A disgruntled member of the Toon Army this week dug up a commemorative brick on a walkway leading to what was formerly called St James’ Park.
Graeme Cansdale bought the building block for his father eleven years ago and said he was reclaiming it in protest at the re-naming of Newcastle United’s home ground as the Sports Direct Arena. The chances are that Newcastle’s unbeaten record in the Premier League this season will be dislodged over the course of their next three fixtures – Manchester City away this afternoon, followed by Manchester United away and Chelsea at home – but Alan Pardew dismisses the suggestion that his rebuilt side go into the triple test of their mettle “with nothing to lose.”
“I don’t see it that way,” the Newcastle manager said. “I think if someone offered me three points I would take it. Will I get three draws? Can’t see me getting three draws against these three. So I need to win one. And I might want to win two. That would be a good philosophy of how I’m going to go into the game.”
Like Roberto Mancini’s City, Pardew’s team go into this afternoon’s intriguing encounter at the Etihad (nee City of Manchester) Stadium looking to extend an unbeaten run of eleven Premier League matches since the start of the season. A win or a draw at the home of the league leaders would earn them an outright club record, eclipsing the Newcastle sides of 1950-51 and 1994-95, who both went eleven games without defeat at the start of top-flight seasons before falling at the twelfth hurdle.
As it happened, the Magpies of 94-95 had their wings clipped in Manchester. Kevin Keegan’s charges lost 2-0 at Old Trafford, where, in the absence of the injured Andy Cole and Paul Kitson, they were forced to deploy a vertically-challenged forward line of Ruel Fox and Peter Beardsley.
This afternoon, against a City side who have dropped just two points (in a 2-2 draw away to Fulham in September), Newcastle will be without their midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote for a third league match in succession. The Ivorian is still not back in training following a knee injury. Danny Guthrie will continue to deputise.
“I’m not going to disguise the fact that, away from home, it’s a big blow not having somebody of Cheick’s warrior status,” Pardew said. “Having said that, at Stoke we coped as if he was there and hopefully we can do the same at City. Danny Guthrie is very underrated in my opinion and he’s done terrifically well for us. I’ve got no bones about putting him in.”
City have averaged three and a half goals per game. “I’m lucky that I’m able to prepare for that test with the best defence in the league,” Pardew said, pointing to a goals against tally of just eight, two fewer than City’s. “Whatever game plan we have, the players will have faith in it and will do their best to follow it through. We have the discipline as a team to go there and defend. The best form of defence is to keep the ball and we are a lot better at doing that.
“Outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid, City look like being one of the three best teams in Europe. We have to knock them off their perch. That’s what we’re all trying to do in the Premier League.”
Watched by a crowd of 66,926 at St James’ Park, Newcastle beat Arsenal 2-1 with goals from Jackie Milburn and Ernie Taylor to set a club record unbeaten ten match start to a top-flight season. They then drew 0-0 away to Sheffield Wednesday before losing 3-0 at Aston Villa. They finished the season fourth and won the FA Cup.
Kevin Keegan’s side were on a bandwagon of 17 matches unbeaten in all competitions, including a 5-0 win away to Royal Antwerp in the Uefa Cup, before injuries took a toll. The wheels came off with a 2-0 defeat in their 12th Premier League match, away to Manchester United, Gary Pallister and Keith Gillespie scoring the goals. Newcastle finished the season sixth.