It is 23 games into our Championship campaign and the views amongst fans as to how it has gone seem to be mixed. We currently sit second, six points clear of third and two points behind leaders Brighton.
My own personal feeling is one of ‘what might have been’, as Newcastle United could easily have been out of sight.
However, the fact that we aren’t, actually keeps me more entertained. The thrill of reading the fixtures of our rivals and trying to second guess where they’ll drop points, makes this season far more exciting than if we were 15 points clear and cruising, although I wouldn’t grumble at that scenario either!
I tend to think the six defeats we’ve suffered so far, stand us in good stead for the second half of the season as it should focus the players’ minds and not allow them to get carried away if and when we put a few wins together. Simply put, this hasn’t been the cakewalk some of us expected it to be once Rafa Benitez stayed.
It’s a tough league and now the players are well aware of that fact. In certain games that we’ve lost, like Boxing Day, it has been because the opposition were stubborn, well drilled and hard to break down. In others, Forest away for example, it has been down to the incompetence of others. This simply adds to the unpredictability of this league.
Now, our opening four games of the second half of the season consist of home fixtures against Forest and Rotherham, with away trips to Blackburn and Brentford sandwiched in between, that’s not including the FA Cup third round at Birmingham. You can’t imagine the conversations in the changing rooms are of anything other than 12 points, that would take us nicely into the game away at Brighton.
As we know, Brighton currently sit top and have lost only once (home to Brentford) since their trip to SJP. Are they really THAT good?
They looked very average at SJP, as do a lot of teams in this league, but we need to realise that we are the big fish in this particular pond, and teams relish games against us in the same way that Hull, Swansea and Bournemouth relish playing Man City or Chelsea. It’s a freebie where an anything is a bonus attitude is adopted leading to a pressure free performance.
I have no doubt we’ll strengthen again in January, a creative midfielder is a must. If that’s all we get I’d be happy because as Shelvey’s current ban has shown, there is far too much of a reliance on him to make us tick.
I still think, despite the pessimism that appears to have crept in during recent weeks, that we will be top two come May, preferably first, and comfortably so.
However, it’s not going to be easy, it’s guts check time for players and fans alike.
We demand effort, so let’s see some from the stands – roar the team on for the next 23 games and let us help do our part in getting this club back where it belongs.