As Newcastle United go into the closing stages of their Championship campaign, it would appear that manager Rafa Benitez has done just enough to complete the job he was asked to do. Barring a catastrophic collapse, a return to the Premier League looks assured.

Grinding out wins away from home, alongside a very mixed set of results back at St James Park, the words ‘just enough’ seem to sum up United’s entire season.

Performances have rarely reached the heights that their points total would indicate and this provides an interesting viewpoint on Benitez’ stewardship.

Is he a tactical genius who has transformed a group of underperforming players and worked miracles to keep his side at the top of the table for the majority of the season?

Or has the Spaniard’s over-cautious, safety-first outlook been instrumental in the team’s current malaise, where points have been slipping away with increasing regularity as United limp to the finishing line?

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between.

While Benitez hasn’t quite made silk purses from sows ears, he has managed to get the likes of Gouffran and Anita playing above themselves, albeit in a lower division. His purchases have on the whole been a little hit and miss and for every Ritchie, Gayle or Hayden there’s also a Sels, Diame or Handley.

It’s also true to say that two players I’d have put money on to set the Championship alight this season, in Perez and Mitrovic, have suffered in the rigid confines of Rafa’s favoured system with top scorer Gayle employed to plough a lone furrow upfront.

The one-all draw with Leeds showed just what a good team Newcastle United can be, when – for Rafa anyway – caution is thrown to the wind and a team finally selected that matched the expectations of the majority of fans.

How unfortunate then with ten minutes remaining and Newcastle a goal ahead and raining corners down on the Leeds goal like confetti, Benitez’ negativity reared its head with disastrous effect.

Instead of a Murphy to add extra aerial threat or an Atsu’s speed and trickery to heap further pressure on a tired Leeds defence – we duly get Colback, Yedlin and Diame to shore things up at the expense of a hard-working Perez and two of the team’s outstanding performers in Hayden and Ritchie.

That decision may well have been made with one eye on the Ipswich game but that’s of little consolation when things pan out as they did.

With two corners in quick succession – surely better employed to continue Newcastle’s assault on the opposition – wasted in an effort to run down the clock, this was to prove a costly mistake and lead directly to the equaliser.

What quite happened to Newcastle’s defence as Wood grabbed an undeserved point for the visitors is anybody’s guess – but the big centre-forward who’d been well-shackled for the previous 94 minutes didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth as he slotted home.

For Leeds it was just enough.

(To give us your player ratings go HERE)

(The instant fan/writer reaction from Friday night’s match HERE)

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

  • Marveauxless

    More often that not we win games simply because we have better players than the opposition rather than through any “tactical genius”. Without Gayle we are completely devoid of any clinical edge, teams simply have to sit back slightly and we incapable of breaking them down (4 shots on target out of 22). Pardew and McClaren were heavily criticised for the selection of mediocre hard workers over more exciting, technically gifted players yet Benitez’s selection of Anita, Dummett and Gouffran over the likes of Yedlin, Lazaar and Atsu passes without comment while the club’s most promising talents Mitrovic, Perez and Mbemba have arguably gone backwards this season.
    People often defend Rafa by highlighting that our squad is not good enough however he spent £50 million on 12 players in the summer, more players than any of our rivals in both transfer windows combined. If the squad is inadequate he must shoulder a large proportion of the blame.
    I like Rafa and I hope we can excel in the Premier League next year but I have seen very little of his so-called “tactical genius” this season.

    • Andy Mac

      I agree with those comments Marveauxless but let’s face it we’re never going to find a better manager to come and work under the Fatman so we have to trust in him to get it right.

    • 1957

      Well put, he apparently had control over transfers in the summer so if the squad he has put together is inadequate for this division he can’t escape his responsibility for it.

      • Guilttripjunkie

        I have a feeling that the ‘dead hand’ of Carr and Charnley were behind a number of those signings.

    • Vodkamagpie

      You do realise that we are second in the league, most people would say we are favourites to get promoted from our current position. Tactical genius yes, brilliant at buying players is where the question mark is.

    • Simon Ritter

      Never belleve that “shots on target” statistic. It refers only to saves by the goalkeeper; not goalbound shots that are bravely and often flukily diverted wide or high of the net by defenders. I counted at least seven against Leeds, so our shot/header accuracy was a pretty good 50%

    • LA Toon

      If we do get promoted, (I believe play offs are a real possibility), I can’t see we can buy enough good premiership players in the summer to keep us up. I always thought Pardew never had a plan B, however Rafa seems to never have a plan B. Rafa constantly quotes that the players have to keep focused, and they totally ignore him for some reason. Money troubles I suppose, can’t get the overtime to buy the kids some shoes😎

    • Guilttripjunkie

      Heretic, he walks on water ya kna!

      Actually you make a number of fair and valid points. Tactically, the team plays almost identical to that of the ponderous and predictable side fielded by McClaren. For an outlay of £50m the home results have been unacceptable. Hanley, Diame and Sels have been dreadful buys. Rafa has brought stability to the club, however, the crass deification of his achievements this season are laughable.

  • Damon Horner

    Neither, we are a work in progress side that he has made achieve it’s goals. 4 games in a transition season isn’t the team to judge the manager.

  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    Rafa`s [email protected]@king everything up, Pardspew would have us up by now

    • Taz

      You are funny, put the crack pipe down

    • Guilttripjunkie

      Considering he was allowed to spend 50m on players I think he has made hard work of getting promotion. The negativity at home has cost at least nine points, which explains why promotion is by no means guaranteed. His past record may suggest he is ‘tactical genius’ but this season in the second tier he has over complicated the way the team plays. I would give him 7/10 max this season. The ‘Rafa is god’ devotees will no doubt be claiming heresy on my part.

  • Andy Mac

    There were those who said that we’d find it hard to watch Rafa’s solid yet unspectacular 4-2-3-1 this season so hopefully, with better players in key positions, it’ll be more watchable next season ?

  • GlasgowMag

    I agree transition year is about right this
    league is a learning curb for rafa and hes not doing to bad I also think key injuries/suspensions to Jonjo/gayle/Hayden have played a part in some of the performances this season also when it really mattered the 3 games in a row against Brighton/Huddersfield/Reading showes Rafas real worth and dont forget he new he needed replacements in jan but he wasn’t supported so we are nearly their no more doom and gloom in rafa we trust!!!

    • Jimblag23

      You do have to wonder how Brighton would have faired if Knockaert and Murray were out for long periods of the season.

      • Jezza

        I think Brighton would have bought replacements in the January window.

  • Jimblag23

    Is he a tactical genius who has transformed a group of underperforming players and worked miracles to keep his side at the top of the table for the majority of the season?

    • Jimblag23


  • disqus_GFJ5SSXQ7o

    Rafa is doing the job however I will find it disappointing to not win the league, Brighton deserve that honour. Always thought we’d go up but the some of the signings last summer were unexpected at time and majority were poor except Hayden, Richie, Gayle and Clark the rest haven’t had the opportunities/ not good enough.

  • hetonmag

    You know you just can’t win when people say why run the clock down, Shearer used to do it and nobody complained then. As far as Rafa is concerned just exactly what do the doubters want, we are in a great position to get promoted. The word genius gets bandied about but who are they in the world of football, Pep who has found the going tough at City, it seems to be the same posters when anything goes wrong blame the boss IMO we would be a dam site worse off without him.

    • Mal

      Agree with your point about running the clock down. Unfortunately Shelvey overdid it with some obvious time wasting which meant we went into the 6th minute of injury time. It was poor defending that cost us not the running down the clock. We lost our shape when Colback came on for MOM (in my opinion) Hayden and committed his customary foul due to his lack of pace and inability to tackle properly.

      • Michael Lisle

        The players seemed to lose focus when the 5 minute board was shown and panic seemed to spread from the touchline to the team.We seemed to be more concerned about whinging than getting the job done. I feared the worst when Shelvey was dicking around in the corner.

  • Taz

    Totally agree with the above article, there were some baffling substitutions. I think Murphy would have been a better option at some point later in the game and maybe a shuffle, especially with the amount of crosses that were being banged in. Unfortunately we end up with the liability known as the [email protected] colback and a couple of other muppets. I may be wrong but that’s just how I saw it…….

  • nevfur

    An over cautious manager who has limped over the line to winning the World Club Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Europa league, UEFA Cup, Spanish League Title, FA Cup, Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup, Charity Shield and Two Spanish league two promotions plus a Champions League runners up medal.
    Think I would take a fraction of that for us and we without doubt will not get another manager with that kind of record or ever have had, only SBR going close.
    His style isn’t exciting but having suffered since 1969 with the Toon he can bore me to trophies any time.

  • Bs

    The equalizar was not the fault of colback or yedlin but of Diame.i think that is the last we see of him this season. Colback did really well especially the yellow card he got if he did not make that tackle the Leeds player would have been clear. He surely is gonna scrape the line. But i tell you he has done fantastic. It’s not his fault apart from keeper, Jamaal, Ritchie, Hayden, shelvey
    and gayle who has he got that,s premier league ready.

  • Desree

    Reading the Mag it would seem we have 25% Fanatics, 25% Fans, 25% Supporters and 25% snides, who no matter what happens they will find a way to try and drag everyone into their depression. If you want to constantly complain there is a club down the road that needs your money.

    • Andy Mac

      That’s just about the most mind numbingly stupid comment a fellow fan can make ! You need to understand there’s something called “Freedom of Speech” in this country and commenting on the current style of play, results and possible future outcomes is all a part of that ability to speak one’s mind ?

      Tough luck if you cant handle that m8 maybe you should sell up and move to Pyongyang ?

      • Desree

        Mackem snide

      • Michael Lisle

        Fully agree.I was called a mackem for not toeing the one-eyed party line of some fans on another site. Sadly your reference to Pyongyang will be wasted as he probably thinks it is a takeaway.

        • Desree

          Any fool can criticise and most fools do. Expecting players to perform when their own fans boo them is the most idiotic of all. I guarantee this, not one player will say they perform better being booed by their own fans. I am dam certain that the players are already losing their bottle and are exhausted. It is time to support the team. Freedom of speech, fair enough. But when what you say does nothing to help the cause, you may as well be a Mackem.

  • anyobrien

    I have sat in the east stand for 30 years next season and the previous 15 in various parts of the ground so its fare to say ive seen some ups and downs.
    Now we have the curious case of Rafa the gafa…..Who has come in grabbed the club by its short and curlys from top to bottm and is turning us around,,,but and it is a strange but ive been bored,frustrated and dare i say angry at some of our games at home…games we should be winnning with ease,games like Derby haning on for grim life when Tom Ince misses a sitter in the 89th min….Bristol,wolves,blackburn,Fulham,Sheff wed then there are the games we won but scrapped by.
    But then we have the away form something that with Newcastle only comes evry ten years …Away wins galoure wtf…we are on course for away win record which i think we will achive and we will go up…Im not knocking Raf but there has been games at home were he could of unleshed hell 2up top hell maybe even three aginst the mighty wigan and Burton..Anyway i do believe Rafs tactics will be more suited to the prem and not like some fans with a few good signings i can see us mid table…..p.s I iknow 4 Liverpool season ticket holders who i often meet up with over the years and they did warn me about Rafs lets just say conservative tactics…Hell get the job done but hell do it his way..happy birthday raf…Keep the faith.

    • Andy Mac

      I know what you mean AnyO.