Ability is no longer enough and the brilliant Manchester City draw shows why.
A minimum expectation for any fan is that their team tries.
Newcastle fans know their team will not win every game, but they sure expect effort, guts and the right attitude when those players step out onto the pitch.
The latter is something Newcastle players have been lacking for years now. Poor attitude is endemic at the club, from boardroom to dressing room.
The modern game has thrown up astronomical wages, the game awash with more money than most of us could ever dream of. In turn, greed has swallowed up many a player. Nomads, earning thousands going from club to club in search of their next big payday, with no thought for the fans, and no feelings for the clubs they play for. The people’s game is now the millionaire’s game.
This season though, money isn’t everything. Look at Leicester City. A team of average players (with a few of exceptions in Mahrez, Vardy and Kante) are top of the league.
The sheer effort shown by Leicester players week in, week out is exceptional. They fight for each other, pushing themselves to levels beyond what is expected. Everyone’s favourite underdog is dogged and resilient, with the mental strength to battle for every point.
Teams such as Bournemouth, Watford and even Tottenham are all over-performing. They all work for each other, fight for every ball and come off the pitch having given their all. As well as Newcastle, Chelsea are another example this season of when the wrong attitude has resulted in poor performances.
When you look at Newcastle and Bournemouth’s team sheets, there is only one winner. And I say that with the utmost respect to the Cherries. But ability is not enough. Not anymore. Bournemouth have a team full of character, whilst Newcastle do not.
Against Swansea, Newcastle were good. Not great, but better than what had gone before. A 3-0 win had given fans and the team hope. Football is all about hope (and then crushing disappointment being a Newcastle fan).
Then Manchester City happened. Newcastle were outstanding. Fight, passion, character, effort. I could go on. They gave their all. Even Moussa Sissoko was tracking back, covering every blade of grass. It is almost like the captain’s armband has given him superpowers.
Notable mention to Cheick Tiote as well, who looked like the Tiote of old, marshalling the midfield.
Even if Newcastle had lost, I would have been proud of that performance. They deserved all three points, and should have had all three had the linesman not criminally missed Sergio Aguero’s offside opener. Along with Jonathan Moss at the weekend, it has not been a great couple of days for officials. But that debate is for another day.
Rafa Benitez is certainly having an impact on many of the players, barking instructions throughout, organising the defence with precision from the touchline.
Vurnon Anita looks a different player, and must surely be given the nod ahead of Daryl Janmaat for the rest of the campaign. I also like the partnership developing between Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba. Fabricio Coloccini is finished as a Newcastle player, and should be nowhere near the first team when he returns from injury.
Benitez has the guts to drop underperforming players such as Coloccini, evidenced by the deserved dropping of Gini Wijnaldum and Jonjo Shelvey.
My only slight criticism is the continued omission of Aleksandar Mitrovic. Papiss Cisse plays like he has never seen a football before, and appears to wear boots made from part ice skate, part bouncy ball, given the number of times he slips and/or fails to control the ball.
Aside from team selection, the energy and desire shown was also refreshing. Watching Newcastle play as they did against Man City was enjoyable, which is something seldom said by Toon fans this season. Every time Newcastle advanced forward with the ball, you started to think something might happen. If only Newcastle had played like this all season I kept thinking.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. ‘If only’ is a term that will haunt Newcastle should they be relegated. If only Rafa Benitez had been appointed earlier. If only the players had showed this character, attitude and belief throughout the season. If only they had at least tried …
Newcastle are now only two points from safety and I have yet again been swept up by hope. With four games to go, let’s hope Newcastle can pull off one of the most dramatic and unexpected escape acts in Premier League history.
Failing that, let’s hope we at least bloody try …