Eleven games without defeat since the start of the season for Newcastle necessarily brings comparison with sides of the past who’ve achieved similar runs. In particular the 94/95 side of Beardsley, Cole and Albert were the last to remain unbeaten so long. Their streak ended in game 12 with a visit to Old Trafford and the current set of Magpies have consecutive trips to both Manchester teams to negotiate if their own record is to be extended.
The closest parallels to the current side can surely be drawn with that of 93/94 however. Widely expected to struggle, newly promoted Newcastle had a team of relative unknowns set up to pass the ball who hit their stride fairly early on and sustained that push to achieve an unlikely third place finish. This year too, Newcastle’s detractors were in the majority as the season began. A summer of disruption and cost-cutting, with key players leaving to be replaced by cheaper and less well-known alternatives made the idea of a difficult season ahead convincing to most. Those alternatives had been recruited with a more technical possession-based game in mind however, and just as in 93/94, a lack of recognition among tv pundits, newspaper journalists and the general public strangely proved no barrier initially to winning games and amassing points.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Newcastle’s form will continue. They wouldn’t be the first to start so well and then fall away. The weekend’s game with Everton pointed to the possibilities. By the end, with their entire first-choice midfield either injured or out of their favoured position, Newcastle were very definitely on the back foot. Had the game started that way they would almost certainly not have won. In a way, the injuries they’ve suffered have been favourable in that they’ve been to midfielders where Newcastle have the most strength in depth, certainly far more than last season. Even so, their momentum was halted long before even second-choice midfielders began to need replacing. Any side would struggle with 3 or 4 of their best midfielders missing from their squad, but imagine what would happen should Newcastle lose players from other areas with less quality to cover, in defence or up front. At some stage it has to happen to some degree and that is when results are likely to take a downturn.
Maybe memory can provide some pointers on how to proceed. Newcastle followed up their 3rd place in 93/94 by building on their excellent start to life in the top flight. In successive summers the squad was strengthened while maintaining its footballing principles and philosophy, by the end of which the club was a genuine title contender, albeit not for long. Far be it from me to propose spending which endangers the club, but Newcastle again need to build. After the summer just gone, I wouldn’t dream of telling Alan Pardew and Graham Carr how to spend Mike Ashley’s money, but squad strengthening is required, clever buys within the budget which stay true to the aims of the mission statement espousing self-sufficiency for the club. Newcastle have shown it can be done. Now they just have to do it again.