The first, and most important, rule for anyone planning to support Newcastle United is: do NOT, under any circumstances, get your hopes up. I’ve tried to emphasise this point to my better half many times, yet often I find myself wishing I’d taken my own advice.

Perhaps my biased position means I am more keenly aware and sensitive to the trials and tribulations involved with being a Newcastle fan, but our club, seemingly more than any other, relentlessly puts its followers through the emotional wringer.

It is impossible not to feel a sense of hope at the arrival of Rafa Benitez, but before we bring the bunting out to celebrate the second coming, it is important to remember that come the Summer, Rafa might be nothing more than another painful memory.

In truth, Monday night against Leicester was a bit of a freebie. Nobody, especially the more rational amongst toon fans, expected us to take anything in the way of points from the game.

A much improved performance from what had come before though was vital, and in fairness, the early signs suggest that Rafa’s influence will, if nothing else, make us harder to beat.

The fear going to the King Power Stadium was that not even Rafa Benitez, who takes great pride in his teams’ defensive stability, would be able to plug the holes in our leaking back line. As expected we lost, but we weren’t turned over.

Maybe Leicester’s trademark fluidity was hampered by a little bit of title challenge jitters, yet despite being plagued by the same defensive injuries and lack of any true quality at his disposal that his predecessor ultimately failed to cope with, Benitez managed to send out a team that restricted the Foxes to a single shot on target.

Rafa Personalised Gifts  -

If Newcastle are to escape the drop this season, they must concede a hell of a lot less to give the more attacking players a solid platform from which to try and affect things at the other end. Already there was evidence of a shape, organisation, communication and cohesion at the back that Steve McLaren was unable to install at any point during his tenure.

So it seems that if anyone can get us out of this mess, perhaps Rafa can, but the simple equation remains; if our bid for survival is successful then Rafa Benitez has the potential to be the best thing to happen to Newcastle for a long long time.

I don’t need to outline the benefits of having a proven manager who, one would assume, made certain ultimatums to the board to remove some of the shackles and blindfolds that those before him have put up with.

However, if it is too little too late and he fails, he will be out of the door faster than we can say ‘Championship’, no doubt taking the likes of Shelvey, Townsend and Perez with him, leaving behind a great big Joe Kinnear sized hole for someone to fill.

Now, I refuse to make any predictions or get my hopes up, but the trajectory of Newcastle United’s fate in the coming years seems to be dependent on Sunday’s result.

A victory over Sunderland (a convincing one would be beautiful) could finally ignite our season and give us some much needed momentum going forward, and hopefully, as a bonus, dampen the spirits on Wearyside to critical levels. Defeat would be devastating, both symbolically and in actual terms, inflicting a terminal funk on ourselves that I fear would spell certain relegation.

Survival is still in our hands, but only if we beat the teams around us. Despite the fact a win won’t guarantee our Premiership status for another year, Sunday really is everything – and the consequences of losing are far too depressing to even consider.

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