New Start for Newcastle: Making Sense of the Allardyce Era
False dawns are commonplace in football, but particularly so at Newcastle United.
Where top clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal have kept their managers in the hot seat for over a decade, the Toon Army have seen a succession of new head honchos who've talked the talk without walking the walk.
Ruud Gullit, for one, arrived on the heels of a famous stint at Chelsea, promising to bring "Sexy Football" to Tyneside.
It didn't happen.
Glenn Roeder enjoyed a fine run during his time as caretaker manager, but his inadequacies were ultimately exposed. At the end of the '06-'07 season, one could hardly blame Newcastle fans for feeling pretty far removed from the heady days of Keegan success.
And then came Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce's arrival split the Toon Army. One camp held that the coach's success at Bolton was promising. The other cautioned that a boring, long-ball-oriented Newcastle would be the result of his reign.
As yet, the season is still young for measures of success. The signs, however, have been particularly encouraging.
Under Allardyce, Newcastle have become a far harder nut to crack. Where the "Chuckle Brothers"—Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong—were the joy of strikers in the Premier League, the new-look defence is tenacious and committed.
Claudio Cacapa has looked impressive in his two games, and pairs well in the centre with David Rozenhal. Allardyce has defensive depth at his disposal in Habib Beye, Abdoulaye Faye, and Luis Enrique—and with Geremi and Nicky Butt patrolling the area in front of the defense, Newcastle is stronger in the back than they have been for a decade.
Up front, the options are tantalising. With Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, and Mark Viduka all clamouring to start, you could almost call Allardyce spoiled.
The potential problem, of course, lies in Allardyce having to manage one or more unhappy stars relegated to the bench—but there are worse problems to have.
There are also, to be fair, some remaining deficiencies in Newcastle's play. The manager has yet to address the team's tendency to get caught out from corners in the opposing half. Obvious examples include Nicolas Anelka's goal on opening day and several close shaves against Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
Another problem is a seeming lack of creativity in the middle of the park. That may be a product of injuries to Joey Barton and Emre—Newcastle can only hope that, once fit, those two will provide the spark needed to break down resolute opponents.
Magpie fans can be forgiven, perhaps, for being cynical about the positive start to the season. Eight points from four matches is a decent tally, and leaves the Toon in sixth place.
Will they keep that position come May? Only time and matches will tell.
'Til then, let the Allardyce revolution roll on.
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