I can't remember the last time I heard Alan Pardew referred to as a 'puppet'. In fact you hear his name chanted at pretty much every game now and that is some turn-around. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think all of the fans had it in for Pardew from the start - they were more angered by the Hughton dismissal than the man replacing him, though he was not a popular choice.
Despite the turmoil and incredibly difficult working conditions, Pardew seems to have won round most people - starting with the players. How he managed to maintain the team spirit Hughton built at the club despite the issues and numerous personnel changes we might never know. Some of the players (past and present) give insight - by all accounts he is just a decent bloke who thoroughly enjoys being a football manager and pays a great deal of attention to detail. We also look to play an attacking game wherever possible and this can be great to watch. I heard Matt Holland talking about him on TalkSport - Holland was very complimentary and had been impressed by his psychology when he played for him. Whatever the secrets, 14 games is no flash in the pan and with additional support, Pardew could end up being a top Newcastle United manager (though the tenuous links with the England job are pretty ridiculous at this point!)
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Captain Colo and the back four
What a man. I was concerned about the decision to award the Captaincy to a fella who could not speak English fluently, but a very good player has grown into a great player since he put that band on his arm. We have one of the best defences in the league and Colo is the key. His partnership with Steve Taylor looks natural - you sometimes can't coach playing partnerships, they just happen and that seems to be the case with these two. Taylor's season ending injury on Saturday is a massive blow, but I am sure Colo will guide whoever comes in to replace him.
The emergence of Tim Krul
One of the best keepers in the league. In the two games against Manchester United and Chelsea he must have saved 10+ big goalscoring opportunities. He is incredible. Still early days for him, but I can see him reaching the very top. He reminds me of Schmeichel in many ways and there is no bigger compliment that you could pay a goalkeeper.
A better first XI
Our preferred starting 11 is very good. We all know that some excellent players have departed in the past 12 months, but most of those who have come in have been more than a match. Cabaye looks great (though he has looked tired the past couple of games) and Demba Ba is excellent. Playing up top alone v Terry and Luiz he caused them problems all day and was very unlucky not to add to the 9 league goals he already has this season. (Thats 5 more than Suarez who is supposedly one of the greatest on earth).
A strong supporting cast
Led by the brothers Ameobi. More than a decade after breaking through, Shola might finally have found his role - super-sub. His equaliser against Tottenham was top class and when he came on against Chelsea he caused them a few problems and was very unlucky not to score. The other Ameobi couldn't be more different - he is direct, quick and tricky. He still has a little way to go, but some of his performances (most notably for the England U21 side) have been very, very encouraging.
Areas for improvement
DEFENCE: With Steven Taylor out for the season we look very short on numbers at Centre Half. Williamson is OK, but even when he is fit he is a long way short of Taylors standard. The thought of a back four containing four full-backs is worrying - the likes of Grant Holt at Norwich (big and powerful) could have a field day.
MIDFIELD: We signed Marveaux to add to our options out wide, but we will be lucky to see him play any more than 9 or 10 times a season. As a result we looked very poor on the left hand side when Jonas was suspended. On Jonas - he is another player who splits opinion amongst the fans, but few could argue that he wasn't a big miss on Saturday defensively and offensively.
Danny Guthrie has looked better than ever when stepping in for Tiote, though he is nowhere near as good. Tiote is another of our players often under rated by some - he's a notable absence. Guthrie is looking at six weeks out now too.
ATTACK: As previously mentioned, Demba has been brilliant. Besty has done reasonably well alongside him and Shola has added some impact when coming off the bench. Ben Arfa seems to be heading towards a secondary forward role which will be a big plus the more playing time he gets, but we do need another top forward. Ba's knee issues have been well publicised not to mention the fact that he will be off to the African Cup of Nations in the New Year.
We have been linked with a number of strikers - the most common link has been with Maiga with some sources claiming that he has as good as signed.
NO MORE SALES!
It is almost transfer window time again and I bloody hate it. Please, for once lets not sell our best players. I would be pleasantly surprised if Tiote is still here come February.
This will be the key to us making further progress from here.
Follow me on Twitter @MarcSDuffy for a bit of NUFC chat