For Danny Simpson and Newcastle United, 2010-11 has been a season of steady progress, writes Stuart Rayner
SINCE moving to Newcastle United, Danny Simpson’s fortunes have followed his club’s. It is why the right-back will reflect on a job well done when the season reaches its conclusion tomorrow afternoon.
Like the Magpies, Simpson had lost his way in the summer of 2009. Given the chance to kick-start his career by Chris Hughton, the Mancunian knuckled down to some hard work and put matters right.
Nestled comfortably in mid-table regardless of what happens against West Bromwich Albion tomorrow, one could hardly say Newcastle have taken the Premier League by storm on their return – the days of doing that have sadly long since gone – but they certainly have cause for quiet satisfaction. The same could be said of their number two.
West Brom are a good team to be bringing down the curtain on another season of highs and lows at St James’ Park. Like Newcastle, they were widely expected to struggle this season. If many did not expect the Magpies to be in next season’s Championship, they certainly did not anticipate this match being a worry-free weekend rather than a key part of Survival Sunday.
“I think we’ve exceeded some people’s expectations – not our own, because we knew with the players we’d got and the team spirit here we could do what we wanted, really,” says Simpson.
“But we’d come up from the Championship and people had tipped us to get relegated. We’ve proved people wrong and it’s been a pretty good season.
“The manager left, Andy (Carroll) left, and we’ve had a couple of results go against us. You do start to get that feeling from two years ago. You can feel what the fans are thinking. But we’ve not really ever been in it (the relegation scrap). I don’t think we’ve ever been in the bottom three.
“Whenever we’ve had a few bad results we’ve bounced back and pushed ourselves back into mid-table. When various things have gone on that aren’t in our control, we’ve moved on.”
After a nomadic existence which saw the then-Manchester United player loaned to Royal Antwerp, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle – a deal made permanent mid-season – Simpson regards this as his first proper Premier League season.
Such has been its success he has been mentioned in dispatches for an England call-up – and even as a contender for the club’s player of the year award.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” said Simpson, when told that he had been considered an awards contender. “That’s obviously nice.
“Since I came back into the team (an ankle injury kept him out of the start of the campaign) I’ve loved every minute of it, even more so than last year when we were winning every week.
“It means even more personally to just to be trying to prove myself against the top players. It’s nice to hear that because it’s been top class this season.” Mancunian full-backs rising to the occasion has been a theme at the North East’s Premier League clubs this term.
Like Sunderland’s Phil Bardsley, Simpson looked in the mirror this summer and recognised someone in danger of squandering his talent.
“I was at (Manchester) United and I went on different loan spells, in and out of the team,” he says. “Sometimes you get caught up in it because you’ve been there since you were ten, and when I came up here I did think this was my last chance to prove I could play in the Premier League. I got my head down and worked hard, trained hard and listened to the people around me.
“The big thing I had to change was off the pitch, really. I’m the first person to admit, I wasn’t looking after myself.
“If you go out, you’ve got to do it at the right times.
“When I was younger I thought I could deal with it, but you can’t. It affects your body.
“One of the things I’ve learned is when you’re off the pitch you have to rest when you need to. I’ve had to prepare right for every game.”
Football clubs are wisely uncomfortable about using the phrase “lap of honour”, but gentle celebrations will be justified after tomorrow’s final whistle. Only a couple of years ago, relegation followed promotion from the Championship as surely as super injunctions followed a football team’s night out. This season’s vintage have bucked the trend, and provided inspiration for others.
“Blackpool have been a breath of fresh air this season and they still might get out of it,” Simpson added.
“I don’t think they’ll beat Man U but you never know.
“West Brom, since Roy Hodgson took over, they’ve only lost twice. At one point they looked like they might go down, but since he took over they’ve had some great results. And they’re playing some good football.
“The teams that have come up have shown everyone in the Premier League – and the teams coming up this year – if you have a good team spirit and you give it a go, you can do well.”