THE league table, it’s often said, doesn’t lie.
Newcastle United, on the face of it, are having a good season. Good, but not great.
The club is eighth in the table, and in no danger of relegation, unlike last season.
Yet the mood on Tyneside has darkened considerably in recent days.
Why? Because owner Mike Ashley seems happy to settle for eighth.
Is that the summit of the club’s ambitions?
And the mood could get darker still this afternoon should the club lose a third consecutive derby.
Should the club end the season in the top half of the table, and outside the European places, the campaign will have seemingly ticked all the financial boxes for Ashley.
But Newcastle’s long-suffering supporters crave – and deserve – more from their club. Their value isn’t derived from healthy balance sheets, it’s from performances and results on the field.
So far this season, there’s been a few of them. Wins at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane were particularly memorable.
However, the sale of Yohan Cabaye to Paris St-Germain has left a yawning gap in United’s midfield.
It wasn’t filled before last night’s transfer deadline. Shocked? No.
Make no mistake, Cabaye wanted to leave. There was a lucrative contract waiting for him in Paris, as well as Champions League football. He’ll undoubtedly win medals at PSG.
And we know Newcastle players don’t win medals.
But his au revoir isn’t the real issue.
If Cabaye hadn’t left now, he’d have gone in the summer. He wanted to leave.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew had claimed before Cabaye’s sale that his team would be left “vulnerable” should the midfielder not be replaced last month.
Pardew’s pleas for a signing fell on deaf ears.
And director of football Joe Kinnear – who asked to be “judged” on his signings after taking up the role at the club last summer – has only presided over two loan acquisitions.
The frustrating thing is that United were potentially only a player or two from competing for a top-four place before Cabaye’s departure.
Ashley might be known as a gambler, but he doesn’t speculate to accumulate at United. He goes for the safe bets.
The domestic cups don’t seem to interest him, despite Newcastle’s proud cup-history. The wait for a trophy is likely to go on. And on.
United’s supporters have always dreamed big. Unfortunately, Ashley isn’t a dreamer. He’s a numbers man.
– MILES STARFORTH