Player Ratings: Newcastle
Our annual Premier League ratings are generally bestowed on teams vying for the prizes at the top end of English football's top-flight, and not many 'experts' in the ESPN office would have been expecting to compile a list featuring Newcastle United players at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
Tipped by some to be among the relegation battlers ahead of the big kick-off last August, Alan Pardew's side defied the odds to head into the final day of the season with a realistic chance to snaring a top-four finish. In the end, fifth place was to be their prize, so they deserve to be inducted into our list of 'big boys' in the end-of-season ratings jamboree.
Papiss Cisse - 8
He may only have played 14 Premier League games in Newcastle colours, but the dramatic impact Cisse made means he is worthy of top billing in this Newcastle Hall of Fame. His 13 goals were a mix of the sublime and the brilliant, with his sensational strike that secured a 2-0 victory at Chelsea last month the goal of this or any other Premier League season.
Demba Ba - 8
Ba's form may have dipped in the final few weeks of the campaign, but Newcastle would not have been in a position to challenge for a European finish were it not for the goals of their other Senegalese marksman earlier in the season. Dynamic and powerful once he got his season off and running with a hat-trick against Blackburn in September, his performance in the win against Manchester United in January was superb.
Yohan Cabaye - 7.5
Newcastle's connections in France allowed them to snare this 26-year-old from Lille last summer and he made an instant impact in the Premier League. Combining a fantastic work ethic with ability that was a match for the best in the English top-flight, it's little wonder he is being linked with a host of rivals this summer. A good showing at Euro 2012 will raise his profile still further.
Tim Krul - 7.5
There were many who questioned the credentials of this youthful Dutchman as he assumed the No.1 position in the Newcastle goal, but he now looks ready to perform on the biggest stages the game has to offer. Still only 24, his consistency was impressive as he played in every game of his side's thrilling season and his 15 clean sheets were a tribute to his consistency.
Cheik Tiote - 7.5
This Ivory Coast midfield battler has all the raw talent to shine on any Premier League stage. His tendency to collect too many bookings is often down to over-enthusiasm, yet as he was cautioned 14 times in 24 matches he needs to address that issue. However, Pardew is of the opinion that some referees are too hasty to penalise a player who has a reputation for tough tackling. He has been compared to Chelsea's Michael Essien in his prime.
Fabricio Coloccini - 7.5
While their attacking flair captured the headlines, it was the rock-solid foundation that skipper Coloccini provided at the other end that gave Pardew his platform to build from. Having initially struggled on Tyneside, the accident-prone defender has been replaced by a colossus who rose to the challenge after an injury to defensive partner Stephen Taylor.
Hatem Ben Arfa - 7
This Frenchman has long been hailed as a star who could take centre stage alongside the best in European football and he has recovered superbly from a horrific leg injury that ruined his first season in English football to shine this term. His thrilling 60-yard burst and finish against Bolton in April was an obvious high point, with his work-rate as impressive as his moments of inspiration.
Jonas Gutierrez - 7
A tireless worker on the flank, this Argentine missed just one Premier League game throughout the campaign and rarely had a poor day. His stunning goal against Wolves in February was a personal high, with his creative skills and work ethic helping the club's return to prominence.
Danny Simpson - 7
Every team needs an unsung hero and Simpson filled that role for Newcastle as he started 35 Premier League games, yet it seems as if he has kicked his last ball for the club after failing to agree terms on a new contract. Chelsea are among those said to be considering a move for this ex-Manchester United starlet.
Ryan Taylor - 7
Scoring a winning goal at Sunderland's Stadium of Light ensures you a special place in Geordie folklore, so Taylor can expect to dine out on his strike in the second game of the season for many years to come. Initially thriving in an unfamiliar left-back role, his ability to make an impact from the bench was another string to Pardew's bow.
Mike Williamson - 6.5
In a Newcastle back-line that was often stripped bare by injuries and suspensions, Williamson plugged the leaks that regularly sprang. A no-nonsense player, this former Portsmouth defender dispenses with the niceties as he deals with the basics of defending. "He is a different player to the one we had here not so long ago and that's what confidence has done for Mike," Pardew says.
Davide Santon - 6.5
One of many shrewd signings last summer, this Italian struggled to get into the side at the start of the season, but he became a key member of the Pardew selection in the end of season run-in. "Davide has grown as a person and a player alongside the defenders he is working with," Pardew says. "He is mentally strong and bounced back when things went against him."
Stephen Taylor - 6.5
Many suspected the Newcastle bubble would burst when they lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea and came to terms with the reality that the inspirational Taylor would miss the rest of the season after an Achilles tendon injury. His return will give the impression of a proven new signing arriving in the team as he has formed a fine partnership with Coloccini at the heart of the defence.
Shola Ameobi - 6
A veteran who has been at Newcastle since the summer of 1995, Ameobi has come under fire from some supporters despite devoting his entire career to the Geordie cause through good and dire times. He was used as a super-sub this season and contributed two valuable goals to salvage points against Tottenham and Sunderland. Pardew appreciates the senior role he assumes in his dressing room.
James Perch - 6
There were times when Newcastle's defensive resources were stretched to breaking point and, while Perch did not always excel when asked to fill in at centre-back, his willingness to commit his all to the cause was regularly commended by his manager. He hit the headlines for his exaggerated reaction to a clash with Pepe Reina on April 1 as the Liverpool 'keeper was red carded.
Gabriel Obertan - 6
Manager Pardew believes this former Manchester United midfielder thrives when he is given vocal backing from the stands, but that support was not always forthcoming for Obertan from a Tyneside public unconvinced by his talents. His only goal came at Blackburn in February and, in a season when most of Newcastle's signings were smash hits, this Frenchman was not quite so successful.
Leon Best - 6
Best has been in decent form when given a chance in the Premier League and has every right to question why he had slipped out of the reckoning for a call-up to Republic of Ireland's Euro 2012 squad long before February's knee ligament injury brought his campaign to a premature end. There are rumours that this livewire front man may be headed for the St James' Park exit this summer.
Danny Guthrie - 6
His performance in the absence of Cabaye as Newcastle ground out a win against QPR in January won praise from boss Pardew and Guthrie was a fully signed-up member of the hard working mindset instilled into this side. A utility player capable of stepping into a variety of roles is invaluable to any manager and Guthrie offers insurance for several first-choice starters.
Sammy Ameobi - 5.5
Pardew has high hopes for a youngster who is emerging from the shadow of big brother Shola, and his chance to shine will come next season, along with fellow starlet Haris Vuckic, who is also knocking on the first-team door. Ameobi has only just turned 20 and showed flashes of his potential in his nine Premier League outings.
Dan Gosling - 5
Much was expected of Gosling when he made what was a controversial move from Everton to Newcastle in the summer of 2010, but he has struggled to live up to his billing and was very much a back-up player for Pardew this season. He made just one start and may seek to secure another move in a bid to kick-start his career this summer.