Premier League football is back! Even the Euros and Olympics weren't enough to stop me pining for a competitive Newcastle game.
Last season was one of the most enjoyable in recent years. We started off strongly and spent the majority of the season in the top 6 - who would have thought that we would be in with a chance of a Champions League spot right up until the final day of the season? We ended up with a 5th placed finish and a return to European football. Marvellous.
So what about this coming season?
Our success in 11/12 was triggered by a strong, unbeaten run at the start. We have a more difficult start this time around - the opener with Spurs at home is no more difficult than our matchup against Arsenal was last year, but the potential 3,500 mile round trip to Athens for our Europa League with Atromitos less than 48 hours before a game at Stamford Bridge vs the European Champions is a big ask. As I write this Newcastle are waiting to hear whether the club have been successful in their attempt to have the Europa League fixtures reversed meaning that the first leg tie would be at home in between the Spurs and Chelsea games. Whatever the order this is a tough schedule.
Then again none of us are complaining, we will enjoy the ride!
October brings us our next big double header. Manchester United come to St James' Park on October 7th then we head to the dark side for our game with Sunderland on the 21st (there is an International week in between)
November is when we head to Anfield. We have a diabolical record at that place, but these records are meant to be broken. We also play our first games against two of the promoted sides with West Ham heading to Tyneside and then the long trip down to St Mary's for Southampton. The West Ham game has the added spice of Sam Allardyce - one of the most unpopular managers to ply his trade at Newcastle United. Ex-Captain Kevin Nolan should receive a warm welcome. He will be applauded at the start, booed when he touches the ball and then applauded at full time as is the Gallowgate way.
As was the case last year we face another tough December. Six games, three of which are against last seasons top 3 sides all within the space of 14 days, two away from home! (Manchester City, H, 15th; Manchester United, A, 26th; Arsenal, A, 29th)
The African Cup of Nations gets underway in January running from 19/1 through until 10/2 in South Africa. This has obvious implications for our African superstars Ba, Cisse and Tiote. Fortunately for Newcastle supporters their nations, Senegal and Ivory Coast, come head to head in playoffs before the tournament that will see one of the countries eliminated, freeing up either Tiote or the Cisse/ Ba strike force.
The FA cup kicks off in January, as ever. Oh how I enjoyed those back to back trips to Wembley in the late 90's! Even though we lost them they were great trips and I'd love to get there again and improve on my own personal NUFC-at-Wembley record of P4 W0 D0 L4.
February brings us only three Premier League games, though there is also more FA Cup as well as the League Cup Final. Well you never know.....
The Derby game at St James' doesn't come around until April 13th. They might have already been relegated by then!
Our final three fixtures of the season are West Ham away, Reading away and the fixture that we started the 11/12 season off with, Arsenal at home.
The season offers us up to 62 matches. Obviously we won't reach the finals of all three cups, but the number of games will be up from last season. The main concern there is that we struggled to field players in their right positions on more than one occasion - Norwich away was terrible for it with four full-backs making up the defence. Whilst we have added more promising youngsters this off-season, we still look short of depth in quality senior pro's. Especially at centre half. I am certain we will see the emergence of at least one of the hot prospects, but I'd still be happier if another player or two came in.
Exciting times ahead! Let's sit back and enjoy the ride.
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