Steve Nickson is the unsung hero for Newcastle United’s Premier League turnaround

Eddie Howe, his staff, the players and the new consortium at St James’ Park are rightfully earning all the plaudits for Newcastle’s dramatic turnaround. An impressive nine-game unbeaten run has propelled the Magpies to 14th in the table and, more importantly, 10 points clear of the relegation zone.

Fears over becoming the richest club in the Championship have diminished and supporters are already dreaming about the prospect of next season. Everyone at the club deserves a pat on the back for a U-turn in form since January.

Players and manager aside, however, nobody deserves higher praise than Steve Nickson. The Magpies’ head of recruitment has endured a turbulent time over the last few months.

Read more: National media focus on off-the-pitch issues in Chelsea-Newcastle verdict

When new owners come in, it is not just the players and coaching staff who are scrutinised. Nickson’s role was also placed under the microscope as there was simply no room for error in the January transfer market. Newcastle had to get it right – and Nickson delivered.

Under Mike Ashley’s ownership, Nickson collaborated with the manager and Lee Charnley, recommending targets and leading the club’s scouting network for players who could turn over a tidy profit. Taking over from Graham Carr, his hands were clearly tied by Ashley’s frugal approach but that did not stop him from having a major impact on the club.

While the manager – especially Rafa Benitez – always had the final say, Nickson’s knowledge of UK-based players was one of the club’s most underappreciated assets. When Steve Bruce prioritised established top-flight players to help keep Newcastle up ahead of his second season in charge, on a limited budget, Nickson headhunted Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Jamal Lewis and Jeff Hendrick to patch up a thin Magpies squad. Six months later, the arrival of Joe Willock on loan ultimately inspired the club’s survival.

Fast forward to the present and Newcastle are reaping the rewards of another successful Nickson window. Some called on the new owners to immediately appoint a director of football before January but a patient approach forced them to lean on what they inherited.

With first-team fixtures Howe’s priority, Nickson was assigned – without the constraints of Ashley – the role of recommending proven Premier League players that could ensure survival. Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood, Matt Targett and Dan Burn are all experienced top-flight players who have improved the squad drastically. Toon fans have already seen glimpses of brilliance from Bruno Guimaraes – a deal that was finalised after Nickson jetted off to Brazil to help get over the line.

His future on Tyneside will again be cast into doubt when a sporting director – believed to be Dan Ashworth – finally arrives, but the new regime would be foolish to discard their unsung hero. A decade-long stint at Newcastle, having previously worked at the academy, means Nickson understands the fabric of the club as well as anybody right now. His first window in charge of the bottomless pit was a roaring success and, with better preparation and a director of football to work alongside, the best could be yet to come from the 57-year-old.

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