Five league wins in a row. Six wins in a row. Three consecutive clean sheets. Fifth place in the Premier League table. Are you kidding me? Is this happening?
Newcastle put on an impressive display in the midfield, as Jack Colback and Remy Cabella led the squad to edge QPR in both chances and possession (the first time NUFC won over 50% possession in a while).
Ryan Taylor was also an early leader, with an electrifying performance in his first start in nearly 1,000 days. But a pulled muscle sent him off after a little over 30 minutes. With tears in his eyes, he feared the worst. But hopefully, his will return in early 2015.
The midfield battle, the team's consistent performance, and in-game substitutions proved to be the difference in this one. When the winner finally came, it was a stunning shot by Mousa Sissoko, to notch his second game-winning goal in less than 30 days. He had a monster of a match, leading the defense with Cabella. When Ryan Tylor had to leave the match, the captain's armband was transferred to Sissoko for the second time this season, and he acted very much like a captain should.
Alan Pardew's critics argue that these last six victories have been accidental. They have involved luck, to be sure. But I find myself agreeing with those who argue that the club is doing better than expected with a weak system in-place.
We have seen years of management by Pardew to understand his mindset and overall tactics. The last two seasons have shown us that Pardew has improved in his player selections, and the team is relying less on long passes. However, Pardew's system still relies on counterattacking, and whether intentionally, or due to bad luck, he relies too much on one striker. Pardew has not had a striker tandem since Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in the spring of 2012.
There is another way to analyze this win streak, and it has to do with personnel. Pardew was not allowed to strengthen the team during the summer. He was only allowed to replace what had been lost, and get a couple of prospects for future use. Furthermore, we fans have no idea if Pardew has any input on who is being scouted and recruited (he assume he has no say). Due to injuries and the team's desire to keep the win streak going, Pardew has let the young guys play.
Rolando Aarons and Ayoze Perez were not expected to get more than a few appearances, let alone starts. But now they are the new stars of the club. The players brought on board to be the new stars, Cabella and Riviere, have not yet reached their expected levels of production. But Cabella, Janmaat, and Colback have become stronger, working together in most matches. And finally, Massadio Haidara has gotten experience starting at left back, and he has gotten better. At age 21, he is showing the potential to be Newcastle's best left back since Jose Enrique.
In short, Newcastle did not plan to become a deeper squad, but they now have depth thanks to a positive attitude, and the willingness of young players and the manager to give youth a chance. Add the fact that the team has stopped conceding the first goal for the time being, and the wins have stacked-up.
It is on to East London now. If Newcastle can win or draw against West Ham, they will have their second consecutive undefeated November, and they will be firmly in competition for a spot in the Europa League. Winning is like a drug, and this team is the happiest and most confident it has been since the spring of 2012. Maybe next time they are in Europe, Newcastle can see a tournament as an opportunity rather than a distraction.
The story of this season is "let the kids play."