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…
Jonathan Drape-Comyn gives his thoughts:
How has the season panned out compared to what you expected before a ball was kicked?
I don’t really know what I expected at the start of the season. On the one hand we knew that the Championship was a difficult league and that anything could happen. From that regard at the start of the season, I would have been happy with the play-offs and to take it from there.
Then again, we went into the season with the biggest budget, having spent £50 plus million, the best manager, the biggest squad, biggest stadium, best facilities… so I did think if we didn’t go up then it would be a massive failure.
How confident on a scale of 0-100% are you that Newcastle will get automatic promotion?
70%. We should get promoted from this position, if we don’t if would be a spectacular collapse… and an equally spectacular run of form from Huddersfield or Leeds.
Absolutely nothing is guaranteed in this league. Aside from Rotherham, every team can beat every team. We may win our next two games against Wigan and Burton 4-0…but we can very easily slip up. Before last season, we saw Middlesbrough, Derby, Brighton year after year fall away after being in such a strong position so you can’t take anything for granted.
How important has Rafa Benitez been to Newcastle standing top of the table?
If you had to rank it out of 100, you would have to say 100.
If Rafa Benitez didn’t stay as manager then I think we would be in a similar position to where Aston Villa are now. The organisation on the pitch wouldn’t be half as good as it is, the signings we made in the summer (the likes of Clark, Murphy) who have won us huge points this season never would have happened.
Nor would the support from the fans be half as good if it wasn’t for Rafa staying. He has taken the attention away from Mike Ashley/Lee Charnley after last season’s disaster.
He is the sole reason we are where we are.
What did you make of no signings in January?
Not ideal, but at the end of the day we have the biggest and strongest squad of players in the league, so I don’t think it would be a valid excuse if the worst was to happen and we didn’t get promoted.
I had hoped that the board would have learned from the 2012 transfer window after we finished 5th… when you are on top, you have to continue to invest and improve the squad.
Unfortunately, we didn’t, but I would much rather have kept the squad we had rather than made illogical panic signings.
A vital game tomorrow and everybody fit, which 11 current NUFC players would you select?
Darlow (although Elliott is still my no.1), Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Colback, Shelvey, Gouffran (though if we were at home, I’d play Perez or Atsu over Gouffran), Diame, Ritchie, Gayle
A few of those players have been rubbish this season, the likes of Colback and Diame, but for one reason or another that side has consistently brought results.
Some fans have concerns about the playing style under Rafa this season. Discuss.
At home, the playing style has been awful in my opinion. I wrote in my report after the first game of the season that Rafa would maybe show the Championship too much respect. I think that has been the case at home.
Too negative, too deep, too reliant on Jonjo Shelvey having a good game.
The results have been great this season, the performances have not.
How worried are you, if at all, that Rafa may have problems with Mike Ashley in the summer?
I think Rafa has shown that he won’t take no nonsense. He did it at Valencia, he did at Liverpool, and he complained his way to the sack at Inter Milan. So I think we know that if he’s not happy then we will know about it (just like we did on the 2nd February).
But to answer the question, I am always worried about Mike Ashley.
Which five Newcastle players would you keep to go into the Premier League?
Shelvey, Ritchie, Clark. (100%)
Lascelles, Gayle (wouldn’t be the end of the world if they did go).
Which five Newcastle first team squad players wouldn’t be able to hack it in the top tier?
Anita, Atsu, Gouffran, Diame, Colback.
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?
I’d never be confident of no relegation worries…
Two full backs.
A player equal of Shelvey’s ability to play alongside him.
A creative number 10.
A winger to replace the role Gouffran has played this season.
A centre forward.
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.
Having already wrote an article on this…Nothing major will happen until season ticket holders that do not want to sing, leave their seats in the Gallowgate Corner and make way for those in other areas of the ground that do want to sing.
A final issue is that fans have to be together as one. It’s not good people coming out of the game and slagging fans off for not singing, or not being happy with the performance.
If you’re like me and you want to sing and create an atmosphere that’s your prerogative. However, if someone doesn’t want to sing, or they’re not happy with the side, then that’s their prerogative to do so.
If you do sing then that doesn’t make you any more or ‘better’ of a fan than the person who doesn’t. Until we get over that fact, then I can’t see the atmosphere improving from what it is now (unless of course we are winning).
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles to firstname.lastname@example.org)