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…
Down Under Mag gives his thoughts:
How has the season panned out compared to what you expected before a ball was kicked?
I thought we would struggle to be honest, given the state of the team when we went down to be sitting top of the league with a healthy goal difference is a pleasant surprise. It may not all be going according to script of some who expected us to romp the league with a record points tally, but right now it’s going the right way.
How confident on a scale of 0-100% are you that Newcastle will get automatic promotion?
90-95% While we are sitting pretty and with a couple more wins on the board and some results going our way we could be all but assured of automatic promotion…it’s looking like mission accomplished but there’s always that element of doubt while there is some chance of us imploding, anyone who went through the Keegan collapse for the league title probably has that feeling.
How important has Rafa Benitez been to Newcastle standing top of the table?
Essential. While his tactics and style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he has been instrumental in getting the squad reshaped from the appallingly dire showing that went down at the end of last season. To pick the club up, reshape it and have them on track for promotion shows a huge achievement that seems to be overlooked by many. I think he plays a little cautious and some of his squad rotation does backfire occasionally, but when we are top of the league with a hugely positive goal difference it shows he’s doing something right.
What did you make of no signings in January?
I wasn’t too worried. We had arguably the strongest squad in the league and so I agreed with not buying players just for the sake of it. If we couldn’t get a player who was going to improve the first team and be good enough to make an impact in the premier league then it was better to keep the money for the summer when it would be easier to attract players and probably cheaper too. We don’t have the finances of a Man City or Chelsea so we do need to be sensible about our spending, so as long as the lack of signings in January means we have funds available to push on then i’m all for it.
A vital game tomorrow and everybody fit, which 11 current NUFC players would you select?
Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Atsu, Aarons, Perez, Gayle
Some fans have concerns about the playing style under Rafa this season. Discuss.
I’m not sure what people are expecting…we have scored the most goals, have conceded the least, are sitting top of the table and on course to go up at the first time of asking after being relegated with an absolutely abysmal squad that saw many jump ship and leave Rafa with a huge task of rebuilding the squad to gain immediate promotion.
I understand some frustration that we aren’t going all out attack at home against teams that are arguably there for the taking, but like it or not what Rafa is setting us up to do is to be very hard to break down and organised in attack which will serve us a lot better when we do get back to the top flight. His rotation policy is a little strange at times I will admit, but it’s probably also why we’ve coped with the games and haven’t had too many injury concerns.
I think he’s done a fantastic job since he’s been here and I can’t understand who anyone would prefer that would realistically have taken us! We have one of the most sought after managers in the world but unless they are Keegan and play balls to the wall footy then there really is no pleasing some fans.
How worried are you, if at all, that Rafa may have problems with Mike Ashley in the summer?
Somewhat. We’ve been down this track far too often under Ashley where just as things seem to be going well he does something incredibly idiotic and creates utter chaos. All we can hope for is that he has learned his lesson, back Rafa to strengthen the squad and gives him his chance to win some silverware.
Which five Newcastle players would you keep to go into the Premier League?
Gayle, Shelvey, Ritchie, Clark and (despite some question marks) Lascelles.
Which five Newcastle first team squad players wouldn’t be able to hack it in the top tier?
Diame, Selz, Ameobi, Gouffran and Colback. Question marks around others as well but those 5 need to be moved on.
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?
Starting eleven? Probably 2 maybe 3 at a push. But squad wise I’d say we need to jettison some dead wood and have an injection of at least 6-7 players with more quality as cover.
In order, what positions would need to be strengthened, the most necessary first?
Another goalscorer would be a priority followed by a winger and then a LB. The rest are a “nice to have” but we could probably squeeze by if we strengthen the core of the side more.
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.
A safe standing area with (dare I suggest it) beer allowed out to the stand would be the main port of call. Granted the beer may not happen due to throwing of plastic cups (or using them as makeshift toilets) but safe standing areas mean a better atmosphere and mates all gathered together who feel comfortable chanting together but maybe less so sat on their own amongst strangers.
Other than that, the club need to instil some belief for the fans to hold onto and until Ashley proves he’s not going to run the club back into the ground cutting corners, the fans are justifiably wary of getting behind them too much.
Finally…fans just need to stop booing their own team at the drop of a hat – I get that it is a symptom rather than cause of the bad atmosphere and ill feeling at the club BUT it doesn’t help.
You can follow the author on Twitter @DownUnderMag
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])