As Newcastle United enter the final stretch of this (hopefully) promotion campaign, we have asked some of our contributors about the past, present and future…
Davey Hat Trick is up first.
How has the season panned out compared to what you expected before a ball was kicked?
Pretty much as expected. The Rafa effect made me optimistic about our promotion chances, and I still am, so I guess we are on plan. To be honest, I haven’t felt great despair or overwhelming joy too often, so it’s a bit ‘job done’ so far.
I’d compare it to England’s qualification groups for recent tournaments. We top the group without doing anything memorable, then the real fun starts when we get in with the big boys. I hope the comparison ends there!
How confident on a scale of 0-100% are you that Newcastle will get automatic promotion?
I’d say 90%. That is probably based on my expectation that the other teams up there will drop points, rather than Newcastle winning every game. I think we are good enough and far ahead enough to get there.
How important has Rafa Benitez been to Newcastle standing top of the table?
Very important. I can’t say I see evidence of a team inspired but I do see harmony, organisation and consistency for the first time in a while. He has improved the performances of some mediocre players, and most of his signings have done well.
For the first time in aeons, it’s the team rather than Mike Ashley that’s the main topic of conversation and I thank him for that.
What did you make of no signings in January?
I wasn’t expecting any, on the grounds that this group should be good enough to get us promoted, and if they do, we need 5 or 6 Premier level players for next season. That calibre of player would be unlikely to come to a Championship side in January, so it was best to keep our powder dry.
A vital game tomorrow and everybody fit, which 11 current NUFC players would you select?
Elliot, Anita, Clark, Mbemba, Dummett, Shelvey, Hayden, Ritchie, Diame, Gouffran, Gayle (Anita v Yedlin a marginal decision).
Some fans have concerns about the playing style under Rafa this season. Discuss.
It’s exactly what I was expecting. He’s never played expansive football, nor has he played 4-4-2 much. His first instinct has always been caution, so if the fans want him to stay (I do), I think we have to accept it. It’s not exciting, and it’s a contributing factor to the subdued atmosphere at SJP, but I’d probably class it as a necessary evil.
How worried are you, if at all, that Rafa may have problems with Mike Ashley in the summer?
Very. I think Ashley’s 10 year plan is to finish 4th bottom of the Premier League every season. One place higher and he thinks he’s overspent. Rafa is used to big clubs, and will regard us as such – certainly in terms of potential. He’ll want to take Newcastle to – say – Everton’s level in the next 3 years, and I fear Ashley would see that as requiring too much investment.
Which five Newcastle players would you keep to go into the Premier League?
Elliot, Clark, Shelvey, Ritchie, Gayle. In my darker moments, I’m not even sure about them! I’d get De Jong – and possibly Mbabu – back from their loans – they might make the cut…
Which five Newcastle first team squad players wouldn’t be able to hack it in the top tier?
Colback, Lascelles, Mitrovic, Hanley, Gouffran. In my brighter moments, I think most of them are potentially good enough. First four easier than the fifth. A lot of contenders for that. Haven’t seen enough of players like Lazaar, Gamez et al, and I don’t regard the likes of Sammy and Sterry as first teamers, so Gouff gets the last place.
If promoted, how many of the starting eleven next season would need to be new signings for you to be confident of no relegation worries?
Five or six.
In order, what positions would need to be strengthened, the most necessary first?
Striker, full-back, centre-back, midfield. It’s impossible to say how good these players would look in the Premier League. A lot of them (Lascelles, Atsu, Perez, Lazaar, Murphy) could turn out to be revelations, but could also be liabilities….
Generally agreed that the atmosphere is usually poor at St James Park this season. What could be done to improve that (No limitation on how radical the proposals you’d suggest to fix it!).
I don’t think it’s anything to do with stadium design, crowd demography or seats v standing. I’ve known the place rock as it is.
I think the causes are 3 fold: it’s not the Premier League; Rafa’s style of play; nerves about the consequences of not being promoted. Rafa won’t change our style of play, so we are looking at promotion and some exciting signings to improve the atmosphere.
To be honest, I turn up to some games this season and realise I don’t know any of the opposition players and I don’t care enough to try.
Facing players and managers we hate again will help me get more excited…