It’s hard for fans of Newcastle United to look back at the 2012/13 season with anything other than disappointment. A 16th-place finish in the Premier League was not what Magpies fans had in mind after they were the surprise package last season when they finished fifth.
There were glimpses of positive points, though, something that Alan Pardew will be keen to build on as he rallies his troops ahead of the new season.
Arguably the biggest positive came in Europe, when Newcastle progressed to the Europa League quarterfinals by seeing off Russian giants Anzhi Makhachkala.
Guus Hiddink’s side were one of the pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy, and after beating Liverpool in the group stages, the Russians were expected to see off the challenge of a Newcastle side who were struggling domestically.
But after a spirited first-leg performance in Moscow in which the Magpies frustrated and limited Anzhi, Papiss Cisse popped up with a last-minute winner to send his side through to the quarterfinals. The win came after almost 180 minutes of hard work and discipline, as the English side kept tight reins on Anzhi’s most likely match winners.
It was an encouraging sign for Alan Pardew, who could be forgiven for questioning his side’s ability to take on the top sides they came up against. The 7-3 mauling at the hands of Arsenal just after Christmas cannot have filled the Geordies with confidence, so the game plan that worked against Anzhi will have been hugely encouraging.
After seeing off the Russians, the quarterfinal against Benfica proved to be one step too far for Newcastle, as they came unstuck against the in-form Portuguese outfit. Unbeaten all season going into the game, Benfica were rattled numerous times as Cisse struck the post and had chances to set Newcastle up for a memorable result.
The second leg was equally impressive from Pardew’s side as they tried everything against a technically superior opposition but were unable to find the goals they needed to cancel out their first-leg deficit.
Ironically, it was after the narrow defeat at the hands of Benfica that things started to go seriously wrong domestically for Newcastle.
However, there is one result that sticks out from the Premier League campaign in a positive light for the Magpies.
When Moussa Sissoko struck his second goal of the game to seal a 3-2 victory over Chelsea, it was the standout result of Newcastle’s league season. Before the game, not many would have predicted anything other than a defeat for the Magpies and any kind of result looked even more unlikely when Chelsea led 2-1 after falling behind to a Jonas Gutierrez strike.
The spirit shown by Newcastle after surrendering a lead was something that had been missing all season but the French legion came up trumps and two goals from Sissoko—including a last-minute stunner that won it—earned the home side maximum points.
The wild celebrations that followed showed the newfound spirit at St James’ Park, and the three points turned out to be a crucial win after the rest of the season went worse than planned and Newcastle only survived with one game left.
Heading into next season, Pardew will be hoping his side can enjoy a repeat of games like the ones against Anzhi and Chelsea and turn in performances similar to those that fired them to the business stages of the Europa League.
So, Pardew’s task begins now. With preseason games being put together shortly, the Magpies will need to improve if they are to get anywhere near the heights they scaled in the 2011/12 season. More spirit, desire and skill are needed next season and less of the soft performances that littered and severely affected the season just gone.
The hard work for Alan Pardew begins now.