The Championship run-in, still time for a wobble?
Newcastle have their fate in their own hands as we head into the last 5 games of the season.
April, which had been identified as a key period, with 21 points on offer, has not exactly been a fertile period. Six points out of a possible nine looks decent on paper but the ascendance gained after back to back victories over Brighton and Huddersfield has been lost. Brighton have regained the lead, deservedly so, and in Chris Hughton, have an astute manager who can be relied upon to lead them back up as champions.
Here is what the table looks like now (before Friday’s matches):
72 Leeds United
69 Sheffield Wed
All teams have five games and 15 points left to play for, bar Huddersfield who have an extra game in hand (against Wolves).
As it stands, Newcastle cannot be touched by Sheffield Wednesday on account of their superior goal difference regardless of the results in the run-in. A win in five should suffice to see off any surge from Leeds United, while an additional draw should suffice to prevent Reading from possibly challenging for the last available automatic promotion spot.
Huddersfield is a different prospect altogether. On a wretched run of late but eminently capable of putting together victories over a stretch. To be absolutely sure of clinching automatic promotion, Newcastle need nine points with eight points (and a better goal difference) the bare minimum.
I know that the mood around the fan base has been largely positive but the pessimist in me cannot help but dread the prospect of the unthinkable happening.
Newcastle, to put it charitably, have been playing functional football of late. The attack is lightweight with Gayle struggling with injuries. Rafa does not play two strikers off each other. Matt Ritchie has at times carried the team with his goals and assists.
The defence does not inspire confidence. Jamaal Lascelles, for all his leadership, has been far from imperious. Ciaran Clark was the rock of the defence, of that there is no doubt. Mbemba should not have been brought back against Wednesday. Yedlin’s pace down the right has been missed.
Jonjo Shelvey has not been the same post his ban. Diame has been deeply underwhelming with Colback not much better. The attacking play of Atsu and Perez has not excited many over the past month. Gouffran is no longer the Gouffran of the first half of the season. It is not the ideal scenario. The positive is that there is a large cushion, points-wise, and Rafa has the savvy to carry this team over the line.
The schedule lines up as follows :
Leeds have been stellar under Gary Monk and with Chris Wood firing on all cylinders, they are primed to make a go of it, given Newcastle’s unspectacular home form. On the other hand, Newcastle have always tended to perform better against other contenders. This game will set the tone and give the clearest indicator as to whether it will be a slog towards the finish line.
Having lost games this season to the likes of Blackburn (twice), Wolves, Oxford United and not having been too convincing against Bristol City, Birmingham and the like, I worry that instead of dominating our way to comfortable victories, we would be forced to win ugly.
Dropping into the play-off lottery is unthinkable. I for one, will be postponing the celebrations, until we are actually sure of promotion. Losing the Championship trophy is something I can live with.
Aditya Gautum (One of our passionate Newcastle fans following the team from India)
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