Another year of high and lows for United

Tuesday 31st December 2013 16:11

Newcastle: Another year to remember for Newcastle and the Toon Army

Newcastle: Another year to remember for Newcastle and the Toon Army

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Newcastle FanZoner Sam Winter reflects on another year of highs and lows on Tyneside in what has proved a rollercoaster ride for the Toon Army.

It started and ended with defeat at St James' Park. But the contrast between January's limp 2-1 loss to Everton and December's near miss against Arsenal couldn't be starker. For as Tyneside reeled from the imminent January departure of Demba Ba, and Sammy Ameobi and Nile Ranger were thrown on to try and rescue a point, Leighton Baines and co smashed Newcastle into a 2013 relegation dogfight.

Almost 12 months on and it was the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa who was sent on to try and defeat 2013's best team in a tense, top-of-the-table encounter; an almost unthinkable and certainly unprecedented situation given January's woe and Ben Arfa's once indispensable value.

2013 has been a year of exhilarating highs and devastating lows; a year of familiar territory and breaking new ground. It's been another year of uncertainty, scrutiny, pleasure and pain. Quite simply, it's been another year of Newcastle United.

As the dust settles it's quite remarkable to look back on all that has happened this year. There have been more ups and downs than Joe Kinnear's whiskey glass. But we certainly head into 2014 with a fantastic feeling of optimism on Tyneside. However we all know by now that trouble always lurks round the corners at Newcastle.

Trouble was certainly the word to describe the situation as Adam Le Fondre and Reading shot down the hosts in mid-January; my first sinking realisation that relegation was a very realistic possibility. Injuries had decimated the season so far and quite simply the club had not kicked on like a fifth-place club should do.

In came the French Revolution, a brief boost of confidence and feel-good-factor as Gouffran and Sissoko dished it out to the likes of Chelsea, Villa, and Southampton. Cabaye was back, spirits were high. Cometh the hour, cometh Cisse. Pardew was in the crowd, top 10 was beckoning. Then the wheels finally fell off.

The Europa League took its final toll, a quite breathtaking quarter-final second leg near miss against Benfica signalled the end on the continent, but also the beginning of real trouble. A beleaguered side were turned over by Sunderland in depressing fashion, and Liverpool trampled all over the Magpies. The revolution was dead, the Championship calling.

But as Yoan Gouffran's strike trickled over the line at Loftus Road Newcastle were safe. A 16th-place finish less than impressive, future's unsure, a manager on the brink.

Just as I thought cool heads had prevailed in the Ashley camp as pre-season drew near, that unwanted blast from the past reared its embarrassing head. Joe Kinnear stumbled into Toon, the man whose name strikes fear every time I hear it was back. The club a laughing stock, Llambias gone, Pardew too?

Newcastle fans can be forgiven for fearing the worst as this is Mike Ashley we are talking about. You get more explanations out of a brick wall than you do the Newcastle owner. The sole arrival of Loic Remy despite JFK's transfer claims fuelled the raging anger further, and don't even mention Yohan Cabaye and Arsenal.

A 4-0 defeat at Eastlands and well it just could not really get worse. But Cabaye stayed and Newcastle did what they did two years ago after a summer of turmoil - did the business on the pitch.

Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United have been put to the sword. Games that would have been lost last season have been won. Players' have stayed fit; Remy has scored goals, Cabaye pulling the strings.

The Old Trafford hoodoo was ended. Manchester United may be a team in transition but you have still got to be good enough to go there and get a result and Newcastle put in the ultimate performance, proving how much improvement has been made. And against the league leaders Arsenal Newcastle showed they can be just as good as they are, despite the defeat.

Alan Pardew has said that Newcastle players' have arguably gained confidence from Sunday's defeat, something that can be taken into 2014. He also says he feels "on top of the world" compared to last year, and so do I. I know it's not really difficult to feel that way given last season's trials and tribulations, but Newcastle is a very exciting place to be going into the New Year. The fear has vanished, the fight is on.

A top-eight finish seems almost nailed on, but with the quality of that top eight it is difficult to fathom what order it will take. Top four looks beyond Newcastle at the moment, but Liverpool were top on Christmas Day and now are fifth. So who knows what might happen between now and May. 2012's fifth place finish saw Newcastle above Chelsea and Liverpool, and I would argue that the squad is of a higher quality this time around.

Whatever the outcome, let's hope for and believe in a fruitful 2014 for Newcastle United. We'll get carried away, we'll expect trouble, but we won't half enjoy the ride.

Follow Sam on Twitter at @SamWinter89 - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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