Another Premier League season comes to a close tomorrow, and for Newcastle United, the last nine months have contained some remarkable highs and lows. Scott Wilson reviews the way the season has gone for the Magpies
When the final whistle blows at Anfield tomorrow, Newcastle United will have achieved their pre-season ambition of finishing in the top half of the table.
They have been there since early November, briefly rising as high as fifth, have never been troubled by relegation worries and have achieved notable victories over Chelsea and Tottenham, not to mention an historic first win at Old Trafford for more than 40 years.
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So it'll be smiles all round then? Not exactly. The bare statistics of an increasingly fractious campaign do not even begin to tell the story, and Newcastle will sign off for the summer with their supporters thoroughly disenchanted at pretty much every aspect of the club.
Mike Ashley's ownership continues to anger and frustrate, although the majority of the ire in the second half of the season has been directed at manager Alan Pardew, who is expected to cling to his position despite a dreadful recent run.
The “Pardew out” banners will be stored away for the summer, but there is every chance they will be dusted off in the early weeks of next season if things do not start well. This does not feel like a breakdown in relations that will be easily repaired.
The second half of the season has been a disaster, but it is easy to overlook just how well things were going before the January transfer window negatively transformed Newcastle's campaign.
An opening-weekend hammering at Manchester City was chastening, but by the time Moussa Sissoko's long-range strike helped secure a 2-1 win over West Brom in late November that made it four victories in a row, Newcastle were ensconced in the top six and dreaming of Europe.
The disappointment of defeat at the Stadium of Light was largely forgotten when away wins at Manchester United and Crystal Palace were followed by a Boxing Day hammering of Stoke. But that was to be as good as things were going to get.
The home defeat to Arsenal that ended 2013 marked the start of a run of 13 defeats from 18 matches that poisoned the atmosphere at St James' Park. Newcastle failed to score in 13 of those games, an awful record that undid all of the good work that had been enacted prior to Christmas.
Yohan Cabaye's departure to Paris St Germain was clearly a key catalyst in the decline, with Newcastle selling their main play-maker and then failing to replace him as they were unable to get key targets like Remy Cabella “over the line”.
The failure led to the much-derided Joe Kinnear losing his job as director of football, although as the man who writes the cheques, it is surely Ashley's fault that Newcastle have not made a permanent signing in the last two transfer windows.
With Cabaye gone, Newcastle were completely devoid of creativity, a failing that was exacerbated by the suspension and injury that meant leading goalscorer Loic Remy missed nine of 11 matches between February and mid-April.
Without Remy, Newcastle rarely looked like scoring, and for many supporters, the thumping 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland was the point at which festering discontent morphed into something more demonstrative.
A couple of weeks after the derby defeat, Newcastle fans had to watch their Wearside rivals wander down Wembley Way for the Capital One Cup final, and the Magpies' failure in the cup competitions continues to be a major blight on their record.
They were unfortunate to draw Manchester City in the League Cup fourth round, but Pardew's decision to make changes for the FA Cup third-round game with Cardiff backfired spectacularly when they Premier League strugglers won 2-1. Once again, Newcastle's pursuit of silverware was over before the Christmas decorations had come down.
Hit of the Season
Signed on a season-long loan from QPR, the French striker has scored 14 Premier League goals this season. The majority came in the first half of the campaign, with September and October representing a real purple patch, but his impressive form means there is little or no chance of Newcastle being able to sign him permanently.
Flop of the Season
Luuk de Jong
Newcastle had tracked de Jong for the best part of three years, so there was a high degree of satisfaction when the Dutchman finally arrived on loan from Borussia Monchengladbach in January. However, he lacked sharpness and confidence, and is still to score his first goal in a black-and-white shirt.
Goal of the Season
Yohan Cabaye vs Everton
Newcastle were heading for a huge embarrassment when they trailed Everton 3-0 at half-time in September, but Cabaye's long-range screamer almost sparked a remarkable recovery. Picking up the ball from Yoan Gouffran, Cabaye barely broke stride as he arced an effortless 30-yard strike into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Moment of the Season
Alan Pardew's head-butt
Only at Newcastle could a manager be sent to the stands for head-butting a player. Even now, Pardew's butt at Hull midfielder David Meyler is barely believable, and it earned him a three-match stadium ban and four further games away from the touchline. The incident summed up the club's descent into chaos in the second half of the season.
Season record (all competitions)
P41 W17 D4 L20 F47 A61
Win ratio: 41.46%