After taking stock of the first eight games of the season, I think the key word to go with Newcastle United at the moment, is ‘Better’.
Not ‘must do better’ or ‘could be better’ but just simply, compared to our last time out in the Premier League, we are ‘better’ than we were. It’s this reason why I feel we simply won’t be playing Championship football next season.
When we were relegated in 2015/16 it’s worth noting that we failed to win a game until this very day! A 6-2 defeat of Norwich at St James Park was the first league victory of the season coming on 18 October 2015, having drawn three and lost five of our opening eight fixtures standing with three points – whereas this season we already have eleven.
Over the course of that season we lost at home to Watford and Bournemouth, as well as failing to beat S********d, Stoke and Aston Villa. Too many points dropped against five sides that would struggle to survive or go down with us.
Away from home, while it’s been disappointing to lose at relegation rivals Brighton and Huddersfield, it’s been heartening that overall we have looked noticeably harder to beat. We were on the front foot for most of the game against Southampton and could easily have won the game at an away ground were we lost 1-3 in 2016 and now we must go into the game against a ‘resurgent’ Crystal Palace looking to take all three points and put further distance from another side that (despite their win against Chelsea), will no doubt be playing Championship football next season.
We are averaging out points well enough so far and with Burnley and Bournemouth to come after Palace, there are nine points up for grabs and certainly nothing that should scare us. That said, we are going to have a blip at some point and when I say that we are ‘averaging out points’, that’s exactly what I mean. We weren’t expected to get anything against Liverpool at home but we took a point. Swansea away was a tricky looking game but we took all three, the corresponding game in 2015 was a 0-2 defeat, a better return of points against teams we are supposed to beat, en route to survival.
The whole state of the place seems a whole lot better. The players are certainly playing for the shirt as well as each other and of course the manager. Don’t let anyone tell you that reports of a training ground fracas between Jamaal Lascelles and Mo Diame during the international break was a bad thing, far from it, in fact it’s most welcome.
Dressing rooms and training grounds should be nice workplaces to be around, but nobody can tell me that these sort of things don’t happen at football clubs, it’s the reaction that is key. Diame is not a fan favourite and I certainly hope the incident puts a rocket up his backside, but it’s the reaction from the pair of them to take the whole squad out for dinner, that speaks volumes about the mentality of this team compared to that one that got relegated sixteen months ago.
Even though the squad is a bit light in quality and numbers in certain areas of the pitch (a striker and left-back are desperately required) I’m still happy that the players put out by Rafa Benitez are giving their all, that they will be giving a better account of themselves than some of the wasters and charlatans that inhabited this club a couple of seasons ago.
Results are backing that up and now that the club is ‘officially’ up for sale we need to continue to get behind the manager and the team he puts out, as everything that happens at St James’ and at away grounds up and down the country, will be watched by any prospective buyer and noted before any bid is made.
Against Liverpool, Amanda Staveley was present and saw a hugely impressive performance from the team and in particular from the fans, including the Gallowgate Flags section, and if she is going to be the person to broker any deal with a future owner/s then the main selling point of this club (the fans) will have done part of this sale process already. No owner wants a toxic fanbase, something Mike Ashley didn’t understand and seemed to completely disregard very early on, and it’s this that he can take the most blame for. He caused all the friction and the whole ten years he’s had in charge has stemmed from his stupidity and pig-headed arrogance/ignorance right from the beginning.
A new dawn will be precisely that, a clean slate and a fresh start. This will happen hopefully sooner rather than later and we can get on with making this club better than it is at present. It’s not in bad nick at the minute, it has the players trying their hardest and a manager of genuine pedigree – one that understands club tradition. It ‘s just missing the one vital ingredient that has been absent since 2007, an ambitious owner that will allow it to take off.
The one thing that must not be overlooked is that Mike Ashley knows that he’s universally disliked/hated and that can’t be desirable for any individual. There can’t be many that sees the current ownership as the ideal conditions to have this club at it’s best and that isn’t a good place to be.
He would be far better selling the club for a sensible price now that it’s in the best position it has been in for numerous years and then he can move on, cut all ties with the burden that he has created at Newcastle United and do whatever he wants with the rest of his life.
Then we, the fans and the club can also move on and draw a line under the last ten years of mismanagement and see what we can do going forward.
That would be far better for all concerned.