When Newcastle United win or draw there is still usually the same discussion afterwards.
On the odd occasion that Rafa’s boys lose, that discussion simply intensifies.
In one camp you have Newcastle fans saying that the football is invariably poor, there is a lack of real quality throughout most of the team, and they aren’t quite sure how we are getting promoted so relatively easily.
Opposing that view you have those who constantly argue that the number of points (84 after 41 games) proves how good Newcastle are, with also the fact that no other Championship team has scored more goals or conceded less than NUFC.
Surely the stats can’t lie?
Well they don’t, at least up to a large point, but the truth is that both sides of the argument are correct, in most cases.
Newcastle aren’t great to watch most games, there is a negative sitting back style that Rafa Benitez prefers, which relies mostly on counter-attacking, and often at home the team can look clueless for much of the 90 minutes when trying to break defensive formations down BUT it is working overall.
After 41 matches you are where you deserve to be, Newcastle only have Brighton two points ahead of them and the other 22 teams are 10 points or more behind.
That is success in anybody’s book, especially if the mission statement this season simply read ‘Promotion is success, anything else is failure’.
The two sides of the argument are really about something else altogether, they are simply talking about two different things.
Those who are glass half full are really talking about how happy/relieved they are that Newcastle are heading for promotion to the Premier League.
Whilst the other lot are worried about what happens when United get there (the Premier League).
Whatever the style of football and/or Newcastle grinding the results out, this team/squad that Rafa has assembled have proved that they are more than good enough to get promotion at the first attempt, something that Norwich and Villa have totally failed to get close to.
However, this is a team/squad for the moment, with very few players convincing that they can play any part in making a decent fist of the Premier League.
If you are looking for a core of 15 or 16 players that you would be happy to rely on in the top tier next season, I think Darlow and Shelvey are probably the only two you could include from what Rafa Benitez inherited last March.
When it comes to his signings, then I would add Gayle, Clark, Hayden, Yedlin and Ritchie as Premier League players. Maybe not all playing as first choice every week but good enough to be called upon.
There were widespread claims that Mike Ashley had made clear he wasn’t happy with Rafa’s signings when the Newcastle boss wanted more recruits in January.
However, for five of 11 permanent signings to be capable of making that step up, I think is pretty good going. Particularly when you compare it to the vast amount of money wasted thanks to the Ashley/Carr/Charnley transfer policy of excluding the Manager from having any real say.
It isn’t Rafa’s fault that Diame has proved to be a total dud, whilst others such as Murphy, Hanley and Gamez were always going to be just short-term experience/cover. Then you were always going to have one or two who simply didn’t work out, such as Lazaar.
Rafa Benitez has more than succeeded in his challenge this season and built some foundation for when/if Newcastle are promoted.
The total mess he inherited was always going to take time and significant investment to turn things around, the right backing and signings this summer can see stage two ticking more boxes for all fans as Newcastle United is rebuilt on the playing side on the watch of Rafa Benitez. With some of those signings also significantly adding to the style/entertainment side of things.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])