What happens next is the best bit
Hey that was a brilliant round of football wasn’t it?
I generally have a rule about weekends when Newcastle United, for whatever reason, aren’t playing.
My family gets my undivided attention, without even the distraction of me being zoned out for a couple of hours, refreshing Twitter and double-checking the league table. This week was different though. With United pushed back to Monday night it may have been possible to ignore the games altogether but I spent an afternoon repeatedly going back to the iPhone, incredulous as both Huddersfield and Reading collapsed to leave us a mere two points away from a promotion that has long looked inevitable, but recently wobbled to an extent the borderline hypertension did not need.
The match with Preston now has the potential to be immense, one of those uber-memorable games that makes all the surrounding dross worthwhile.
Any old win will do, be it a repeat of the league cup demolition job or one of those edgy, everyone-plays-rubbish-apart-from-Ritchie bumsqueaks we’ve grown accustomed to of late. The fact that even failure could see the job done 24 hours later when Huddersfield face in-form Wolves should underpin the confidence a bit and surely we’ll get there?
Of course, this will seal promotion only, as the recent shockers at Portman Road and Hillsborough have allowed Brighton to get one hand on the Championship trophy.
There is a scenario where we can catch them, which works a bit like this: we beat Preston, then better their result next weekend (this will be where it is likely to fail as the Seagulls face a Bristol City side no longer threatened by relegation), all of which would mean the final day sees a win against Barnsley necessary while Brighton have a difficult journey to Villa.
It’s hugely unlikely and it shouldn’t be begrudged. If you consider we did the double over Chris Hughton’s team, the points they’ve taken from the rest of the division is far more than we’ve pulled in on average. Given the respect our former manager commands round here, I’m sure we’ll all agree that if we had to lose out to someone in this league, it would be him.
Of course, there’s another viewpoint, that no one in this league should have got near Newcastle United, let alone taken the trophy off us. The relative means of our club v the rest, some very poor performances and perceived negative tactics have all added up to an uncertainty that will be exacerbated by finishing second best.
I hope this isn’t the narrative of the summer, or used by anyone other than bitter mackems to define the progress of the “Rafalution”.
Here’s a quick exercise: quickly answer the question ‘Who won the Championship last year?’ You had to think about it didn’t you?
The answer is Burnley, and it’s true that they have fared best among the promoted trio, but this isn’t always the case. The fundamentals of promotion is that it’s a means to an end and 12 months down the line no one is going to care how you got there, it’s all about what you actually do when you’re there.
You see, what happened next is the next bit. It’s also the most important bit.
For me there are two solutions to the recent inertia at NUFC and being in the Premier League is vital for both.
The first solution is for Mike Ashley to sell up to someone who will run the club with ambition and dignity, striving to meet its full potential. This will be the dream scenario until the day it happens.
The second, more likely, way forward is that the regime backs Rafa Benitez to the extent that he can recapture some of the success he has proven capable of at former clubs.
This team needs a colossal overhaul to have a chance of kicking on in the top flight. Some have served well at the lower level, others not so much. The priority next season will be consolidation but Rafa will have designs on bigger things and with the right additions these could still be reality.
Kevin Keegan said recently that this summer is as big as any time in the club’s recent history and it’s difficult to argue with the great man. The real test comes between now and the end of August and the machinations of how we escape the Championship are irrelevant to the bigger picture.
Promotion is merely the first step to giving us a shot at something better. I hope everyone can enjoy the final three games before the real nerves set in for the transfer window.
It would be nice if Brighton choked though.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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