In the James Bond story Casino Royale, our hero, Bond, plays cards with a mysterious Le Chiffre. In the film, the tense game takes place in the glamorous eponymous casino and hotel; in the book, the hotel is a little more run down, suggesting former glories, rather than a prosperous present. I wonder which football team is a bit like that.

Our current, and hopefully not for much longer, owner, enjoys chances and gambling, albeit in business, with the odds in his favour. He stacks them using a model of reduced overheads, hard routines, and a clinical understanding of when to buy and sell.

Our current, and given the rubbish over the last few years, hopefully for a while longer manager, sets up teams to be hard to beat, with a clinical, ruthless streak up front. But at the moment, we do not have a clinically ruthless anything, and we’ve shipped seven goals in two games.

Is Rafa Benitez taking on Mike Ashley at his own game?

Is he trying to force the hand of Mike Ashley into buying an effective striker in January?

I’m not convinced…but it would certainly be an explanation for the dogged determination to stick with Joselu.

Away against Manchester United, there was a positivity that many would have found hard to predict, and it perhaps made us look better than maybe we really are; or at least it did for thirty five minutes. In the second half, the clinical precision of a Jose Mourinho team kicked in, and we were picked off at weak points. Mourinho knew our weaknesses, counted his cards, and played them perfectly.

We don’t have a plan B. We could have, but Rafa has either tremendous faith in Joselu, or no faith at all in Mitrovic. Serbia build their team and style around Mitro but that isn’t going to happen at Newcastle United. And on the whole, Serbia –like all international teams- probably play against sides with less collective talent than the teams our number 45 plays against (or does not) each week in the Premier League.

It might be an honour to play for your country, but unless it’s in a tournament, on the whole, is it against real quality? Yet surely he would have more chance of creating an impact or creating defensive uncertainty if he was to appear earlier?

Frustratingly, Joselu is really struggling. He gets into good positions, and can probably read the game and his position on the pitch with more vision, but that means very little without a cool head when it’s time to unleash a considered finish. I say considered because it doesn’t appear to be instinctive for him.

Are we gambling with his confidence?

Strikers feed on their own belief, but there must be a point at which you doubt yourself. I hope he hasn’t reached that desperate point, and that he can turn around his chances, but it isn’t looking likely at the minute. It’s November and he has not made Stoke City shift uneasily in their seats.

And then we have a new player at the table. If Amanda Staveley does buy the club, she must realise that money will have to be found for a striker. She’s probably looking at Mike Ashley and wondering what he really wants, as well as looking at Rafa and wondering what he needs. She may even have ideas for investment that Ashley will not risk. In the meantime, the form table is looking very battered indeed.

Is it too soon to just hope that there are three teams worse than us?

Is that what Ashley is doing?

Watford are a decent team but December brings much harder tests than that.

West Brom are in a bit of a state but they can positively play the ‘six-pointer’ card. Then, so can we.

But Ashley’s record of turning over a card and hoping for the best is not good; this isn’t a game to us, and I’m pretty sure he is not James Bond.

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  • BillytheFish

    Not a gamble for Rafa, just a waiting game…If the club sells he stays, if not he is off, and the only consideration is when..

    • Coble’s Return

      Succinct and spot on. Rafa may be pointing out what is blatantly obvious to the rest of the watching world – there is no PL future for the club as long as Ashley remains involved.

    • Dutch

      Exactly. There is only one loser between the pair. It’s a win win situation for Rafa. He goes anywhere with his pedigree. Ashley loses a good manager and also the price of the sale will drop like a lead balloon. Over to you Ashley.

  • Leazes Ender

    I see Ashley is going to buy the property of Brixton Market consisting of about 140 stalls…. what was that he said to United fans about having no cash at hand?

    There was over half a billion in cash in the MASH Holdings account at the last summary.

    • molend

      I can see him there. ‘These luvverly towels, ladies and gentlemen. Not fifty quid, not forty quid, not even thirty quid, but for you, cos you’re such joke in ears, ten bob each. Any takers? Thank you, sir (Step forward Lee Charnley)

    • Oooh bobbi fleckman

      No, Sports Direct are buying Brixton Market for £30m not Mike Ashley or Mash.

      When did you last see MASH’ accounts?

      • MichaelMaximusMoose

        the Mash accounts were shown 2 months ago

  • Paul Patterson

    Far be it from me to criticise Rafa, but when the second goal went in against Watford (or upon kick off in the second half) Mitrovic should have been introduced. Persisting with Joselu for the next twenty minutes just invited Watford to attack all the more knowing that our striker (term used very loosely) wouldn’t be capable of hurting them. Plus the fact that Diame lasted until the 69th minute (and a third goal) is quite frankly insulting to the paying public.
    Put simply, it was a wasted 69 minutes and if either/both start tonight we will be wasting our time again . .

    • Kneebotherm8

      Whatever anyone’s opinion of Mitrovic,its patently obvious Rafa doesn’t rate him and if Rafa was in control of transfers he would’ve been sold at the end of last season and replaced by a quality striker. Unfortunately Rafa ain’t in charge of transfers and the real power brokers at the club didn’t back our manager by getting Mitro off the books.
      I,for one,do trust Rafa and not this overweight non entity who owns and runs the club like an east end barrow boy.

      • Paul Patterson

        Fair enough, but in the here and now we need to change what isn’t working. And Mitrovic is our top Premier League goal scorer. If Joselu plays every game until the end of the season and Mitrovic plays none, Mitrovic will STILL be our top Premier League goal scorer.

    • 1957

      You’re right Paul.

      My heart sank when the same team turned out for the second half, I couldn’t believe that Benitez thought the same side and specifically Hoss and SloMo could pull back a two deficit.

      Unlike some on this site I don’t see why he should be free from criticism at the moment his decision making is flawed and not getting us results

      • Andy Mac

        His decision making is flawed but maybe he’s trying to make a point that the Fatman shafted him by withholding finds that had previously been agreed ?

        One thing’s for sure Rafa wont want two relegation’s on his CV within 3 seasons

    • Andy Mac

      Agreed. A team gains confidence knowing the opposition cant hit a bovine’s rear all day and everyday. We might as well just tell them to play one at the back

  • Peaky Magpie

    What’s Penfold up to at the minute ? He seems to have gone extremely quiet.

  • Virsino

    “Serbia build their team and style around Mitro” – you have got to be having a laugh! 2 goals against a pi$$ poor Austrian team, 1 against a woeful Moldova, and 1 against a woeful Wales and substituted in all but 1 game. I’m all for a Newcastle team doing well, but Mitrovic is muck, and the only reason Serbia qualified for the world cup is because they were less muck than the other teams in their group. Mitrovic is not the answer.

    • MichaelMaximusMoose

      So it`s similar to the bottom 8 in the Premiership then

      • Virsino

        ..at a stretch

        • Andy Mac

          Hang on Joselu isnt, Gayle isnt so who is the answer before January ?

    • Paul Patterson

      Quite disrespectful. He IS our top Premier-league goalscorer..