The Newcastle United defender Mike Williamson is hoping for a return to the defensive resilience that characterised the club's start to the season, in order to boost the charge for a European place.
Newcastle conceded only eight goals in their first 11 Premier League matches of the current campaign as they made a flying start. However, in the 10 league games since the turn of the year, their defences have been pierced on 16 occasions, with 10 of those goals coming in disastrous visits to Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham.
Alan Pardew's side recorded their first clean sheet in six games in Sunday's 1-0 victory over Norwich City, and if Williamson and his back-five colleagues can finish the season in similar fashion to that in which they started it, European qualification could be a very real possibility.
The 28-year-old former Portsmouth defender said:"It's the unpredictability of football. All you can do is prepare well and apply yourself 100 per cent. Of course it has been frustrating to concede goals – that's the main frustration for a defender – but I am sure it will turn around."
Newcastle will hope that turnaround began at the weekend after they cemented themselves in sixth place in the table. That position could yet secure Newcastle a Europa League berth, but with nine matches remaining the team need to rediscover their best form if they are to give themselves a chance, with Pardew admitting that they have not been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks.
That would represent a major achievement for a club which only returned to the top flight two seasons ago, and in particular for a defence which lost left-back Jose Enrique to Liverpool before a ball had been kicked and Steven Taylor to injury in December.
The captain, Fabricio Coloccini, has been a key figure, and Williamson has witnessed at close hand the continuing emergence of a man who is building a reputation as a ball-playing centre-half.
He said: "Colo does it and he is probably one of the calmest players I have ever played with in terms of coming out with the ball and his vision and his passing ability. He has got a lot in his armoury. Looking at players like David Luiz and people who try to come out, sometimes it can cause problems. But for me, I am just a straightforward English defender. I try to head it, kick it, keep clean sheets and let other players play."
Should Newcastle achieve their European dream, they would set a new standard for sides attempting to establish themselves in the Premier League after promotion.
Both they and West Bromwich Albion survived comfortably last season to buck the prevailing trend, and that theme appears to have been picked up by both Swansea City and Norwich this time around.
Williamson said: "There have been plenty of success stories like that, teams who have got promoted, stayed in the league and then built on the season.
"There's no reason why not. Swansea are a fantastic football team, Norwich have been just as good in their own way, and it does show teams can come from the Championship and excel in the Premier League."
Meanwhile, Newcastle were yesterday fined £40,000 for failing to control their players during the derby match with Sunderland, who were fined £20,000, earlier this month with both clubs having admitted a Football Association charge.
Newcastle's penalty was doubled after they were hit with a similar charge after the home game against Arsenal in August.
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