Rafa Benitez is obviously fully focused on the prize of Premier League football next season.

If Huddersfield fail to win today at home to Fulham, then a win on Monday night against Preston will ensure Newcastle and Rafa bounce back to the top at the first time of asking.

That is impressive enough considering the mess the Spaniard inherited at St James Park but that mess also extended far beneath first team level.

Years of failure to invest time and resources on the younger age groups had led to depressing seasons of both results and performances, far outweighing any positives.

Having a massive first team job to do in terms of transfers, this included bringing in 12 new first team players last summer, plus many more than that number leaving permanently or on loan.

Despite that workload, Rafa Benitez has also overseen the beginnings of a massive overhaul of Academy (Under 18s) and Reserves (Under 23s), bringing in a significant number of younger players, from both the UK and overseas, to try and lift the quality throughout the club.

It looks as if it may clearly have started to pay major dividends.

Last season, the Newcastle United Under 23s finished third bottom of Premier League 2 Division 2, winning only four of 22 league matches.

The full 2015/16 record reading Played 22, Won 4, Drawn 6, Lost 12, Goals For 30, Goals Against 48, Points 18.

Friday night saw the final game of the season at Middlesbrough and goals from Heardman and Wilson gave Newcastle a 2-0 win at the Riverside.

This ensured third place in the table and means they now qualify for the end of season play-offs for promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1.

This would be a major step forward as the younger players would be up against far better opposition from the top clubs, including Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal (and Sunderland…).

The full 2016/17 league record this season is Played 22 Won 11 Drawn 4 Lost 7 Goals For 34 Goals Against 30 Points 37.

The NUFC Under 23s more than doubling their points tally from last season.

This has also been achieved despite Newcastle loaning out far more of their best younger players than ever before.

The likes of Armstrong, Gilliead, Gillesphey, Mbabu, Toney, Sterry, Cameron, Longstaff, Roberts and Woodman could have all been playing for the Under 23s but instead are out getting valuable first team football to progress their careers.

Rafa Benitez has given everybody hope that Newcastle United can progress and when you see statistics like these above, it gives you real optimism of what he could do throughout the club IF he is given the full support and backing by Mike Ashley.

  • Wor Lass

    This is the bigger picture that some people have lost sight of. I genuinely don`t care if we miss out on the title as long as we get out of this division and back into the “big time”. My only worry is whether or not Rafa will stick around or if the FCB will yet again kick us in our collective nuts and drive him out.

    • Leazes Ender

      by ‘the big time’…. you mean tenth place don’t you Greg?

  • Simon Ritter

    Keep the faith, Wor Lass. All the so-called experts and pundits said Rafa would walk away if we did not stay up last season. The same rentaquotes are at it again. He’s bigger than those no-nowts and we should be too. I believe he will honour his three-year contract. What we need on Monday night is the same show of support that we gave Rafa from before kick-off until the final whistle against Spuds last May AFTER WE WERE RELEGATED. Anybody who says NUFC are not special is a fool or a knave.

    • Wor Lass

      Hope you`re right!

  • Simon Ritter

    I have enough faith in human nature, bizarrely, to believe the outpouring of support for our manager played a part in his decision to stay. Just occasionally, money is not the most important factor.

    • Leazes Ender

      £5 million also helps…