THE Championship is “similar to the Premier League, just with worse players”, mused Newcastle United defender Jose Enrique prior to the Magpies’ trip to Nottingham Forest.
Given the absurdity of the statement, the words could easily have been uttered by chirpy Fast Show character Brilliant!
Yet with every paradox there is an element of truth of course, and the players plying their trade in the Championship are indeed worse than their top flight counterparts – overwhelmingly so.
And after witnessing Newcastle’s lumbering performance against unremarkable, mid-table opposition at the City Ground on Saturday it’s plain to see why United’s players fit remarkably well into that “worse” category.
Newcastle sharing top spot with West Brom may contradict this, but even the most partisan supporter will accept being surprised at the poor standard of football’s second tier and, even more surprised, at how the Magpies are flying high given the mediocrity currently wearing their jerseys.
The team’s display against Billy Davies’ side had all the hallmarks endemic in last season’s memorable campaign, for all the wrong reasons – a lack of cohesion, pace and craft.
And these three attributes are sadly missing in no-one more than Enrique.
A new season in a different league does not disguise the former Villarreal defender’s lack of mobility, awareness and positioning, or that his pass rate success runs at about 50 per cent. But he’s not the only one.
Marlon Harewood’s recruitment is as puzzling as that of Zurab Khizanishvili. Judging by Harewood’s recent outings for the Magpies it is clear why he has been given only one Premier League start by Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa in two years.
The 30-year-old forward may be building up his fitness, but that is no excuse for a poor first touch and an inability to link up play with his colleagues.
Khizanishvili, on the other hand, has been anything other than convincing and got nowhere near match winner Dexter Blackstock on Saturday.
But Harewood, Enrique and Khizanishvili weren’t the only guilty ones at Forest. The fact the whole team underperformed is not the problem.
The problem, in essence, is that the team is not good enough and the chronic lack of investment at St James’ Park and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Tynesiders are major factors which will contribute to the club failing to go up this term.
Kevin Nolan, once again, called on club owner Mike Ashley to put this right, loosen the purse strings and invest in the promotion bid.
“We need to strengthen.
We’ve been saying this for a long long time and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” said Nolan.
“We need to strengthen the squad if we are going to give ourselves the best chance of going up. Chris Hughton needs the right backing; that’s been proved against Forest.
“We’ve lost Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini and we’re having to play a rightback at centre half. It’s a paper-thin squad and a couple of injuries kill us. It’s frustrating to have to keep saying it. We want to get back to where we belong and I hope we are backed to do that.”
Remarkably, the usually media-shy, Ashley broke his silence at the weekend regarding the sale of the club and bizarrely, Newcastle’s recruitment policy.
His staggering admission he “has the final say on players”
and “I never said I was expert in football clubs. I tried my best but accept that my best was woefully short” says all anyone needs to know about his wretched tenure.
But there may be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
The owner has revealed he is prepared to drop his original asking price from £100m to £80m.
“Barry Moat has been driving me mad for two years,”
revealed Ashley. “If he wants to buy the club, he’s got a oneoff opportunity to come up with the cash – £80m up front.”
If this is the case then recent reports suggesting Moat was edging closer to buying the club appear wide of the mark with Moat believed to be trying to broker a deal whereby he pays in instalments.
If Moat fails to stump up the cash Ashley made it known he will hold on to the club and make Hughton manager.
Ashley added: “Chris deserves a shot at the title. He has done a great job.”
Hughton certainly has done “a great job” in the circumstances, but for Newcastle’s future the news is hardly brilliant!