dangerous by the game.
Write Newcastle United off at your peril.
League tables aren’t decided pre-Christmas, trophies aren’t handed out till spring and Newcastle know it—they proved as much last season, saving their very best till last. It’s a long season, although they were the first English club in the hat for the last 32 of Europe’s second-most prestigious club competition.
No matter who they get in the December 20th draw—Champions League dropouts or the "cream" of the Europa—Pardew’s trailblazers are always just a HatemBomb or Cisse worldy away from slicing any team on the planet apart.
Things change very quickly in football, so don’t bet against Newcastle coming on very, very well, boosted by a clutch of January signings and hitting the heights again—all the way to the Amsterdam Arena on 15th May.