The message to the Newcastle United players, more than at any other stage of this season, is to hold your nerve.
Come on lads, clear your heads and see this campaign through to a successful conclusion.
After all the months of slog, the hard yards, the building of points gaps, the clinging on to that berth in the top two, let’s not blow this now. Yes, there is bound to be anxiety, Benitez has said as much himself, but over the course of this season we’ve seen more than enough to suggest that this team can secure promotion back to the Premier League.
The trick now is to stay focused on that goal as we enter the run in. Cool heads, concentration, confidence, chests puffed out. The manager will really earn his money in the coming weeks. In his own words, he has to find the ‘solutions’ to recent problems and he has the tools to do so. All of the fans back him and the players too. Just nothing silly please!
The expectation levels at Newcastle are maybe messing with a few heads in the dressing room but surely they need to take a sharp intake of breath and back themselves here. They’ve got this in the palm of their hands, they have bags of ability and there’s no reason why they can’t get the eight or nine wins that are needed from the remaining set of games.
It was 21 years ago that a vastly different Newcastle side was blowing a 12 point lead at the summit of the top flight. They were, sadly, as we all know, hunted down by Man Utd and a talismanic Eric Cantona. The bunting was almost up before Keegan’s swashbucklers choked right on the winning line.
We have seen it before. We all know that ‘typical Newcastle’ feeling. I felt it at 0-2 against Bristol City. It’s never straightforward. The experience of 1996 lives with us all and the last thing anyone wants is to see some sort of 2017 second tier equivalent.
It may go to the wire. April is the biggest of months. We’ll need Gayle at his best for that run because Huddersfield Town and Brighton are like a dog with a bone.
Previous successful promotion campaigns in 1992/93 and 2009/10 saw us returned to the top flight when we had 70 or more points after 33 games. It’s really very achievable from this point on.
The article about what happens if we don’t get there, is for another day, and it’s one that I hopefully won’t have to sit down and write.
So this is very much a call to arms. I’ve no idea if the players will read this or not, but the message is clear: knuckle down, keep your heads, and see this one out.
Aleksandar the great?
Our Serbian cult hero, Mr Mitrovic, is always a major taking point. The injury to Dwight Gayle has afforded him his big chance to lead the line for Newcastle. A big job on young shoulders. People often forget that Mitrovic is still a bairn really.
That doesn’t make him totally immune from criticism. I wrote about a performance he put in against Blackburn at St James Park. I witnessed that day a player who, I felt, still had bags to learn about playing up front. This came to the fore again against Bristol. We looked blunt as a spoon, with Mitro not making any really useful runs to get into scoring positions.
This is a player who famously got goals for Anderlecht in the Champions League. Where do we go with him? When is he going to be that striker who comes off the park having earned us a win?
Benitez handles the media questions very well on this but behind closed doors he must be scratching his head with the form of his target man.
Far be it from any notion that Mitrovic’s NUFC career is over but patience is wearing thin with a player who promised so much when he arrived for £14m.
There was talk of a big bid in January from PSG. The club opting not to sell. It was probably the right call, the kid still has potential, right?
Much gets written in the national media about Newcastle United, a fair chunk of it is inaccurate. Many fans believe it’s an attempt to destabilise the club when things go well. I’m not so sure that is really the case but it does get tedious the amount of speculation that does the rounds. Fake news thrives in the sports pages.
Whatever the future holds for our manager – the most loved, the most popular and the most qualified since Bobby Robson – it’s been fabulous to have him here on Tyneside. The hope is he stays on, regardless of how this season ends. He will keep his own counsel on that though.
It was wild claims linking with the Arsenal job, then even more laughably liking him with a coaching gig over in China for £30m. Benitez is settled in England. Newcastle is a good fit for him and I think he genuinely has an affinity for the club. Much has been made of his desire to remain close to his family home in Merseyside.
Newcastle gives him that. None of us have a crystal ball of course, and football is a ruthless business, but anything linking him with a move away is pure kite flying at the moment.
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