Revealed: The team bonding and meticulous preparation behind Newcastle's flying start

Newcastle United's players had a day out paint-balling last week, followed by a squad meal at a Chinese restaurant.

It was the type of corporate bonding exercise that many clubs put on when they need a break from the grind of training and the intensity of match preparations.

Four "Wor" games (we're in Geordie land here) were fought out, players versus staff, with manager Alan Pardew playing the role of "the general on a big white horse" directing proceedings.

It all looked like good fun, the outfits were certainly realistic, and there were bruises to show for it the next day.

Later, at the meal, when it came to settle the bill, MD Derek Llambias turned up.

He said a few words of encouragement and paid the bill (presumably on the company credit card, rather than his own) as a thanks for an excellent start to the season, before leaving the lads to their night out.

It was the kind of gesture that raises eyebrows among players and, coming from a man they were in dispute with over bonuses and the sacking of manager Chris Hughton last season, was warmly received.

Llambias got one thing right - some footballers hate paying for stuff when out with each other.

I once witnessed an England international and two team-mates splitting a Pizza Express bill three ways, chipping in their coins, despite a collective wage of £130k a week.

But Llambias' gesture shows that Newcastle are getting the small details right now. And it is making their thin, yet capable squad, collectively stronger than the sum of its parts.

True, the latest win at Wolves owed something to good fortune and a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions. But fourth place after seven games is no fluke.

Nor is being on a 12-game unbeaten run dating back to May 1. It's the club's best sequence for 14 years.

It has been interesting to hear how Pardew works.

On the training pitch, he conducts the sessions from the centre circle, blowing up to stop play and tweak formations, and suggest to players where they should be standing or which runs they should make.

Pre-match, he puts on detailed tactical presentations on how he wants to play, and how the opposition want to play.

Players are encouraged to make speeches and observations of their own - even senior players who are not involved, such as Alan Smith.

There is a separate defensive presentation the evening before the game too. No one leaves without knowing their precise job at set-pieces and in open play.

After that, it is all down to the players listening, absorbing the info and having what Pardew calls a "discipline" within them to turn the theory and small details into a win.

It clearly works.

United have conceded just four goals in the league so far. That is the foundation to what has been achieved this season.

But solidity in defence has also been bolstered by a ruthless streak in attack.

Take, for instance, this statistic.

Opta, purveyors of some great footballing figures, say that United strikers have converted way above the Premier League average of chances this season.

The league average is 12.3 per cent, but Demba Ba has scored with 40 per cent of his shots and Leon Best with 30 per cent - a total of 35 per cent of shots (7/20) - turned into goals.

There were genuine doubts over the summer that, when big characters such as Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and Joey Barton left, there may be a lessening of the spirit that had carried United forward for two seasons.

However, new voices have stepped forward and assumed responsibility.

There is an earnest, head down, prove myself, type of attitude coursing through the new players. The tone is set by the calm but forceful leadership of Fabricio Coloccini.

There are, of course, some fascinating tests ahead - high-flying Spurs at St James' Park following the international break will represent a real marker for how good Newcastle are this year.

How good are they? That is one question even Pardew doesn't know the answer to.

He says they were a "functional" team last term, able to grind out results and score from set-pieces.

This season, he sees a more "rhythmic" outfit, fluid in movement and passing, with perhaps even more defensive steel.

Will that rhythm be more easily disrupted later in the season, compared to last season's functionality?

Pardew explained: "We go into the international break unbeaten. I genuinely think that our points total suggests we're kind of in no man's land. We're kind of like, 'What? How good are we going to be?'

"Perhaps the question goes to Tottenham, one of the top teams, at home. How are we going to perform? Did we match them? Did we get lucky and get a win? Or did we actually dominate the game and were unlucky (not) to win?

"That's where we are. I honestly can't tell you how good we are. The signs that I'm getting suggest that we're a good side. I think we're a little bit more vulnerable.

"Last year, we could get results. We could get goals at set-plays. We could eke a result out. This team isn't really like that. There's more things that can go wrong. Two or three lose confidence and it might not look the same.

"So it's different. We've got all those battles to come. When we go down to 10 men, can we still nick a result? When things are really going against us - a penalty decision that was never a penalty, another goal straight after and were 2-0 down - how are we going to react?

"These are all different types of scenarios that could go wrong for us and that's something we've got to make sure we are ready to react to."

The Geordies aren't worrying about the future just now.

There is too much joy and satisfaction in the present.

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williamhill.com

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