Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer admits he would never have predicted the club would enjoy such a good start to the season, with the Magpies currently sitting in third place in the Premier League table.
Alan Pardew's side have been the surprise package of the 2011-12 campaign and remain unbeaten after 11 games, with a Carling Cup defeat to Blackburn Rovers the only blot on their copybook.
Many have pointed to the fact that Newcastle have yet to play the three teams closest to them - Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea - as the reason for their unexpected start, and with that trio making up the Magpies' next three league outings, their position after hosting Chelsea on December 3 will demonstrate whether they can truly make a challenge for a Champions League spot.
But Shearer, Newcastle's all-time leading scorer, believes that even if Pardew's charges lose all three games, they have plenty to be proud of after a start that has seen them claim eight more points than at the same stage last year.
"I think confidence has played a big part," Shearer said. "You get off to a good start to the season and get two, three, four good results at the beginning and the confidence rolls from there. They've surprised me and probably surprised a lot of people, there's no way I'd have thought they'd be sat in third place in the league at this stage of the season.
"They've got three very tough games coming up - City away, United away and Chelsea at home - but even if they don't take any points from those games, it's still been a very good start.
"Whether they can continue I'm not sure but the more I see of the league, the more I think that they can finish in sixth or seventh position. I don't think there's much for them to fear outside of the top five. I think Newcastle are equal to if not better than the likes of Everton and Aston Villa who will be making up the chasing pack."
Alan Shearer was speaking at the launch of the new Umbro Speciali 92 collection, created to mark the 20th anniversary of the iconic Umbro football boot.