The festive season is always a time when you tend to reflect on life, the universe…and how things have gone for Newcastle United!
So how has it been for me – and for you?
Well, I have split things down into various topics/subjects and hopefully it will make some sense…I have looked at what the reality has been, compared to what I expected before a ball was kicked in anger.
Expected Newcastle to be top and pleased to see that has been proved right, it may only be a point ahead of Brighton but great effort by Rafa and his team to be bang on course.
Number of points:
Before the season kicked off, I reckoned on Newcastle hopefully being on something like 45-50 point at the halfway point.
So to be on 49 points with one game to go before we reach that halfway landmark, is an outstanding effort and ahead of target for me.
Maybe the biggest surprise is where the points have been picked up, with remarkably Newcastle so far accumulating more (25) points away, than at home (24).
The three defeats at home have been a major shock (last promotion season 2009/10 saw not a single loss at SJP) but made up for with eight wins from 11 game son the road.
Easy one this. I expected pretty much every away ticket to be snapped up and that has been the case.
The highlights are taking 7,000 to Fulham and Blackburn (2 Jan), 6,000 to Barnsley and Preston, then nearly 5,000 to Wigan on a midweek in mid-December!
Low points have been beyond our control, with Nottingham Forest (2,002) and Hull (2,474) in the League Cup, preferring to have almost ten thousand empty seats rather than giving Newcastle more than the bare minimum number of tickets they are forced to do so.
Crowds at St James Park:
I obviously thought that the players would be well supported but averaging almost 51,000 is astonishing.
I expected probably 47,000 or so average at St James Park and so probably around 3,000/4,000 more than imagined.
Players I expected to be stars:
Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie looked nailed on to deliver and both have done this season. As top scorer in the league with 17 goals Gayle has been excellent, whilst Ritchie started off as United best player but has been a bit in and out in the last six weeks or so.
Shelvey was always going to be capable of bossing this league and is doing so, whilst former Championship players Darlow & Lascelles have carried on their form or late last season and shown themselves to be Premier League players.
I thought Mitrovic would have been able to also show he is better class than this level but even in the little we have seen of him, he has struggled to really impose himself. Scored a couple of decent goals but his all round play has been disappointing, meaning Rafa Benitez has possibly had to play Dwight Gayle more often and for longer than he’d have preferred to.
With Mohamed Diame having scored 10 from midfield for Hull last season and playing Premier League football previous to that, I kind of assumed we would be seeing the same this time. We have done the past three matches but he was woeful for the preceding three/four months – more of the (recent) same please.
Players I expected to do a job:
Anita and Dummett maybe tick all the boxes here. Both have shown their capability in handling this level, helped by the fact that very few teams have any real quality on the wings, or even dare risk trying to get forward too much by putting somebody up to test the opposition.
Jack Colback is maybe another in this category, a player who I don’t think is good enough for us in the Premier League but who should comfortably do a job this season. To be honest though he has been poor and some distance below what Isaac Hayden usually gives the team when he plays.
Players I had little expectation of:
Ciaran Clark was a puzzling signing and looked to be a centre-back too many, fourth choice behind Lascelles, Mbemba and Hanley. However, he has been easily Newcastle’s top defender and indeed arguably top player in the whole team. Proving an inspired signing rather than puzzling!
Can’t say I am the biggest fan of Ayoze Perez and think he got a bit of an easy ride last season for his performances, with Sissoko and others attracting so much flak. Whilst many appeared to think the Spaniard would be a superstar in the Championship, I simply see a player who struggles to have a proper position and whilst he does have some level of skill, he is desperately slow and appears to lack real desire much of the time.
Ending with another easy one.
Rafa Benitez insisted he has the backing before agreeing to stay on and so he was able to build a squad with a level of depth missing elsewhere in the Championship.
Expertly managing his squad and never ever afraid to make big calls and leave big names out and/or rotate, Rafa Benitez has carried out the job with the ruthless precision I expected.
His intelligent use of the squad and refusal to take the kind of risks with key players’ fitness that Alan Pardew would do without blinking, means that there have been next to no significant injuries for big players so far. A number of fringe ones (Aarons, Murphy, Gamez) have picked up injuries but tending to be what you are always going to get with the usual level of luck in training etc.