Ciaran Clark says one of the reasons behind Newcastle United’s success in the Championship was that they kept calm when things went wrong.
The Irishman, like his new club, were new to the rigours of the second tier at the start of the 2016/17 season.
While neighbours Sunderland were yesterday learning who they would face in the first few months of the campaign, Clark has been able to cast his mind back to United’s poor opening to their return to the Championship after relegation the previous season.
It was something of a false start, losing against Fulham and Huddersfield Town in their first two games, but Clark says they knew they had time to turn things around – as long as they didn’t panic and worked hard.
And it paid off, with United finishing the season top of the table.
The United defender explains: “Naturally, from the outside, people were looking at us having lost the first two games [Fulham and Huddersfield] and thinking ‘that wasn’t meant to be like that’.
“It wasn’t what everyone thought was going to happen, but as players we stayed level-headed about it. We worked on it in training, and turned things around.
“The results turned, and around the place, we knew we had the confidence, the belief and the players to turn it around and get ourselves back up to the right end of the league. It took a while but we did that.”
The calming influence of boss Rafa Benitez, both on the training field and in public, meant few around the camp panicked at the Magpies’ stumbling start.
But Clark says the support of the fans also played a huge part in a tough, relentless campaign.
“Sometimes, we need that extra push,” said Clark, a £5million signing from Aston Villa this time last year.
“Whether it’s a weekend game or a midweek game, it’s always fully packed.
“The fans pack out the stadium – even in the away games – and that does give you a massive boost.
“When you hear the crowd cheering us on and willing us to do well, it’s a lift. It helps us to keep going on the pitch, and I think it made a difference.”