Sat in stationary traffic on the A1(M) Northbound carriageway, a coach load of Swansea fans stuck behind, celebrating each Sunderland goal on the radio only to eventually miss the Newcastle game – was not how I expected to spend an enjoyable Saturday afternoon.
For once, the mackems scoring three goals was a wondrous thing which has given us an extremely valuable lifeline. In fact, the day could only have gone any better if there had been a few more injuries and red cards down at Carrow Road.
The Sun came out, almost prophetically, and after doing a U-turn at 3 o’clock, the familiar drive back down to Sheffield was made infinitely more enjoyable/nerve-shredding than usual by a Newcastle performance to be proud of.
Before Saturday’s round of results, I had resigned myself to relegation and if we were somehow to survive, it would mean a harder working team going down in our place.
Despite Rafa’s arrival bringing patches of isolated improvement, the team still remained incapable of fighting tooth and nail (for a full 90 minutes) for points. The same old frustrations regarding our habit of deciding to start playing football only once the game is already gone has finally started to bother the ever-complimentary Benitez. Then to add further concern to a non-existent points return, discord amongst the squad has reared its head in the shape of a couple of broken fingers and squad members speaking out publicly against their colleagues.
I’m sure too that; when it was announced both Shelvey and Mitro, two of the few that can have any amount of pride in their recent performances, had been left on the bench, I wasn’t the only one wondering if Rafa really does have more tactical nous than his predecessors.
Whilst keeping Mitrovic back as an ‘impact’ substitute until his fitness, experience and temperament are fully in order does make some sort of sense, to leave Shelvey out seemed like utter madness.
Well Rafa, I apologise for ever doubting you! So far, his press conferences have been filled with assurances that the players really do care and they have been working extremely hard in training. At long last they produced some evidence of this, and the bold match day tactics afforded us a nice solid and compact base from which to win a game from.
In reality, until the mackems beat Norwich and we beat Swansea we looked pretty much done for, and we probably still are. At least now though there is a glimmer of hope.
In an ideal world, defeat will have halted the Canaries’ forward momentum, and Newcastle mirroring Sunderland’s earlier achievement will have deflated their elation.
In theory, we are in a good position to put pressure on the other two, all we have to do now is stuff Man City on Tuesday!