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Williamson revelling in his new role as a Newcastle regular
MIKE WILLIAMSON is revelling in “the most enjoyable time” of his Newcastle United career after emerging from the shadows to cement a first-team place in the last two months.
While the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy have hogged the headlines as the Magpies have won five of their last six matches to rise into the Premier League’s top seven, Williamson’s return at centre-half has been a major factor in the club’s fine recent run.
The 30-year-old has rarely been a regular since joining Newcastle in January 2010, although it is perhaps telling that he started the majority of the matches in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign, which culminated in qualification for the Europa League.
At the start of this term, he was behind Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Steven Taylor in the pecking order, but he has leapfrogged both since steadying the ship in the second half of September’s 3-2 defeat at Everton.
Saturday’s dominant display at Old Trafford was undoubtedly one of the best of his career, and as he reflects on a win that will go down in Newcastle folklore, the defender admits he is struggling to keep a smile off his face.
“I’ve had some good times here, but the last few months have probably been the most enjoyable of all,” said Williamson, who was offered the chance of leaving Tyneside in the summer, only to tell manager Alan Pardew that he wanted to remain to fight for his place. “I’m really happy with the way things have been going.
“We’ve beaten Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United now, and they’re all stand-out victories. And personally, it’s just fantastic to be getting the minutes under my belt that I am. Whoever we’re playing against, it’s still a great honour for me to be playing at this level.
“Winning is a fantastic feeling, and when you’re beating some of the best teams in the country, you’re always going to be on a bit of a high. It breeds confidence, and it makes the whole environment an enjoyable atmosphere to be in.
“The season we got promoted was fantastic, and the season when we finished fifth had a similar feeling, but because of the way the rest of the Premier League is going, I think there’s a genuine sense that no one really knows what might be possible this year.”
While Newcastle have tended to scour Europe for potential signings in recent years, Williamson is one of the few players to have stepped up from the Football League to join the Magpies.
His £1m move from Portsmouth hardly created waves, and through no fault of his own, he has been saddled with a reputation of being a no-frills centre-half in an era when defenders are increasingly expected to be comfortable enough in possession to play as auxiliary midfielders.
In fact, Williamson is better with the ball at his feet than is often imagined, but his key strengths are the ‘old-fashioned’ defensive traits of making tackles, winning headers and holding his position when an opponent attempts to drag him around the field.
Coloccini and Yanga-Mbiwa might be more flamboyant, but Newcastle desperately needed a steadying presence after they conceded three goals in September’s back-to-back games against Hull and Everton, and Williamson’s yeomanly qualities have perfectly fitted the bill.
“A chance came along for me at Everton, and hopefully people feel as though I’ve taken it the best I could,” he said. “I think the manager knows what he’s going to get from me – I defend first and try to keep things tight and organised. That’s what I’m about. At the minute, hopefully it’s becoming difficult to drop me because we’re winning and defending fairly well.”
Given how well Newcastle performed at Old Trafford, it would be a surprise if Pardew dropped anyone for Saturday’s game with Southampton, although he may consider recalling Shola Ameobi and modifying his system with the Magpies playing at home.
The mood in the camp is understandably buoyant in the wake of last weekend’s historic success, but for all that Newcastle’s attackers are carrying a considerable threat at the moment, there is an acceptance that further victories will only follow if the whole of the squad continue to get the basics right.
“Our form at the moment is right up there with anyone,” said Williamson. “We know the talent that we’ve got in the squad. You look around our squad and it’s packed with individual talent, but you have to blend that with hard work, and that’s what we’re doing so well just now.
“We’re focusing on getting the basics right, and that’s paying dividends. We’ve got fantastic flair in the team and on the bench, but that only gets you so far if you’re not focused and concentrated for the whole 90 minutes. Sometimes, you have to be committed and put your body on the line, and I think you saw that against Manchester United.”
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