Is Alan Pardew's Toon side better than Sir Bobby's top four finishers of 2002?

Alan Pardew is leading Newcastle United to their most remarkable league season in a decade.

That can be the only verdict to pass on the heroics from top to the bottom of the St James's Park club.

The last time such delight and wonderment was felt on Tyneside while gawping at a Premier League table was back in April 2002.

That was when Sir Bobby Robson catapulted a side that had bumped along inauspiciously in mid-table for four years, to an unexpected fourth spot, and an extended run in the Champions' League the following season. Remember the trips to Kiev, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Milan?

Five wins in a row for Pardew's side has reopened up dreams of a repeat of 10 years ago, and a return to the elite European competition.

With Chelsea to face away, Manchester City to entertain at home and a visit to Everton on the last day of the season, Newcastle's run in suggests that a top four finish may be just beyond them.

But that's just me erring on the side of pessimism and caution - that's what covering the ups and down of this club for a decade does to you. I like to calculate the worst case scenario and work upwards. The form of the players, especially the flair providers like Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse, are giving plenty of reasons to rip up even the wildest expectation from even the start of the year and look higher.

What is almost assured is that Newcastle will clinch a place in the Europa League.

Old boy Andy Caroll's headed winner against Everton, sending Liverpool into the FA Cup final, meant that six place is now good enough for passports to be dusted off by United fans, as long as four more points can be harvested.

Of course Alan Pardew will be setting fresh targets and looking higher - and for his troops to extract maximum advantage by being the club in the top six mix that is playing without pressure.

Contrast the excitement and joy caused within the club at Newcastle's position, with the fretting and poor form at Spurs who could blow fourth place. And there's always the possibility that the distractions of the a Champions' League semi final and an FA Cup final will disrupt Chelsea.

So is this latest Newcastle side as good as Sir Bobby's of ten years ago?

I recall covering the nervy 2-2 draw at Ewood Park back in April 23, 2002, the evening Newcastle clinched fourth spot. Here is the team: Given - Hughes, Distin, Dabizas, R Elliott (O Bernard, 45) - Solano, K Dyer, G Speed, L Robert - LuaLua (Bellamy 71), Shearer.

And here is the Newcastle side which defeated Bolton a week ago: Krul, Simpson, F Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Cabaye, Perch, J Gutierrez - H Ben Arfa (R Taylor, 85), P Cisse, D Ba (Ameobi, 64)

As you can see, Robson had proven quality in midfield. Solano, with his knack of finding clever angles, and Robert with his speed and directness, were lethal down the wings. Gary Speed anchored with energy and aggression, Dyer was on fire that season as a box to box live-wire.

Shearer guaranteed goals up front and was a talisman, Bellamy was at times unplayable with his pace, and the defence which was seen as a weakness had tough characters with world class Shay Given in goal. Aaron Hughes should still be at the club, Distin bailed himself out with his athleticism.

The class of 2012 is an interesting mix of emerging talents. The rock is Coloccini, skipper and ice cool talisman at the back. Some would say full backs remain a weak point, but how can anyone quibble with the every present dedication and enthusiasm of Danny Simpson?

Keeper Krul is already up there with Given, Cabaye is a slicker passer than Dyer, Hatem Ben Arfa is a right sided Robert, hurting sides with flashes of brilliance.

And while it is too early to say that Papiss Cisse guarantees goals, his form so far (ten goals in nine games) suggests he can maintain a scoring rate up there with legend Shearer next season.

Which side would win if they played each other? It is an interesting pub debate.

The key point is that Newcastle fans can actually pose the question. Robson's 2002 vintage. Or Pardew's exciting, refreshing gatecrashers of 2012.

Two sides who came from nowhere, and put a smile on the face of Geordies, and won over a few neutral friends on the way.

Five games to go to turn the current smiles of satisfaction into a season that will stand out for years as the moment Newcastle United became contenders again.

***

Read Simon Bird's Newcastle column exclusively on MirrorFootball.co.uk every Tuesday and follow @simonbirdmirror on Twitter

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