We have asked a number of our regular/irregular contributors various question about Newcastle United – the events of last season and moving forward.
Up this time is David McAvelia:
How does this promotion team compare to the 2009/10 one?
Eight points separate our current squad (94) and the 2009/10 squad (102). We had a more physical side back in 09/10 with the likes of Nolan, Barton, Smith, Carroll, Coloccini and even the likes of Leon Best and Shola. The Championship is a tough physical league and I think we missed a couple of stronger, more senior players at times. That said, we went up as Champions and with Rafa in charge and a decent transfer budget there is a real buzz among the fans right now and I feel confident about the season ahead.
How do you rate local media coverage of Newcastle these days?
We live in an age of 24 hour news on the web and TV. I check the local press on my way into work, at lunchtime and on the way home. Newcastle supporters are fanatical, we expect news and updates at the touch of a button and as a result we become critical when we don’t get a world class exclusive headline every hour.
The local media get a lot of stick, you just have to read the comments on the Chronicle website to see that. If you don’t like what they are reporting don’t read it. I think they do a decent job under demanding circumstances.
How do you rate national media coverage of Newcastle these days?
I tend to read The Mag and the local press more than national newspapers as you tend to get less coverage in the Championship. I get tired of listening to Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundits and the “delusional” and “big club” drivel that they spout. We are the most loyal and dedicated fans in England and I think they confuse our passionate support with a demand for silverware. If you want to take a dig at fans with crazy expectations look no further than Arsenal.
What would be your ideal first Newcastle Premier League fixture of the season?
Sunderland……. never mind though.
Three words to describe how you feel about Newcastle United at the minute?
Rafa, marry me!
Somebody who deserves more credit for last season than they maybe have received?
I think Isaac Hayden had a solid season for us. He had a poor spell at the start of 2017 and I was critical of a few of his performances, then he was out for a month and I quickly realised how much we missed him. Colback really struggled to fill Hayden’s boots.
Sam Hepworth wrote a great article for The Mag highlighting that Ciaran Clark has collected 71 points out of a possible 96 this season. When he’s been on the pitch he’s backed up a sometimes erratic Lascelles and has quietly gone about his work. For me, Clark has been a tremendous buy, even more so because we bought him from Villa.
Rate Rafa on the following –
Transfers – 9/10
Put simply, Rafa’s signings have secured promotion for us.
I was deeply concerned that Rafa was going to walk after the January transfer window. A couple of signings could have made the second half of the season far more comfortable and when interviewed at the time he had a face like thunder. However the summer signings were enough. Gayle, Ritchie and Clark have been superb, I’ve also enjoyed watching Yedlin and Atsu who have added pace to the team.
It’s difficult to rate Murphy and Hanley with the limited game time they’ve had. The only disappointments for me have been Sels and Diame. For such a leggy player, Diame looks like he’s running underwater at times.
Tactics – 9/10
My managerial career consists of three seasons running an under 9s and an under 7s team, who am I to judge Rafa Benitez on tactics?
Some fans may consider 9/10 high but Rafa has come into our side, inherited a squad, added a few players and returned us to the Premier League as Champions. Despite a few suspect decisions to rotate players after winning games I’m happy with the way we’ve played.
Entertainment – 8
The Championship is not a particularly entertaining league, you play physical teams who line up their players behind the ball, you have to grind out the results and the refereeing is at times laughable.
But let’s not forget the 4-3 comeback against Norwich, the team goal against Ipswich, Shelvey spraying the ball around the park and that goal against QPR, Ritchie booting the corner flag game after game, our games against Forest and Lansbury’s howler when he returned to St James’ with Villa. Oh, and let’s not forget Diame’s goal against Brighton.
Was I entertained to Keegan levels? No
Was I entertained winning the Championship in the final ten minutes of the last game of the season? Oh yes.
Overall – 9
In mid August we’d played 2 lost 2. At that point in the season we were at risk of becoming another Leeds or Sheffield Wednesday, an underachieving big city club scrapping in the Championship season after season.
I think many fans expected us to be destroying teams week in, week out but it didn’t turn out like that. Blackburn and Sheff Wed each took six points of us and the games again Forest, Leeds and Bristol were frustrating.
Overall we should be very happy, our aim was to gain promotion and we’ve gone up as Champions.
How did the Championship season turn out compared to what you imagined would happen?
My expectations were mixed, I had confidence in Rafa but nagging doubts about having a world class manager in a second class league having to put up with nonsense from the likes of McClaren, Warnock and Jaap Stam.
We were in the Championship only a few years back but I’d forgotten just how frustrating the league is, how teams can camp out against you and how bitter the opposition fans can be.
I’m glad we are out of there, I don’t care how we did it.
If no signings (other than Atsu) where would this current squad/team finish in the Premier League?
I think we will/would be in a relegation battle.
With level of signings you anticipate, how high do you think Newcastle can aim next season?
Chris Hughton’s team finished twelfth in his first Premier League season (Hughton sacked mid-season despite being mid-table at the time), I’d be delighted with that, but would expect us to be pushing for the top seven or eight the following season if the money we’ve been promised is invested in the team by Rafa (and not the board).
If 10 was Mike Ashley totally changing his outlook on running Newcastle and 0 not at all, how far do you think he has moved (if at all) in the 15 months Rafa Benitez has been at St James Park?
I wrote an article about Ashley earlier in the season and his ability to raise and then crush our spirits several times over the season. Ashley will never get a more successful international manager at Newcastle so he absolutely needs to make this work. I think we are approaching a 7, but not giving Rafa money in January proved he is perhaps still a 5. Who knows what goes on in the blokes mind.
Mike Ashley is pushing ahead with a development on land opposite the Gallowgate End which almost certainly will make it impossible to ever expand St James Park in the future (This will only profit him and not the football club). What are your thoughts, especially considering Newcastle averaged over fifty one thousand in the Championship.
As I’ve written above, a crazy decision is just around the corner with Ashley. I’d not be surprised if this time next season we have Nigel Pearson as boss, Adam Johnson as club captain, Slazenger as our kit sponsor and we are playing at Gateshead Stadium whilst St James Park is turned into a Sports Direct depot.
How positive do you feel about progress being made underneath first team level at Newcastle?
I’ve not watched our youth teams this season but I see the U23s narrowly missed out on promotion. Last season in the Premier League there were 500 registered players and only 38 of those were academy graduates. As a youth coach I say this with a heavy heart but money talks and the performance of those beneath the first team are unlikely to impact our progress unless we get some real superstars through the ranks…
I have friends at the Academy and have heard very positive things about Stu Findlay, Dan Barlaser and Victor Fernandez. As someone who is associated with North Shields Juniors I’d also love to see the Longstaff brothers, Lewis Cass and Owen Bailey progress through the ranks.
What are your hopes/expectations for the atmosphere at St James Park next season and what could be done to improve it?
Hats off to the lads at Gallowgate Flags, I think the ground looks amazing and they give the fans and team a lift. I understand that we need to make changes to our away seating so whether that leaves room for an all singing section I don’t know. We certainly need one.
Please, please, please, none of those daft clappy things though.
You can follow the author on Twitter @DavidMcAvelia
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])