Six matches into the season and we have a better sense of where the club is heading – and there are reasons to be cheerful.
Time for a bold prediction. This team looks well capable of staying up, comfortably. Yep, you read that right. Writers of The Mag are oft criticised for being too negative, so there you go.
It’s often hard to find the positives at NUFC, especially with Ashley at the helm, but they currently do exist. We have to cling to them, because these are what can get us to 40 points, and with survival comes the unlocking of another major chunk of TV cash. Note to all the pundits: the Champions League talk was all tongue in cheek humour. Nobody really expects that man!
Three wins on the board, offset by three defeats. Nine points and looking upwards as things stand. Never comfortable, yes, and harder games lie ahead, but it really could be far worse.
The biggest factor is the team spirit. This is the cornerstone of success when you don’t have a £200m transfer kitty every summer. Thankfully the current crop are willing to battle hard and they all look like they actually want to play for the manager and give their all for the football club.
Benitez used the phrase ‘defend the black and white shirt’. Spot on, as is so often the case with the Spaniard. More of him in a minute.
The winning run has galvanised support and settled the nerves. The even better news is that we are almost a quarter of the way to achieving the magical 40 points that usually yield survival and it’s still only September. If we need to tick off a quota of wins then we’re already well on the way. Another 10 or 11 wins will be enough to keep us up. Nine may even be enough given other sides’ struggles, as long we can pump in a few more draws.
The average age of the current squad is just about right. Young heads, hungry players, with a great amount of desire to do well, rather than pick up their money and mess about all week. Benitez has remedied the problem with the size of the squad. Trimming down the fat from 33 senior professionals, which was ludicrous.
The manager himself is the fulcrum. He’s so good he even masterminded the win at Swansea from his sick bed. The bloke knows football inside out. He seems to have the knack of winning in those key home games that the likes of McClaren, Carver and Pardew failed in, all too often. Benitez sets the team up brilliantly. Apart from the Spurs game (ruined by Shelvey madness) the other two losses have been narrow and on another day we’d have won or drawn.
We now have a Newcastle team that actually knows how to do set-pieces. For many years that was just the realm of other clubs. Not now. Under the work of first team coach Mikel Antia, an unsung hero in the back room team, we are getting the dead ball situations spot on, more often than not. Always room for improvement but heading in the right direction.
So as we head into the Autumn phase of the season we can be sure this group of players will be stretching every sinew for more points. This is possibly the best spirit since the Keegan era.
Joselu will need to work on his finishing, for sure. Hayden will need to realise the Premier League is a step up, and Shelvey will have to control his temper. Dwight Gayle will need to find his shooting boots and Mitrovic will have to grow up a bit more.
There are always issues at NUFC but we are now appear to be moving forward. Deadline day farce? What deadline day farce?
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