If you are back at work after the long Newcastle United free Easter weekend, which if anything like mine was fuelled by alcohol and chocolate, it probably means your sights are now firmly set on Newcastle United’s next ‘must-win’ game at Norwich on Saturday afternoon.
Defeat, as it was in the derby, is simply unthinkable. Victory at Carrow Road is crucial in maintaining the positive vibe generated since Rafa’s arrival, along with the small matter of three invaluable points over our relegation rivals.
While one point in Rafa’s opening two games may not have been the instant impact we all dreamed of, there still seems to be relative optimism around Tyneside. The overwhelming feeling nine days ago seemed to be that of relief, as we avoided what could have been a massive nail in our premier league coffin from the fiercest rivals.
But now, with the derby out the way, full concentration is on the final eight games of the season, and achieving the points needed to guarantee our top flight status.
Our route to safety is a simple one; to be at the top of our ‘mini league’ with Norwich and the mackems come May 15th. Looking at our remaining fixtures, and while it feels clichéd to say it, there seems to be enough ‘winnable’ games in there to get the points needed to keep us in the division.
The stage, it seems, is set for one of our current crop to step up to the mark and score the goals needed for survival – easier said than done, of course, but who in our roster can we pin our hopes on?
Mitrovic, it seems, has the perfect opportunity to kick on and find a purple patch in front of goal following his leveller last weekend against the mackems (providing he can shake off the clattering he took which has saw out of international duty against Poland on Friday – something tells me he won’t let that stop him…).
Whether or not he can significantly add to his six goal tally this season remains to be seen, but an acknowledgement from the manager that the supply from midfield needs to improve, as well the additional help from specialist attacking coach Allan Russell, to specifically aid Mitro in his quest for goals, certainly provides some cause for hope.
Last weekend also saw a return from injury for our No. 9. While Cisse may split those on the terraces, his prolific start to English football (Yes, I realise that was four years ago, but we’ve got to find blind hope from somewhere, right…?), combined with his 11 goals in just 22 appearances last term, adds weight to the claim that he’s the most natural goal scorer in the squad. Cisse’s return to fitness is a timely boost for Benitez, and a resource we’ve barely had opportunity to call upon so far this season.
While Ayoze Perez may not have progressed from last season to the extent that we’d all hoped, the young Spaniard has the talent for all to see. Perez scored the crucial goals at Bournemouth and Spurs in our only two away victories this season – our away day talisman perhaps? Here’s hoping he can do the necessary to claim that title come May.
Siem de Jong meanwhile, is seemingly back in favour since Rafa’s arrival – his previous two sub appearances, combined with some positive comments in the media from his new manager, has led to suggestions of a starting berth against Norwich.
Of course, our route to safety will be reliant on the collective, rather than individual. While finding a consistent goal source has been a problem all season, goals have been also been lacking across the pitch.
Moussa Sissoko is a prime example as one of our so-called attacking threats, the French international hasn’t a single goal to his name all season. Rafa will also be looking for the likes of Townsend and Shelvey to weigh in with more goals and hopefully he can also help Gini Wijnaldum find the goalscoring form which he showed earlier in the season (and maybe even add one or two away from home!).
Rewind 12 months ago and it was Jonas Gutierrez who was the hero on the final day of the season against West Ham, rescuing our premier league status.
Now, with eight games remaining, the opportunity exists again for one or many of our current squad. Who, if anyone, will it be?
Step forward the next saviour of Newcastle United.