"The Entertainers" were back in Toon last weekend. Fifteen years after they blew their 12-point lead, and the Magpies' biggest chance of winning the top-flight title since 1927, Kevin Keegan's black-and-white minstrels of 1995-96 were Newcastle Reunited for the afternoon on Sunday. In a rematch between the two sides who fought out the seven-goal Premier League classic at Anfield in April 1996, Alan Shearer, Faustino Asprilla and Co gave a half-faithful reconstruction of the original contest. Once again they conceded four goals and finished the losing side, this time 4-1.
Still, the Toon Army loved it – just loved it – packing Kingston Park, the home of the Newcastle Falcons rugby union team. They never did win any first-class silverware, Keegan's Cavaliers, finishing that Devon Loch campaign of '95-96 14 points shy of Manchester United.
They earned themselves and their manager a lasting place in Geordie affections, though – something that the high-flying Magpies of the here and now have yet to achieve.
After Friday training, Alan Pardew stopped the man from Sky Sports News in his tracks when he suggested that Newcastle's manager of 10 months had "won the fans over". "I wouldn't sit here and say I've won them over at this stage," Pardew said. "I think they're sensing that we have got a plan and we're trying to put it in place – to put pace in the team and play the game in the Newcastle manner."
The Pardew Plan clearly has something to it. Newcastle are unbeaten in seven Premier League matches in the 2011-12 campaign – 12 games in all competitions, including the tail-end of last season and the Carling Cup.
The visit of Tottenham this afternoon is likely to prove an acid test but so far Pardew has overcome all odds with his team of Unlikely Lads. He has lost his pivotal performers of last season – Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Andy Carroll – and yet succeeded in fashioning a tight, highly functional unit that is gathering momentum and points without big-name replacements for the departees.
In the centre of midfield, Yohan Cabaye has taken over from Nolan as the box-to-box man. A double-winner with Lille last season, he went into the weekend's fixtures at the top of the Pro-Zone charts for the most ground covered by a Premier League player, almost 90km. On the right wing, Gabriel Obertan has replaced Barton and is relishing his top-flight game time after spending most of his two years at Manchester United on the sidelines. Up front, Demba Ba is filling Carroll's boots with increasing aplomb. The Senegal international, signed on a free transfer, has scored four goals in the last two games.
The Toon Army may still see Pardew as "Mike Ashley's man," and resent the club's owner for not splashing out the money gained in the transfer market, but the man who guided West Ham to the 2006 FA Cup final is managing very nicely – without any display of public affection just yet.
"That doesn't affect me as a manager," Pardew insisted. "I need to be above whether they love me or they don't. I have to make sure I am on an even keel and doing the job in the right manner. What I do know, is that the fans have a trust in the team. I think they like the team. I think they see an honesty, and it excites them.
"Genuinely, I think from my contact with the fans, there is more warmth to the relationship, for sure. But it's not the be-all and end-all."
The key to the success of this new Newcastle has been an all-round work ethic instilled by Pardew and his coaches on the training ground. "He's hard to please," Steven Taylor said. "He's got high standards and he wants perfection in games and in training. He's got everything down to a T with his stats. You can never cheat in a game. He lets you know. The stats are there, in games and in training, and he will single you out if he needs to."
Indeed, Newcastle have conceded just four goals in the Premier League this season, the best defensive record among English football's 92 League clubs. If Keegan's old boys had been blessed with such solid foundations, they might have won trophies as well as hearts and minds.
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
The big league
Premier League fixtures so far against 'big six' (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool):
5 Bolton; 4 Manchester Utd, Tottenham; 3 Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke, Swansea; 2 Blackburn, Norwich, Sunderland, West Bromwich, Wigan, Wolves; 1 Chelsea, Fulham, Manchester City, Newcastle, Aston Villa; 0 QPR.Reuse content