Should Ryan Taylor have a word with Liam O’ Brien, he will find out how his status with Newcastle fans has just changed forever. O’ Brien’s Newcastle career was distinguished mainly by his derby goals, but 20 years later he, along with his namesake Andy, is remembered in song more regularly than virtually any other past terrace hero. To score a winning goal in a derby, especially one close-fought and away, is to cement a special place in fans’ hearts.
Ryan Taylor, after a difficult first half against Arsenal last week, kept going and got better. He was solid against Sunderland in his 2nd start as makeshift left-back this season, and scored a perfectly-flighted free-kick to win the game. Newcastle have supposedly been searching for a left-back all summer. Strong rumours have linked the club with Neil Taylor of Swansea, PSV’s Erik Pieters, and Lyon’s Aly Cissokho without any of them signing. Jose Enrique’s departure means that ideally two left-backs would come in, one as first-choice, the other probably a less experienced performer as back-up. Shane Ferguson, who I think will end up as a winger, could be cover at a pinch.
There is a drawback to Taylor’s decent performances, the good start to the season, and Newcastle’s relative defensive solidity so far, which by any ordinary measure would all be plus points, and of course in the main they are. That drawback is Mike Ashley’s belief that he knows best when it comes to footballing matters. Many thought that a major factor in Ashley agreeing to the sale of Andy Carroll in the last seconds of the January transfer window was his opinion that Newcastle could get by without Carroll, fuelled by a heavy win against West Ham without Carroll a few days previously, and Leon Best’s hat-trick in that game. It turned out that he was correct, Newcastle’s results didn’t deteriorate appreciably following that gamble, and his confidence in his own instincts will have been boosted by that.
So there’s quite a possibility that Ashley will try the same trick again. Prompted by the good start to the season and Taylor not being an embarrassment when filling in for Enrique, Ashley might well decide to gamble and not sign a specialist left-back. He may take the evidence of last season as proof that he knows better than the experts lining up to tell him what to do.
No-one should make the mistake however, of thinking Taylor is the man to fill the currently vacant left-back position in the long-term, least of all those in charge of Newcastle’s transfer policy. Honest pro that he is, if he is to make himself into a regular first-team starter, it has to be at right-back, the position he was bought to play in. Though in the short term he’s filled a hole and done a good job for the club, attempting to go through a whole season without a single left-back in the squad would be a huge error and would come back to haunt Newcastle at some point. Don’t be surprised if the window closes with Ryan Taylor as Newcastle’s first-choice left-back, but such a choice would surely prove another flawed Ashley gamble.