With Newcastle United having their usual FA Cup ‘rest’, we thought it an ideal time to ask some of the regular writers on The Mag, the important questions of the day.
Premier League survival, Manchester United the turning point(?), Rafa Benitez, Mike Ashley, players Newcastle must keep, the plight of the Mackems, the Winter Olympics…it’s all there.
Comments at the end always welcome.
Next up is David Punton.
How big was that win over Manchester United in giving Newcastle a decent chance of survival?
It could well be a huge turning point, similar to last season when we went to Brighton and won. NUFC started that game against the Red Devils in the bottom three and faced a huge challenge to overcome their attacking ranks. In typical NUFC style we then go and win the game and end the day in 13th place.
It’s tight at the bottom, but the goal difference is healthy, and the win over Mourinho’s men has to be the launchpad for the big push to safety. Rafa is the key too. Don’t forget, we’d sharp find out what a struggle it would be without him, just like after Robson left the club in 2004. Benitez can’t be taken for granted.
Does the Manchester United match make you believe that we do have a decent number of players who can play much better on a regular basis in the Premier League, or was it more of a classic case of everybody lifting themselves for a one-off match?
The players, in my view, have struggled mentally with the pressure of playing some sides they are expected to beat at SJP. The Man U game was a case of just giving it a good go.
They maybe put less pressure on themselves and it suddenly all clicked. We were also due a change of luck, as Rafa has alluded to. We’ve had a few games at home where we’ve been unlucky.
Do you think Newcastle will be a Premier League club next season?
There’s the 64,000 Dollar question!
Will we beat the drop? It’s going to be close but we may just have enough to secure another season of top flight football. The home form has been woeful but we have to hope we can get the three or four wins needed to get over the line. The prospect of a third relegation in the Mike Ashley era would be a massive blow for the club and would take some coming back from.
Verdict: we’ll survive, just.
How many points do you guess will be needed to stay up and how many do you reckon Newcastle will get?
The magic number is 40 points. That’s what I’d like us to achieve but I’ve been told a few times by fellow fans that 36 or 37 will be enough. It’s a damning indictment of the Ashley regime that we’re slogging it out with teams to scrape to safety, with a squad of largely Championship players. Rafa is turning water into wine.
Does the Winter Olympics make up for Newcastle United not playing for two weeks?
Never mind the Winter Olympics, it’s NUFC who have been on thin ice. It took 113 days to secure a home Prem win. The two week gap we’re in now may help us. Big wins lead to a lot of adrenalin and players having a couple of weeks off helps with the mental fatigue of a hard season.
Everybody fit and a game Newcastle have to win to stay up, which 11 players would you pick from current squad?
Dubravka must start in goal. The lad looks very solid, he can kick with accuracy, he shouts at his back four and he’s great with his feet as well as with the shot stopping. Hope I haven’t jinxed him there with too much praise!
Yedlin and Dummett at full back are a given, then Lascelles is the lynchpin with Clark or Lejeune alongside. Diame and Shelvey seem to be a good pair in the engine room, then it’s got to be Ritchie, Perez and Atsu with Slimani coming in. Merino seems to have struggled since he picked up the back injury.
What do you think of Mike Ashley’s behaviour towards Rafa Benitez and his ‘support’ for him in doing the job of being NUFC Manager?
Summed up in one word: appalling.
The manager has been messed about in three consecutive transfer windows. We had a situation where he didn’t know his budget and had to wait until Ashley came back from his holidays to have a transfer summit, at which point half the January trading period had been wasted and more points were dropped. The loan deals they secured on deadline day saved face from what was another abysmally managed winter transfer window.
Do you believe Mike Ashley is serious about selling the club and do you have faith in it happening?
The fact that Mr Ashley rejected Staveley’s bid left me wondering if the sale was a stunt all along, a scenario which saw him shocked into action when PCP actually came in with their three offers. He could get out and give it a fresh start but he refused it.
If survival is achieved I fear he’ll knock back Staveley again. I have visions of him in his office saying ‘I ain’t letting some bird get the better of me’. The counter argument is that Staveley has wasted time with low ball bids.
If the club is to be sold, do you think it would be the Amanda Staveley led bidders, or more likely to be somebody so far unknown?
We know so little about other alleged bidders. Do they even exist? Unless we see more concrete information then Staveley is the only show in town in terms of seeing the back Mike Ashley, and even that is 50/50 at best. Even so, where Ashley is concerned, expect the unexpected.
Whatever division Newcastle end up in next season, which six players (in order) would you be most keen to keep?
If we do go down there’ll have to be a fire sale, so the relegation option would see all of the best players heading for the exit, surely. If we stay up the side has to be built around Dubravka, Lascelles, Dummett, Shelvey, Merino, and Atsu.
What circumstances (Ashley staying, Rafa going, back to the Championship, whatever), if any, would make you stop going to matches?
I packed my season ticket in, way back in 2014, in protest at Ashley’s running of the club. I ventured back when Rafa came on the scene. I’ll doubtless be criticised for this approach, but why put in hard earned money if the club cannot compete and be credible, along with a string of sides we should really be streets ahead of. I think Rafa going would spark off an era of protests once again and the gates would drop. The ‘Rafa effect’ has held the whole club together like glue.
What do you think about what is happening at Sunderland?
The pace of Sunderland’s decline has shocked me. This could have happened to NUFC had Benitez not stayed. Some big name clubs have gone the way Sunderland seem to heading, and it’s taken them many years to bounce back.
With my black and white hat on, the situation is hilarious, for a range of reasons. They’d be flying banners and calling for public holidays if the Mags were on the brink of dropping down to League One. The tables have turned now.
As soon as their owner Ellis Short pulled the subsidy they seem to have folded like a deck of cards. They’ve had too much short-termism and seem to have spent way beyond their means.
With my north east football hat on, it’s a sad state of affairs. NUFC and SAFC are both badly run football clubs.
You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton