Championship campaigns produce unexpected heroes
This season’s Championship table may have the Chris Hughton Seagulls hovering closely below the Rafa Benitez Magpies but records suggest, the former Toon boss was a more successful Championship manager than his Spanish successor.
The NUFC class of 2017 have already lost twice as many league games this season as the entire total notched by the 2009/10 promotion winners under Hughton’s leadership. In order to equal the mammoth 102 points acquired that year, Rafa would have to guide us to a victory in all eight of our remaining matches.
The obvious interpretation to take with these surprising statistics is the idea that the team we back then dominated this division with, are superior to our current crop of players. The teamsheets from that period do not necessarily support this theory though.
Alan Smith and Nicky Butt were both well past their peaks in midfield and often served a sole purpose of soaking up yellow cards on behalf of their teammates. Likewise Fabrice Pancrate was a forgettable winger and Marlon Harewood was somewhat generously given 15 league outings (9 starts 6 as a sub – 5 goals) in the black and white stripes.
Even so, the spine of the team remained strong with Fabricio Coloccini, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll all proving throughout the year they were a cut above any of their opponents at that level. The latter duo scored 17 goals each, which makes our current squad look dangerously dependent on the form and fitness of Dwight Gayle in comparison.
Coloccini, more than anyone else, seemed to sleepwalk through games at that point in his career. And when he did turn up it was like watching a mountain shepherd rally his rambling sheep up a craggy slope. Whereas on occasions this season it has looked as if the whole team were rolling down the hill.
More unexpected under Chris Hughton were the contributions of Danny Guthrie and Wayne Routledge. Guthrie gave the midfield much-needed pace and energy, adding 13 assists across all league fixtures. In contrast, so far Matt Richie and Jonjo Shelvey both have 7 each.
Routledge’s impact after his January arrival was equally important. I’ve always had a sense of regret about the fact he was sold so quickly to Swansea once we were back in the Premier League. His performances in Wales during the years since have been yet another sign that Alan Pardew hadn’t a clue who was worth keeping.
Ultimately, all of this is mere history when it comes to our current situation.
After so much investment in players over the summer though, Rafa has still not been able to achieve a similar record in the second tier.
If anything, it highlights the continued decline which the club has suffered over the past eight years under bad stewardship.
Even Marlon Harewood looks favourable compared to the performances of Aleksandar Mitrovic.
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