Mike Ashley has had a very bad habit of gambling with Newcastle United.
So far, these gambles have resulted in two relegations in eight Premier League seasons, as well as two very near misses.
Newcastle finally confirming safety in 2012/13 when beating QPR in the last away game, then doing the same against West Ham in the very final match of the 2014/15 campaign.
When it comes to transfer windows, fans have universally believed that the better the team/results have been, the less it is likely that money will be allowed for spending on strengthening the squad.
Classic extremes of this have been only Vurnon Anita (funded by sales including future England international Fraser Forster on the cheap) bought after finishing fifth in 2011/12, whereas £80m+ was shelled out after that near relegation in 2014/15, most of it wasted on the wrong players – leading to relegation.
Such are the concerns about the state of the current squad after Mike Ashley failed to back Rafa Benitez in the summer, that the manager revealed on Friday that he had been granted a telephone conversation with the club’s owner to talk about the January transfer window. The first time they had spoken since May 2017 and the infamous promises made ahead of the summer window, that Rafa very publicly said had not been kept.
Obviously the nine games with only one point had even woke Mike Ashley up the fact that we are very definitely in a relegation fight.
Typical then that only nine days before that next transfer window opens, that Newcastle pull out their first win in nine weeks and only their second win in the last 14 weeks.
A brilliant day for everybody associated with Newcastle United, especially with the win coming away against another relegation rival.
However, just as no sane person should have been claiming Rafa Benitez was the big problem when Newcastle picked up only one point in nine matches.
Nobody should be shouting, or even whispering, that Mohamed Diame and/or Henri Saivet are any kind of an answer for the second half of this relegation battle.
The two players deserve every bit of praise they get for their performances at the London Stadium.
They both know that neither Rafa Benitez nor the Newcastle fans rate them and it would have been ever so easy for the pair of them to turn up and chuck the match. After all, they know they are not wanted and so what would another poor display from them really matter in the longer term.
Instead, both Saivet and Diame put a real shift in, and were key to Newcastle getting the three points. Especially with giving the first goal away it would have been predictable if Saivet had gone into hiding, instead, only a few minutes later he was stepping up and taking the responsibility of arrowing the perfect free-kick into the bottom corner.
Mohamed Diame later gave Newcastle the lead when putting in the yards to get into the opposition box and finishing a great team move.
Bottom line though is that Saturday was the perfect set-up for Newcastle, playing against one of the very few clubs that have a squad/team as weak as their own.
Yesterday was only the third time since 23 September that the Hammers have managed more than one goal in a game.
Even with Noble and Lanzini in the middle of the pitch they are still a very poor side, David Moyes just trying to defend and sneak a goal from somewhere. However, as we saw yesterday, without that pair – especially Lanzini, they are absolutely terrible.
So it is within that context that Diame and Saivet put in decent battling performances. The reality was that there wasn’t a single player in the middle of the pitch on either side, who was capable of putting their foot on the ball and work it forward. Little wonder that Rafa Benitez elected to play the two up front so he could hit it long and hope Joselu could then win the ball/hold it up for Dwight Gayle and others.
The quality that Newcastle did have on the ball was on the wings, with Ritchie & Yedlin combining better once again, whilst Atsu pulled out a far better man of the match performance.
I think yesterday, even if we had been up against Swansea or West Brom, who I rate as the two worst teams in the top tier, we could have struggled due to not having the quality in the middle of the pitch.
Diame and Saivet gave us everything in terms of workrate and trying to protect the defence but with the ball, they really struggled and didn’t look as if they wanted to try and take responsibility for creating.
Quite simply, they are what they are. Two unlikely players who came in and put in gutsy displays that they deserve a big pat on the back for – but that is where it ends.
If either of them are playing on Wednesday against Manchester City, or indeed any other match, I won’t be slagging off Rafa Benitez or the player(s) themselves.
However, I do find it amazing to read Newcastle fans suggesting that they should stay in the team ahead of the likes of Mikel Merino and Hayden & Shelvey, if it comes down to a choice with all available.
I can just imagine Mike Ashley sitting there now and thinking ‘What’s that Benitez been up to, a diamond geezer like that Henri Saivet training and playing with the reserves, when he can come in and win us three points. He’s bleating on to me about needing new players when he has superstars like Saivet and Super Mo!’.
Whatever happens against Man City is a bit irrelevant, as we could probably play all five central midfielders in a 14 man team and still get nowt.
However, when Newcastle play Brighton in six days time, it is inconceivable that either Diame or Saivet will be in the team, if Rafa has the other options available.
It will be even more inconceivable if Mike Ashley uses yesterday to argue that reinforcements are not so desperately needed as Rafa Benitez makes out.
We have players who are all trying but the need for extra quality is written in massive bold letters, yesterday a team that tries was just enough to get the three points but we might not get so lucky on many more occasions without better quality on the pitch…33% of Newcastle’s points so far this season have come against West Ham and only two points from games against clubs outside the bottom seven in the table.
(See Alan Shearer’s reaction to the win HERE)
(Read the instant Newcastle fan/writer reaction to beating West Ham HERE)
(National journalist launches astonishing attack on Newcastle fans and Rafa Benitez after win over West Ham – read it HERE)
(Read the match report from West Ham 2 Newcastle 3 HERE)
(David Moyes reluctant to credit Newcastle with the win – read HERE)