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Apr 13, 2013

Talk of the Toon

It's Villa Park on January 29 and, despite the urgent clarity of Newcastle United's situation, there is anything but clarity to the scene. In almost every corner of the dressing room, it seems, there is a necessary translation of the manager's instructions.

Newcastle have just signed five French-based players at once and, despite the success of such purchases in the past, the club have never brought in so many at once and in this predicament. Given that they badly need a few results, and quickly, Steven Taylor admits to a few doubts.

"Sometimes it can take a foreign player maybe a year to adjust," Taylor says. "No-one knew how it was going to be. Obviously they couldn't speak much English - they were translating what the manager's saying in the dressing room - and, as players, you're thinking: 'Is this going to work? We need to start kicking on in the season'."

They kicked on that very evening, however, as all doubt evaporated almost instantly.

"It was the first 20 minutes, a very fast start," Taylor explained. "The French lads got on the ball and you could see straight away they meant business. They were tracking back, putting the foot in."

And putting the ball in. Both Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye scored in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa that translated into Newcastle's first away win of the season and a crucial three points.

That's not to say that the language issues have completely gone away. Taylor has been paired at the back with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and the partnership has brought an element of Only Fools and Horses to his vocabulary.

"To start with, I remember trying to get some French words but you don't want Derek Trotter saying some words on the pitch which ain't right. It could cost us a goal! So I thought: 'You just learn a bit of English, mate, because my French isn't the best'."

It isn't just the players' vocabulary that has been broadened by the French connection.

"It was a breath of fresh air for us," Taylor added. "It's that pace and power the French players have got. I think we're taking the game to teams now. I think beforehand we were letting teams come onto us; now we've got the pace to hurt teams. You can see that in the games now, teams are playing deeper against us because they're scared of the ball in behind.

"To see Moussa Sissoko running down that wing, the guys on the East Stand with their pies couldn't believe it. I think they just fell on the floor when they saw him running. I can't big the lads up any more. They've been outstanding."

Newcastle have certainly been lifted. Since stepping out at Villa Park that evening, the side have won five of nine, their best return of the season. Taylor, however, doesn't put the transformation down to transfers. In fact, manager Alan Pardew made a point of forcing them to watch another key moment at Villa Park - but from four years ago: the 1-0 defeat that relegated the club.

"When they've looked back at the clips that the manager put on, this is the feeling that the lads got when they got relegated, that drilled it into the lads' heads," Taylor said. "It was a horrible feeling and I never want that to happen again."

It would certainly feel worse than a defeat in Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby. In truth, it is Sunderland who have more to worry about at the moment, with the appointment of Paolo Di Canio only adding to the complications and tension.

"The main thing is not to focus on any side apart from ourselves. In the past, especially in the season we went down, we were too worried about what was going on around us," Taylor added.

"Everybody kept saying we can't go down, we're not going to go down, don't worry and there was no panic. I think things weren't registering in players' heads how critical it is to just get results. But you need to win as many games as you possibly can. You just can't afford to rest."

It's quite different to this time last season, when Newcastle were almost winning games effortlessly. Taylor, however, has a surprisingly simple explanation for the contrast.

"Things just went our way. Things were coming off people's shins, knees going in the back of the net. Like I said, results just went for us, kept going and going. We couldn't believe some games we should have been beaten and we weren't. That all benefited us. This season it hasn't. We were outstanding in some games this season and lost. The small squad we've had, with injuries and suspensions - it's been difficult. That many games as well: Thursday, Sunday, Thursday.

"That's how luck is. You can have your ups and downs and hopefully for Newcastle now we're on the up. You've just got to keep fighting. That's football for you and that's what it's all about."

Indeed, Taylor has noticed something similar with the notionally mid-table teams that have been sucked into the relegation battle such as Stoke City, Norwich and Sunderland.

"Teams like that, they're playing well. They're just not getting that edge, the luck's not going for them now. They're conceding goals like that own goal [Stoke conceded against Villa] and couldn't do anything about it. That was us last year and we were getting away with it. It's not their fault but it's just not running their way.

"It's frustrating because I've been there with Newcastle. We played so well the season we went down but just couldn't get the stroke of luck so it's hard to get out of that."

They certainly got it last week against Fulham, with Cisse's stoppage-time winner.

"It was a massive release, a weight off the shoulders," Taylor said. "You could see how much it meant to us in the dressing room."

You could certainly see how much it meant to Pardew on TV.

"That's what it's all about," Taylor laughs, "the manager going to celebrate with the crowd. He laughed it off after, loved it. We had a good laugh about it. You want that. It's given us that massive kick for a massive game at Sunderland."

Bonnet de douche, Rodney.

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