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…
Rhys Melhuish gives his thoughts:
How has the season panned out compared to what you expected before a ball was kicked?
As far as Newcastle United go it’s went pretty much how I expected, with the only difference being I expected us to be a lot more solid at home and potentially “iffy” on the road.
The reason why most fans are still a bit nervous/unsatisfied is that the chasing pack in 2nd and 3rd are doing exceptionally well, much better than most expected. The fact that Huddersfield are sat in 3rd, with 71 points after 37 games, is quite remarkable.
It was never going to be easy but we’ve done very well: Top of the league, scored the most, conceded the least. It’s hard to be unhappy with that.
How confident on a scale of 0-100% are you that Newcastle will get automatic promotion?
100%, plain and simple.
How important has Rafa Benitez been to Newcastle standing top of the table?
It’s hard to say he hasn’t been crucial. Had he walked in the summer (for which nobody would’ve blamed him for doing so) it’s hard to imagine what kind of position the club would be in.
We’ve still got our problems at Newcastle United but Benitez has well and truly re-aligned the club with its city and its people, it’s certainly going in the right direction now. That feel-good factor (which would be non-existent without Benitez) has made sure of that.
Not only that but I’m confident we’ll stay at the top. Rafa knows how to finish a job too.
What did you make of no signings in January?
Had you said at the start of the window that we wouldn’t have made any additions, I wouldn’t have been too bothered. The squad, as it is, is more than good enough to go up, but it was quite frustrating seeing that a deal for Townsend to return was all but done, then didn’t happen. Bringing back old memories of the “we couldn’t get them over the line” nonsense from previous reigns.
A vital game tomorrow and everybody fit, which 11 current NUFC players would you select?
Darlow – Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Hayden, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Atsu – Gayle.
Some fans have concerns about the playing style under Rafa this season. Discuss.
Benitez should not be free from criticism when he gets things wrong. On occasion this season, that has been the case, but they’ve been few and far between. As I said, we’re top of the league having scored the most and conceded the least, how can we be criticising the style overall? Nonsensical.
How worried are you, if at all, that Rafa may have problems with Mike Ashley in the summer?
By some distance this is the biggest worry for all Newcastle fans. I’m just hoping nothing serious comes from the “wobble” which seemed to occur after the January window, and that tensions off-the-field will be fixed soon enough. If not, I dread to think of the outcome.
Which five Newcastle players would you keep to go into the Premier League?
I’d keep a lot of the current squad for next year, at the very least as back-up, but the five that have stood out for me have been Gayle, Ritchie, Shelvey, Yedlin and Clark.
Which five Newcastle first team squad players wouldn’t be able to hack it in the top tier?
This is a tough question. I would argue it’s more than possible for a player to be better in the Premier League than they would be in the Championship. For example, players like Mbemba and Perez have struggled at times in this division, but looked great prospects in the top tier.
No doubt many will be quick to jump on the likes of Paul Dummett and Jack Colback, but they’d be perfectly capable Premier League players, perhaps just not first-team.
The five would be: Gouffran (deserves credit for this year but his legs are going, Premier League will be too much for him next year), Sels (you don’t become a bad keeper overnight, but I’m never convinced watching him), Diame (when he’s turned up he’s been monstrous, Birmingham (H) for example, But hasn’t done enough this season and I think he’s lost too much pace over the last couple of years to cope with the Premier League), Haidara (surely time for him to move on) and Sammy Ameobi (I do love the guy, but Premier League football is definitely a stretch for him).
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?
In all honesty, I believe this team we’ve got now would finish comfortably above the relegation zone: 14th, 15th, something like that. We have a side better suited to being in the Premier League, playing in games that are more open. As opposed to 99% of sides coming against us and doing nothing but defending. Two or three quality players added to the first XI would see us do well.
In order, what positions would need to be strengthened, the most necessary first?
Dummett doesn’t deserve the stick he gets but he isn’t a first-choice Premier League left back. I don’t know what the problem with Lazaar is, I’d like to see him play more but he hasn’t been involved. If Rafa isn’t convinced with either, a new left back is needed. Somebody like Jetro Willems would be a fantastic buy.
I’d also like another creative central midfielder, Tom Cairney looks like someone we may go in for, and I’d love to see that happen.
I’d also like to see another winger, another move for Townsend wouldn’t be a bad move. Another striker will probably be needed for competition at the very least, Gayle deserves a crack at being our first-choice striker in the Premier League.
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.
The best way to fix it is to make it clear to the fans that we don’t have any form of god-given right to win football matches in this league. Fans need to understand that cheering the team on does actually help. If things aren’t going our way, if the team hasn’t quite turned up, grumbling and groaning won’t help at all.
Failing that, safe standing seems canny.
You can follow the author on Twitter @RhysMelhuish22
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])