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He’s behind you Rafa – The pantomime begins

3 years ago

Let’s face it – Sunday was a typical day in the life of a Toon fan!

One thing’s absolutely for certain, we are never far away from controversy with our beloved club and Sunday summed it up to a tee.

I’m going to resist any natural urges to be negative during this article and focus on a fabulous opening weekend of Premier league football.

An exhilarating opening game saw Arsenal and Leicester show the world, once again, why the Premier League is such a global addiction. Chelsea got spanked 3-0 in the first-half (final score 3-2 to Burnley) and my ‘genius’ FPL captain selection of Wilfred Zaha bit me firmly on my black and white butt. How I’ve missed my football and this season, more than others, seemed a torturous wait before that first hallowed whistle blew.

At St James Park on Sunday, Rafa Benitez lined up the team impeccably. That first-half filled me with real optimism for the forthcoming season. He was never going to let us off the leash in this tough opening fixture.

The unfortunate first half substitutions through injury highlighted Rafa’s tactical nous, as the replacements seamlessly fitted into the holes created by the Toon curse.

Spurs looked ordinary…and they are most definitely not. They didn’t have an off day, they weren’t jetlagged, or discombobulated by the off-field transfer negativity. They were up for the challenge and we negated them expertly, hunting down their potent playmakers at every opportunity and making them look decidedly ordinary.

This was not an accident – this was the Rafa effect, and a well drilled team carrying out instructions to a tee. So what if we didn’t have a shot on goal in the first half! It was always going to be a containment job and then build from that as the game went on.

If the game had finished at that first-half whistle with a 0-0 draw we, and the majority of pundits, would be lauding our team as the battlers we’ve been crying out for. We were compact, allowed them to play in areas that didn’t hurt us and when dangerous situations occurred we were quick to deal with them. This is a team in Rafa’s making and it fills me with confidence.

And then the second-half went awry. Shelvey IS NOT the messiah, he’s a very very naughty boy. This was petulant payback for Harry Kane taking out Florian Lejeune and it backfired big time. Hopefully it won’t do too much damage in the long run and Jonjo will return, hopefully stronger for the experience, and we will get to see what Merino has in his locker in the meantime.

The game ends 0-2 with the crowd still behind the team. No ‘Ashley out’ choruses – a united front solidified by the Rafa effect.  We live to fight another day with a set of ‘winnable’ fixtures on the horizon to fill us with confidence.

And then the clock struck 7! I tune into Sky Sports and marvel at the ‘heartfelt’ interview with big Mike Ashley. It was so odd. He clearly offered this interview to counterbalance Rafa’s veiled threats and it was difficult not to read between the lines.

He said so much…but in reality he didn’t really say a lot. It smacked of a little boy scorned who’s desperate for his due adulation. I saw flashes of genuine honesty, anger, apathy and the occasional flashes of arrogance. The flex in his jaw said so much more than his words in places and I came away from this interview quite perplexed. Worryingly, I think this a bit of one-upmanship with Rafa Benitez – an extremely dangerous game to play with such a highly decorated manager who feels that his position is creeping towards the untenable.

To read further between the lines, it could be construed that Mr Ashley is reminding Rafa that he can be destructively whimsical at times and actually enjoys these high stakes cat and mouse gambles. After all, there’s probably only one man that us fans would accept stepping into Rafa’s shoes should he walk away or get sacked (after the wake of the implosion that would follow) and he invited him – Alan Shearer – in on Sky Sports yesterday evening. “Never say never Alan!

So really, you could possibly boil Mike Ashley’s interview down as this: We are who, and where, we are Rafa. You knew we weren’t Manchester City and didn’t have pots of cash available. Do the job at hand, work with what you have… for now and don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Because you are not indispensable! And if I decide it’s time for you to go, or you walk, Alan Shearer will be proud to step into your shoes!

Harsh, wrong, disrespectful, shameful even. But this is Mike Ashley and history is there for all to see.

But football is back and I shan’t allow the looming cataclysmic explosion within the club to dampen my mood – for now. We’re playing appropriate football for where we are right now. We certainly weren’t made to look like mugs like Chelsea, Palace (and Liverpool to some extent) were.

We may or may not have a signing or two coming through the door over the next week or so and Rafa is a man who thrives on a siege mentality- so he’s in the right place. Sunday will have reinforced our resolve. We also have defensive and midfield cover to step in and do the job – as was so ably proved against Spurs.

Football is back and I’d love it… you hear me…. I’d love it if we finished mid-table, so Big Mike can rest easy for the season and Rafa can get on with his job of rebuilding this great club from the ground up.

Viva la Rafalution. Viva la unnecessary drama.

Viva Football.

Dom also has his own website which you can visit here –

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