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Jun 7 / Jamie Hardesty

CarryingCoals’ NUFC Player of the Season Award

Before I become engrossed in the off season, wondering and hoping what signings, or lack of, Newcastle will recruit this summer, it seems an appropriate time to look back and assess Newcastle United’s season of discontent. I’ll try not to dig up too many painful memories and instead, to borrow a Roberto Martinez phrase, I’ll ‘take the positives’. So, who was Newcastle’s best player in a season that left me close to admittance to the RVI’s Critical Cardiac Care Unit…

It’s the question we’ve awaited all season: Who carried the most coals?!

Contenders:

A lot has contributed to Newcastle’s fall from grace this season. We are all aware of the lack of investment in to the playing squad last summer, the injuries we’ve suffered, coaching failures, the effect playing in Europe on a Thursday night, before a weekend Premier League game… I could go on. The players themselves can’t escape blame either. The season’s disappointment has been a resulted from a combination of all factors listed above.

However, despite the playing squad generally performing inadequately throughout the campaign, it would be a mistake to say that every player has played badly in every game. There have been some good performances, even some great performances amongst the dross in fact. Don’t believe me? Well let’s look at the contenders for the CarryingCoals: NUFC Player of the Season Award and see if I can jog your memory…

Demba Ba

Did somebody say strawberry syrup?!

Well, I know many won’t be fond of an ex Newcastle player being a candidate for the title, but how can we ignore the contribution of the man who finished as our highest goal-scorer?! I suppose Ba’s inclusion is a testament to just how poor of a season we’ve endured.

Ba netted 13 of our 45 Premier League goals, so to put it in perspective; he was responsible for 29% – almost a third! A third of our goals from half a season, it really does say it all!

Davide Santon

Santon shone especially in the first half of the season

Santon’s place in the side has come under threat from the emergence of Haidara in the second half of the season, although we mustn’t forget that for the first half of our campaign, Santon was our standout player. His ability to get up and down the left flank at pace and the improvements to his all round game stunned us at the start of the season, as he showed us how much he’d grown and gained on last season.

Santon however remains far from the finished article of course. Defensive slip ups cost us dearly in the second half of the season, particularly in the Europa League. He is still young though and still learning his trade. What’s more is he genuinely seems to be enjoying life on Tyneside amidst never ending rumours, circulating around him leaving the club to return to Italy.

Perhaps our most improved player rather than player of the season, although it’s certain to say he has shone brighter than some of his team-mates with bigger names this season!

Jonas Gutierrez

Jonas has regularly worked tirelessly in the Newcastle midfield

Ok, here’s the controversial one for you! This year, Jonas has seemed to split fan opinion like no other. Is he a reliable work horse who gives you that needed 100% every week, or he is an absolute donkey who can’t get a ball in the box?

For what it’s worth, I’ll give my opinion. I’ve always liked Jonas, he has flair which we love here and he stayed loyal to us by helping us win and get out of the championship. He has lost a yard (or two) of pace and doesn’t threaten enough as a winger should. After all, that his primary duty and role for the team. I firmly believe he is a good squad player to have, due to his commitment and versatility but I certainly wouldn’t unquestionably start him week in week out as our left winger.

I do not dispute the fact Jonas has been poor this season although this might be interesting to know… he won more tackles, more ground duels and more free kicks than any other toon player last season, and by the way. What’s an even bigger shock is that his crosses, statistically, were more effective than Ben Arfa’s (21% vs 18%). Now there’s something for you to think about!

Yohan Cabaye

After a long season and summer, Cabaye began the campaign jaded before emerging as a standout performer

Cabaye’s season has been out of sorts, much like the majority of Newcastle’s squad in fact. However there is no questioning the influence he has on the team when included, especially in the build up of attacking play.

He began the campaign very much out of sorts, citing burnout as the reason. He’d never played so much footballing in his life, going from an arduous Premier League campaign, straight in to the European Championships and then back in to the demands of the new season without much rest or recuperation. Many thought his head had been turned, maybe it had, but Cabaye did emerge as an important player as the season went on.

Despite being missing from the middle of November to the beginning of January, the stand in captain for Coloccini did go on to make 35 appearances for Newcastle this year, scoring 6 goals. Perhaps his best game was in the crucial away win at Aston Villa whereby he scored a cracking goal, one of few memorable highlights for toon fans this season!

To put things further in to perspective, Cabaye has played as a deep lying play maker this season, for me, he has been nowhere near high enough up the pitch, yet he’s till managed 6 goals from his 26 Premier league appearances. Our number 9 and striker Papiss Cisse got 2 more goals but by playing in 10 more games (8 /36). People mustn’t forget the contribution Yohan has made to the side, that’s for sure.

Cabaye has summered from fatigue, injury, loss of form and arguably poor positional placement from the coaching staff this season. However he remains a quality player and one of Newcastle’s most important first team presences.

Rob Elliot

Rob Elliot: An unlikely hero for Newcastle last season

I’ve put the Rob Elliot, AKA The Dilsh, in here because I genuinely believed he has provided some heroics for us this season. Not a big name by any means but he has actually really surprised me this season. I remember writing a piece about him when Krul first got injured and I was more than sceptical about having him in between the sticks, but to his fairness, he hasn’t done much wrong at all. He’s even claimed a few man of the match ratings as he’s gone on.

Look at the established big names players at Newcastle, Elliot has certainly outshone the likes of Cisse and Tiote for example. I think he deserves praise under immense pressure and he deserves a place on this world famous shortlist no doubt!

With Newcastle’s Premier League safety far from secure at the season’s end, Elliot gained his side a vital point, performing heroically at West Ham in the penultimate away game of the season. One of few players who can undisputably come out of this season with his head held high.

Still  far off ousting Tim Krul from the number 1 slot, Elliot has certainly emerged and shown us he’s more than a podgy kid in net that’s there because nobody else fancys it!

Fabricio Coloccini

When he’s not throwing house parties, he’s saving the toon from relegation

Colo has spent a lot of the season on the sidelines and he could very well have left the club in January. However, our captain remained and Newcastle benefited from it.

Injured at the beginning of march with a back injury, having attempted a gravity defying overhead kick clearance, Colo missed a crucial part of the season. Newcastle were without him for 8 Premier League games during the period and he also missed the Europa games with Anzhi and Benefica.

It’s worth arguing that had Colo been in the side, Newcastle would probably have endured a far less worrying end to the Premier League season and perhaps could even have snatched a result against Benefica, with defensive ill-discipline being the team’s downfall during the tie, especially in Portugal.

Colo brings an aura of certainty to the team. He has calm and commanding presence, soothing an erratic backline which features incredibly attacking fullbacks, the Premier League inexperience of Mbiwa and the sometimes manic Steven Taylor. Unlike most centre halves known for their physical brutality and ability to be strong in the tackle and comfortable in the air, Colo plays the game completely in his own way.

It’s his anticipation, his marking, his awareness and positional class that shows him to be our standout defender. He’s a defender’s Roger Federer, someone who can elegantly sweep the ball up, use their class and experience and make the whole routine look overwhelmingly easy.

When Colo returned to the side at the end of the season he instantly stood out, fans and pundits alike were all quick to comment. Imagine what it would have been like if he wasn’t there – bearing in mind Mbiwa had to play LB with Haidara and Santon being injured. Had Colo not come in to the side, Mr Mike Williamson probably would have…

And The Winner Is…

Well, you might have guessed it… I’m giving the title to Coloccini. Yes, granted, he only played 22 Premier League games this season (Perch played in 27!) but when he has, most of the time, he’s been the difference. 

This season Newcastle were woefully dumped out of domestic cups, got to a Europa league quarter final and finished 16th in the Premier League. At the end of the season, we had to play for our Premier League survival. It was an ending nobody wanted and an ending that many thought would end in disaster. Coloccini’s return kept Newcastle in the league.

You can’t underestimate how important he is.

Final Note

In a season of few highlights for Newcastle fans, a few individual performances have stood out. A very select few that is. My personal favourite would be Coloccini’s defensive performance away to Sunderland, but how long ago was that?! Sissoko’s brace against Chelsea and leaving Ashley Cole for dust instantly springs to mind too. Although after a promising start from the Premier League’s ‘new Vieira/Yaya Toure’, he faded in to obscurity with an anonymous end to the campaign. Cisse’s last minute goals in a string of games got fans off their feet but they can’t exactly atone for Papiss earning a football league record of being offside 74637263462 times in a single season!

Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough of Ben Arfa, Cabaye has been out of sorts, Jonas looks a shadow of his former self, Colo has been missing, Krul has been missing, we haven’t had a consistent flat back four, we lost our top scorer in January and it’s just all been a bit of a mess to be honest.

It’s been a year of turmoil. A year of hope flickering but then fading. Thankfully, Newcastle will be playing Premier League football next year. That’s, erm, something.. isn’t it? Plus as drastically bad as it all was, we still managed to finish above the mackems…

Anyway well done Colo, can we forget last season now?!

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