Newcastle United fan Martin Hall gives us an insight into the home camp ahead of Fulham's trip to St James’ Park on Sunday.
What are your views on Newcastle’s season so far?
I’ve got mixed feelings. In the league we’ve struggled and haven’t been able to find any consistency with our results, which is partly due to the amount of injuries we’ve had to key players throughout the season. Our away form has been pretty shocking, too. One win away all season against Aston Villa tells its own story. We’re currently 15th with seven games to play so we’re approaching a crucial stage with two winnable home games coming up. If we manage to get six points in the next couple of games, we’ll pretty much guarantee our Barclays Premier League status for next year. Anything less and I think it’ll be a really nervous end to the season. The big plus has been our return to European football after five years. Whilst I think the additional European games has stretched our squad and not helped injury-wise, it’s been great competing in the UEFA Europa League and having some big European nights back at St James’ Park.
It’s become something of a French Revolution up there under Alan Pardew hasn’t it?
Oui! I’ve been impressed with all of our French singings, with the exception of Gabriel Obertan, and I thought it was a nice touch to have a French-themed day at our recent home game against Southampton to welcome the new boys. With our Chief Scout Graham Carr working to Mike Ashley’s financial model, I think he’s unearthed some real quality from France who have arrived at a good price and with a hunger to do well in the Premier League. The French guys have gelled with the players we already had at the club; I’ve supported us for the best part of 24 years and I don’t think I’ve seen a Newcastle side with a team spirit like this since the heady days of Kevin Keegan’s entertainers in 1995/96.
You were busy in the January transfer market – how have the new boys fared?
They’re settling in well. To get five signings of that quality for approximately £18m in a notoriously tough January window was pretty amazing. Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy have settled in pretty much straight away and have strengthened our first team in areas we were lacking. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massaido Haidara have featured more in the Europa League but, from what I’ve seen of them, they both look like they’ll push on and challenge for starting spots in the Premier League next season too.
How much of a loss was Demba Ba?
Seeing Demba score the type of goal he did for Chelsea against Manchester United on Monday did remind me of what we’re missing. We’ve missed Ba’s goal threat and he’s still our top scorer for the season on 13. Papiss Cisse’s form this season has been patchy at best but with Ba leaving we’ve been able to move him back to centre-forward instead of wide on the right as part of a front three where he was wasted. If Cisse can add some more consistency to his game, I think he’ll return to the player that lit up the Premier League during the second half of last season.
Who have been your star players this season?
This is a tough one as we’ve had injuries to all of our star players from last season for significant periods of time, and have never really had a settled side. I’d say our most influential player is Yohan Cabaye as he dictates our play and has an eye for a defence-splitting pass. With Fabricio Coloccini currently injured, Alan Pardew handed Cabaye the captain’s armband at Swansea City, which could prove a masterstroke, as I think now we have his best mate Debuchy at the club we could be looking at a future Newcastle captain for the long term. Other solid performers for us this season have been Tim Krul, Davide Santon and, when fit, Steven Taylor.
The match between the two sides at the Cottage earlier this season was a cracker. What sort of game are you expecting on Sunday?
I was at the game at Craven Cottage and I felt we were pretty unlucky not to come away with a draw as both sides were evenly matched. If we manage to get a positive result in Portugal on Thursday, hopefully this will restore some confidence after getting a lesson at Manchester City last weekend. Fulham will be coming in to this game quite relaxed I think after beating Queens Park Rangers on Monday and I expect Newcastle to come out the blocks quickly to try to score a couple in the first half, so when fatigue sets in during the second we’re not chasing the game. I expect a close game, though, decided by the odd goal.
Which player do you fear most in the Fulham squad?
Can I fear two? Dimitar Berbatov is an obvious choice as he’s a genuine threat and capable of producing moments of sheer brilliance. I’ve read before that he used to support Newcastle whilst he was growing up in Bulgaria due to his love of Alan Shearer so I hope he has an off day. Damien Duff always seems up for games against us and tends to play well; I expect him to relish playing in front of 50,000 Geordies booing his every touch.
For those Fulham fans making the trip, what can they expect when they visit St James’ Park?
One of the things I’ve always loved about St James’ Park is that the stadium is in the city centre, so any fans coming up by train can enjoy a short walk to the ground. Once they get to the stadium they can expect to be out of breath by the time they get to their seats as the away section is in level seven which, trust me, takes quite a fair few flights of stairs to get to. Once fans are up there, though, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city which makes the climb worthwhile. It might not be too great though for anyone who doesn’t like heights. The atmosphere always tends to be electric and I think the crowd at St James’ will be up for it as the match represents an opportunity for us to take one step towards safety.
Where’s the best place for a pre-match pint?
There’s plenty to choose from (it is Newcastle after all) but I’d recommend any away fans staying clear of most bars next to the ground like The Strawberry as it’ll be packed with Geordies. I’d recommend having a pre-match drink at any number of pubs/bars next to the train station. The Head of Steam and The Forth have a great selection of beers and ales and are pretty decent for food. A cheaper alternative would be a Wetherspoons that’s a short walk from the station too.
What's the one song Fulham fans are bound to hear?
One thing you’re always guaranteed to hear at the game are anti-Sunderland songs. They might even air a new chant about a certain Italian bloke who’s just gone there, but I’ll leave it at that. My all-time favourite though is the simple ‘stand up if you hate Sunderland’ which sees most home fans stand up in unison. Love it.
We desperately need to get a win to avoid being sucked back into the relegation battle. With Fulham all but securing their Premier League status for another year and a similar away record to ours, I’m going to say 2-1 to Newcastle. Howay the lads!