With one day to go until the start of the 2006/07 Premier League season there’s little certainty about how things will pan out for either Latics or tomorrow’s opponents, Newcastle. For Latics the question is whether Paul Jewell’s summer signings are enough to solve the deficiencies so well masked by the success of last season and whether that is enough to avoid the traditional difficult second season. Whilst Newcastle usher in the start of a new era, one where they will be missing the, arguably, most successful player of the Sky era.
Glen Roeder may have had a successful start to his Newcastle career but throughout he had both the fans’ and players’ figurehead at his side. The coming weeks will provide some indication of how much a part Alan Shearer played in the Geordies’ recovery last season but his absence leaves a big hole both on the field and in the club’s character. A hole that Michael Owen may go some way to plugging, if he wasn’t recovering from his latest significant injury.
For Latics it will be a mix of the new and the old. In De Zeeuw, Baines and McCulloch there are three mainstays of previous campaigns, and the presence of McKay’s brooding twosome, Camara and Chimbonda, will at least provide some consistency. However the rest of the team, Scharner aside, is likely to be made up of new faces.
An unbeaten pre-season may be pleasing on the eye, but tomorrow is the first time that the effect of eight new signings will be tested. Is the team spirit that Jewell’s successes have relied on still there and has it been supplemented by the right sort of skills to make a more measured tilt at top flight survival?
Early signs are positive, each of the new boys has obeyed the unwritten rule of modern Laticdom, “Thou must praise the amazing team spirit within 48 hours of your first training session” and in Denny Landzaat we could quite easily have made the signing of the summer. Elsewhere, it’s too early to say how the likes of Hall, Boyce and Valencia will cope with the Premier League but there is promise, every one knows that any doubts about Kirkland relate to fitness, not ability and for Emile Heskey, Latics provides a club, a manager and a strike partner to reflect the more successful periods of his career.
Last season gives little indication of how this game might pan out. The league game at the JJB was a hard fought win and yet the reserves took apart a strong Newcastle side on the way to Cardiff. By the time Latics played at St James’ the Geordies were no longer reeling and cruised to a 3-1 victory. Newcastle have a slight edge as they have already played competitive games in the EUFA cup but despite last season’s lessons are still in a position to underestimate Latics. My head is telling me that a defeat is on the cards but my heart tells me I’m deliberately playing down our chances, it wants a win but will settle for a one-all draw.
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