Back on track or a false dawn?

Posted by Marc Duffy

Alan Pardew clap Man City v NewcastlePA PhotosAlan Pardew's Newcastle side have enjoyed a strong start.

If Newcastle United beat Hull City on Saturday they will move to ten points from five games and that would represent their best start to a Premier League season in thirteen years. Quite incredible when you consider the doom and gloom that has hovered around Gallowgate for the past year or so.

The question is, have they returned to the form that saw them reach fifth place in the 2011/12 season or have fixtures been kind?

Impressively, Newcastle have only conceded one goal in six hours of football since Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa took Steven Taylor's place at centre half.

Their win over Fulham at St James' Park was laboured, though deserved, whilst last weekends win at Aston Villa was as convincing an away performance I've witnessed from Newcastle since they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge back in May 2012.

Against Villa, Alan Pardew reverted to the 4-3-3 formation that helped Newcastle to long unbeaten runs the season before last. The players are far more comfortable in that setup and they're thriving from not having to chase the horrible long balls that made up last terms 'tactics'. In fact this Newcastle side might be even better equipped to play the 433 with Loic Remy far better suited to the 'left of the three' position than Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse were.

There have been upgrades in other areas since the relatively successful 2012/13 season too -- Matthieu Debuchy finally looks to be settling in, Vurnon Anita is finally playing whilst Moussa Sissoko in the middle looks every bit the player the fans thought he could be after his barnstorming performance against Chelsea in February. Yoan Gouffran offers another attacking option and Yanga-Mbiwa looks like he's played alongside Fabricio Coloccini for years.

The key to maintaining this form is that Alan Pardew doesn't tinker too much -- that he manages to resist the urge to field his old favourites and that he doesn't resort to the long-ball when things take a turn for the worse.

Injuries will be key too. Is it any coincidence that the appointment of British and Irish Lions fitness coach Faye Downey has coincided with Pardew being able to field his strongest XI and bench in at least a year? They really should have made such an appointment a decade ago.

For Newcastle to enjoy any sort of success this season they need to beat Hull on Saturday -- something they haven't managed to do at St James' Park in a league game in Davide Santon's lifetime! (Although this is only the fourth time they've met in that time!) The Tigers are the bookmakers odds-on second favourites for relegation (Palace are favourites, Sunderland third) It is a must-win game.

If Newcastle claim all three points they will probably sit in second place by 17:00 Saturday evening -- who would have predicted that after the opening day thrashing to Manchester City?

They will then head into a winnable Capital One Cup third round tie at home to Leeds United on Wednesday night. A victory over the Championships 11th placed side and Newcastle would find themselves only three ties from Wembley! Well we can all dream.

Are Newcastle United back on track? Well fixtures have been kind but things are certainly looking up -- on the pitch at least.


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