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Taylor: 'Villa win was my best moment in a Newcastle shirt'
PRIOR to Tuesday night, Steven Taylor had made 216 senior appearances for Newcastle United. Some had been in the Champions League, a handful ended in victory over the Magpies' fiercest rivals, Sunderland. All had immense significance for a player raised on Tyneside as a Newcastle fan.
Yet as he reflects on events at Villa Park, where a new-look Newcastle side claimed a crucial 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Aston Villa, the 27-year-old cannot recall an occasion imbued with more significance or satisfaction.
It wasn't a particularly impressive team performance, it wasn't a game that will necessarily mean very much come the end of the campaign. But after a fortnight that has seen Newcastle's world turned upside down, it marked a new beginning and a first opportunity for a new group of players to experience the joy of success. That alone made it extremely special.
“I absolutely loved it,” said Taylor, who returned from a two-month injury lay-off to play a crucial role in Newcastle's second-half resistance in the face of some sustained Aston Villa pressure. “For me, the feeling at the final whistle was the best I've ever experienced in a black-and-white shirt. It's the best I've ever had during my time at Newcastle.
“It was a massive six-pointer for both teams. A draw wouldn't have been good enough for either team, so it was an unbelievable night for us. The best night I've had.”
Having kicked off just two points above the relegation zone, Newcastle's position in the table highlighted the importance of securing a first away win of the season.
But it was last week's transfer activity that added an extra edge to proceedings, with the Magpies fielding three January signings in their starting XI – Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran – and another, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, on the bench.
The make-up of Newcastle's squad has changed markedly as a result of Alan Pardew's transfer dealings, with the club's French contingent now forming a majority in the first-team environment.
Some have claimed this will cause problems, but Taylor has been delighted with the impact of the Magpies' new arrivals, with an introductory meeting on Monday evening proving especially crucial in terms of integration.
“We all had a big get-together in the hotel,” said the defender. “The manager presented each of the new players with a shirt and made them stand up in front of the group and say why they want to be here. It was in French, but translated into English for the boys.
“We listened to what they had to say and that was touching for us. They said they wanted to be accepted into the team and promised they'd give 100 per cent. That was exactly what we wanted to hear.
“Afterwards, some of the players got the French boys to sing in front of all of us. That got the banter going, welcome to the group. They might have been a bit embarrassed about it, but fair play to them, they got up there without arguing. It was a French song, I couldn't really understand it. But I'm learning a bit and I'm going to get a French CD for the car.”
The mood within the camp certainly seems to have been transformed from the downbeat air that was apparent in the wake of this month's dispiriting home defeat to Reading, with the arrival of four new players in less than a week having provided a much-needed shot in the arm.
“It's made a massive difference,” said Taylor. “It's a breath of fresh air for us. When you look around the dressing room and see new players, top-quality players, there's competition for places now.
“We've had a few little games amongst ourselves and you can see the desire from everybody challenging for places. You've got to step up to the plate because the gaffer's said to us, 'Anyone slacking, you're out of the side'.
“In the first half of the season, lads were getting leggy but they had to play every week. They just had to get through it. With the new signings, and everyone else getting fit, it's lifted everyone massively. It's what we needed.”
Taylor's return has provided another boost, and the centre-half is understandably delighted to be back in the thick of the action after a frustrating hiatus.
“When you're out injured, you're a nobody,” he said. “But when you're on the pitch, that's what it's all about. When you're injured and you go into shops, you get the old grannies coming up saying, 'Listen, get out on the pitch'.
“Even they were giving me a kick up the backside, and no matter where you go in Newcastle, because it's a football city, you run into people who want to see you out playing. No one wants it more than you do yourself though – crossing that white line is the best feeling in the world.”
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