Wayne Rooney and Roy Hodgson

When he's not on air at BBC Radio Newcastle, Mick Lowes takes time out to pen an exclusive blog for nufc.co.uk. In this latest instalment, the man who has reported on the Magpies' fortunes home and away for countless seasons, talks about England's progression to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, Yohan Cabaye's involvement on the international stage, and what the 2012/13 fixture list has thrown up for United...

 

You'd have to say there was an element of fortune about England's win on Tuesday night, as the Ukrainians played well enough and looked to have had a perfectly good goal disallowed.

But I thought it would be a very difficult game anyway, so I wasn't surprised that it turned out to be a tough night. It was the biggest game in Ukraine's history and they had the backing of a big, big crowd.

I would have been more surprised had England won the game comfortably, but I wasn't overly worried and the bonus is that we've ended up winning the group.

Whether people like it or not, there is a distinct advantage to playing Italy in the quarter-finals instead of Spain. We'll have an extra days rest, which we could no doubt do with, and we've avoided one of the very best teams in the world.

The other side of the coin, however, is that England will potentially play the Germans if they get past the Italians on Sunday night, and I still think Germany will end up winning the tournament. Having said, once you get to the semi-finals, it's a complete one-off and anything can happen.

Out of everybody involved, I'm really pleased for Roy Hodgson that his team has progressed because before Euro 2012, everyone seemed to be of the opinion that he got the job by default.

The clamour for Harry Redknapp was immense at one point, but Roy has got on with the job and he's clearly galvanised the players. They look to have a better harmony about them compared to previous England squads and people are beginning to sit up and take notice.

In previous tournaments, we've been over-hyped and the expectations have been unrealistic. But this time around, we've gone into the competition, both as a squad and as a set of supporters, with more of a level-headed approach.

The hype has remained at a reasonable level and I think Roy is part of that. He's a pragmatic manager who has been around the block and he's worked at levels way below international tournaments.

His approach has been a breath of fresh air and we've just got on with it, and you'd have to think that if Harry Redknapp had got the job, the hype would have been altogether greater and it would have been a very different scenario.

So fair play to Hodgson - we are in the last eight, where many expected us to be, and now anything beyond that is a bonus. I don't see why we can't beat Italy, and we while we know expectations will build the closer the fixture gets, it is knock-out football and we will give it a real go.

In this competition in particular, we've seen the Greeks and the Danes win it in years gone by, and if they can do it then there is no reason why England couldn't follow in their footsteps.

I do think it's highly unlikely, because beyond Germany and Spain you have the likes of Italy, France and Portugal who are capable of going all the way, but like I said earlier, anything can happen in the knock-out stages.

Speaking of France, on the big stage I think Yohan Cabaye has reminded people of what a good footballer he is, and his stock as an individual and as a player has definitely risen.

As he continues to shine at this level, more and more people will look at where he came from and how much Newcastle paid for him, and as with a few other signings over the past couple of years, they can't fail to be impressed.

The other big footballing event this week has been the release of the fixture list for the new 2012/13 season, and the first game against Tottenham at home is not a bad opener given their managerial situation and the fact that they're likely to be in a state of flux and transition.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, you would look at Spurs at home and worry, but given the heights the Newcastle reached last season, it has to be viewed as a winnable fixture.

But what I would say is that after the first two matches of last season at home to Arsenal and away to Sunderland, there was a run of fixtures through to November which presented opportunities to pick up points.

As it turned out, they went 11 games unbeaten and that formed the basis of their success. This time around, however, Newcastle play three of last term's top four in the first seven games, and when you throw in Everton away in September, it makes the first couple of months look very difficult.

December is also a tricky looking month but I do think the run-in is encouraging, and if you look at the final 12 games or so - with the exception of Manchester City away - it looks like a run of games where we could do well.

One of the first games I looked for was Norwich at home, because Chris Hughton will be afforded a tremendous welcome when he comes back to Tyneside, and I was also pleased to see the first derby of the campaign pencilled in for October.

There's no doubting the repercussions of last August's game at the Stadium of Light and the effect it had on Steve Bruce's situation, but had things gone the other way, there's every chance that pressure would have been piled on Alan Pardew instead.

This time around, it's nicely tucked away and instead of the fans spending the summer counting down to the Tyne-Wear derby, they can spend it looking forward to the new season as a whole.

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