Tuesday, August 14, 2012

View From The Home End

Image courtesy of Solfrost

Emerging from the Olympic bubble which has enveloped the country over the last two and a half weeks, and completely consumed the nation’s sporting energies, it now falls to me to summarise our summer transfer activity and prospects for the season ahead. 

The difficulty in writing such a preview is that, with just over two weeks left to run, it’s a fairly safe bet that we’re likely to be in for a sudden surge in the transfer market which could see us bolstering our squad, or fending off destabilising last-minute approaches for players. 

This time last year, I don’t think any of us expected to witness the gloriously successful and fantastically entertaining feast which the Silver Fox and his players served up. Their reward for that particular labour is a place in the Europa League, and something of an increase in expectation levels. 

Pleasingly, whilst he shone for France at the European Championships (which currently feel like a lifetime ago), Dreamboat remains on Tyneside. Keeping him company is Demba Ba, whose release clause went untriggered as July turned to August and with Ramadan due to finish on Sunday, his religious observances (and those of his fellow Muslims in the squad) shouldn’t last too long into the new season. 

The challenge for the team will be to seek to finish in broadly the same league position this season, while battling on the additional attritional front of the Europa League, which is where the Silver Fox is likely, I think, to turn to some of his younger summer recruits and those hovering around the fringe of the squad. This could, and should, be a very big year for Haris Vuckic, Little Big Lad and James Tavernier amongst others.

While the likes of Curtis Good and Gael Bigirimana have arrived, we’re still left trying to pick up Matthieu Debuchy, with other reported targets Douglas and Vurnon Anita also yet to venture through the terminal at Newcastle Airport. Similarly, our pursuit of a striker seems to have stalled with Rocky remaining at Anfield and other targets not (yet) materialising.

Without further players arriving, the squad looks broadly the same strength as last year, with fringe players such as Lovenkrands, O'Best and Guthrie having departed but younger players hopefully now better equipped to step into their shoes. The worry will be if we suffer a couple of injuries up front (or Senegal qualify for the African Cup of Nations) and we're left relying on Big Lad with HBA or Little Big Lad for support. Similarly, with Danny Simpson's contract impasse no closer to a resolution, we still need to boost our defensive ranks both at full back and also centrally.

However, if we can bolster the squad (and in particular the defence) before the end of August, whilst also rebuffing any late attention for our own first-choice players, this could yet prove to be another enjoyable, if much less surprising, season. The prospect of European trips is a welcome one, albeit I worry that the sheer number of games will really test our resources to the limit.

Ha'way the lads!

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