The summer dragged a bit, didn't it? But, have no fear: Premier League football is back!
Ahead of Southampton's Premier League opener away at Newcastle on Sunday, we interviewed ComingHomeNewcastle's Managing Editor Jim McMeachin for his thoughts on Saints, the Toon's tumultuous 2014-15 campaign and what they think about new manager Steve McClaren and his new acquisitions.
St. Mary's Musings: Hi Jim! Thank you for taking the time to speak to St. Mary's Musings. Could you please summarise your 2014/15 season?
Jim McMeachin: Experiencing the 2014/15 season as it was happening was Pardew-era Newcastle in a nutshell. Defeat Chelsea (this time ending their "Invincible" run): check. Manager of the month for November: check. Ride November to the end of the season and face relegation: check. There were some who could see the handwriting on the wall earlier than others and were called "alarmist" but it followed exactly the script that I just lined out.
There was brief hope that Alan Pardew finally departing the club would lead us to a relative promised land and hopes were up as sexy name after sexy name was connected with the club. This lasted about a month when the club came out and gave John Carver the reins until the end of the season. Pessimists were beside themselves with, well... pessimism and the club exceeded the wildest of pessimistic expectations by going on club-record losing streaks and the like.
This all set up the final match against West Ham for all the marbles. Win and we survive. It was a very real catharsis when Jonas Gutierrez scored (even though it wasn't technically the goal that kept us up). Cancer survivor. Frozen out by Pardew. The roar after that goal was unlike anything I'd heard from the St. James' Park crowd in years. Beloved by the fans for his graft and the fact he loved the fans back, this was the moment that the script called for. Predictably the script also called for the club hierarchy to do what they do best and they relased popular Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor by phone.
SMM: John Carver: What was his deal?
JM: John Carver was never the answer for Newcastle United. There were maybe some that *wanted* him to be. He is a Geordie... a connection to Sir Bobby Robson. He also knew that and played the Wor Bob card early and often which had the effect of turning a lot of people off of him. Ultimately he confirmed that his ill-fated time at Toronto FC in MLS was not a flash in the pan and that he is chronically unsuited for the head role at any club.
Over the course of his months in charge, however, he did give us some gems such as asserting that Mike Williamson purposely got sent off against Leicester City and telling the press that he "believes he is the best coach in the Premier League". He would later reveal that this massive statement of self-belief was the result of having sought therapy near the end of the record-setting run of defeats that he oversaw.
He is a good guy (when he's not offering to fight fans) who was overmatched by the job and had to suffer a) the knowledge that he wasn't good enough and b) he was tremendously close to taking the team he loves down. I have sympathy for him in that respect, but he was not done any favors by the club.
SMM: How has the appointment of Steve McClaren been received?
JM: McClaren's appointment is a funny thing. When Pardew left, Steve was a name that came to the front almost immediately. He refused a January move - when the writing of a long second-half was already on the wall - which led to the Sexy Name Parade that I referred to earlier.
At this point, he was considered a name that people wouldn't hate but wouldn't necessarily love. As fans, we soak up what we can as these names come along and the likes of Tomas Tuchel and Remi Garde became what we hoped and dreamed for. McClaren's name wouldn't go away and there were reports that he was offered the job yet again (or potentially twice more) as the season came to a close and that he refused again (and again... maybe). In spite of that, his announcement was not greeted with the same vitriol as Pardew's appointment had received... mostly because Steve's name can be directly translated as: "Not Alan Pardew" and his tactics directly as "Not Hoofball".
There was some degree of optimism at the time of his appointment and watching things during the preseason has shown us that he is serious about playing actual football and using the pieces at his disposal the best way he can. As long as he keeps that up, the good feeling meter will continue on the up.
SMM: Are you happy with Newcastle's transfer dealings so far this summer?
JM: The answer to this is why Newcastle fans are sometimes saddled with the reputation that they will never be happy. The purchases of Gini Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba all directly address areas of the squad that needed strengthening. In this, the window has been successful. The thing is, we are still sitting here, five full seasons after returning to the top flight, and we're looking at starting a CB pairing that was available to us during our Championship season.
The situation at the back was allowed to become necrotic and we shipped goals for fun while refusing to reinforce the CB position, which is STILL needed desperately. So yes, I am happy with the quality of player that we've brought in. Mitrovic says all the things that could make him a beloved Geordie hero. Gini is the same. Mbemba certainly looks the part (however old he is), but needs someone else in as a partner.
Coloccini is old, Williamson is crap and Taylor is insane. Reinforcements at CB are vital, so I'll give a hearty "yes I'm happy, but with the caveat that we're still not good enough at the back."
SMM: What do you expect from Newcastle this season?
JM: I expect to struggle initially. McClaren has not been shy about criticizing the preseason schedule and the timing of the transfers that we have done has not been optimal. They have had an uphill battle in the last month to install McClaren's tactical ideas, develop fitness to execute them, etc. It hasn't been enough time. We'll see encouraging signs during the opening quarter of the season (which has been adjudged by a very flawed metric - last year's finish position - to be the toughest in the Premier League) but results may or may not come.
If they do, it'll be full-on let's get carried away/McClaren's Army mode. If they don't, it'll be full "We're gannin doooooooon!" mode. Long term, I expect a mid-table finish... my prediction has been 10th which is a very wishy-washy middle of the road prediction but is really where I think we'll end up. Especially if we don't bring in more defensive reinforcement.
SMM: From an outside perspective, how do you view Southampton's 2014-15 season?
JM: I view everything you guys have done in recent years with massive levels of jealousy. Alan Pardew told us for years that "we can't expect to compete with the likes of Southampton" and other lovely things. The reality is that there is absolutely no reason we shouldn't be achieving the things that you guys have done. Sustainable success. Lovely stuff on the pitch. European qualification. You guys do everything our ownership says they want to do... just better.
It must be a lovely feeling to lose important parts to transfers to the "big clubs" and then continue on as though you're better off for the losses.
SMM: If you could sign any Saints player, who would it be and why?
JM: I would really love to have Dusan Tadic if that wouldn't be too much trouble. If we weren't so over-stocked in the middle of the park, I'd have said Wanyama who I wanted desperately when he signed with you guys. Tadic would slide right in to the lineup for McClaren and would make me feel much better about advancing Mitrovic straight into the starting lineup.
SMM: could sell a member of the regular Newcastle starting XI, who would it be and why?
JM: Mike Williamson. He's a nice guy. I have no doubt that he tries hard. He's just not good enough to be starting in the Premier League. (Please let us assume that another CB has been brought in before this sale would happen?)
SMM: Finally, what will the score be on Sunday?
JM: You guys have scored for fun in your preseason and Europa matches. We have conceded boatloads of goals. Everything meets in the middle and I'm going to optimistically go with a 1-1 draw.