Newcastle getting it done with defense

A quick glance at the current English Premiership table reveals a trio of the usual suspects at the top of the league with Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea occupying the top three places.

But just one spot below those three heavyweights sits Newcastle, a club that just returned to the top flight last season and one that has seen the departure of a handful of its most talented and popular players in the last nine months.

The exodus started with striker Andy Carroll, who brought a whopping $55 million return from Liverpool in January.

Carroll led the club with 11 goals in the first half of the season before departing to Anfield, while the most crushing blow came over the summer as captain Kevin Nolan left St James' Park for Championship side West Ham.

Nolan not only led Newcastle in goals with 12 last season but he was also a fan favorite and leader on the team. His exit paved the way for the departures of both Jose Enrique and Joey Barton, leaving the Geordie faithful to wonder about the direction of its club.

So far this season Newcastle hasn't quite replaced the offensive production of players like Carroll and Nolan with just nine goals in seven league matches.

But the reason why Alan Pardew's side finds itself among such exclusive company at the top of the league is its defensive record.

The Magpies have allowed only four goals in league play this season, best in the top flight, and that strong mark can be largely attributed to five players.

Pardew has started the same four guys across the back line in each of his team's seven games this season with Fabricio Coloccini, Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor and Steven Taylor making up a formidable group.

Tim Krul has enjoyed a wonderful start to the season in goal as well with the 23-year-old embracing the number one role by recording three clean sheets and allowing no more than one goal in any game so far.

Krul shared goalkeeping duties with Steve Harper last season, but he has taken hold of the starting job this year and also forced his way into the lineup of the Dutch national team, earning his first two caps this past summer.

A 2-1 win at Wolverhampton on Saturday marked the first time that Newcastle left Molineux with a win in over 20 years, and it also extended the club's unbeaten record in the league to 10 games dating back to last season.

The unbeaten run is the longest for Newcastle in 14 years, and Krul acknowledges that it is nice to see the team seeing results after all of the hard work it has put in.

"We have already shown at the start of the season that we are solid," Krul said of his team. "We've been working hard on the defensive side of our game, and its paying off now. Everybody knows whose doing what, and we've got the attack to go with our defense."

Krul may be a little generous in his assessment of the Newcastle attack, but as long as the team continues its stingy play in the back the Magpies have a chance to remain in the top half of the league.

The early part of the schedule has been less than grueling, but a rather stern test will come near the end of November when Newcastle faces successive matches with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

You can bet that Pardew would like to have players like Carroll and Nolan at his disposal, but he will have to make due with a cohesive defense and an attack that is still finding its identity.

The formula has worked out okay so far.