If you have been a regular at Newcastle home matches, then you will have experienced some brilliant atmospheres at St James Park.
You will have also experienced some games played out in almost a deathly silence, especially taking into consideration there are over fifty thousand people inside the stadium.
The days are long gone when it was taken as a given that there would be a great atmosphere at St James Park whatever the circumstances.
It is a whole different ball game compared to back in the 70s and 80s and the days of terraces, we made our own fun back then and arguably the biggest attraction of going to the match, especially if you were younger, was the singing/atmosphere…the ‘experience’, rather than the actual football.
Which was just as well much of the time…
These days, the St James Park crowd is very much like the team, uninspiring a lot of the time and lacking spark, but still capable of better when the opportunity comes along…
Despite this reality, it doesn’t stop the media and former players of falling into the lazy cliches.
‘Always a brilliant atmosphere’…’The famous St James Park atmosphere’…’The crowd will be guaranteed to be right behind the team’…and so on.
That isn’t the case though. It is really an all or nothing thing at Newcastle home matches now (away games are a different matter naturally with everybody standing and spent time and money going to wherever).
When there is something for the Newcastle supporters to get behind, then it can be brilliant, as pretty much everybody joins in.
Whilst media and former players delude themselves, Rafa Benitez knows the score.
In the lead up to the game he has been asked about the atmosphere.
He states that if Newcastle can play at a high tempo and get Manchester United on the back foot, then the fans will respond.
The United boss clearly understands that much of the time the football his team is playing, isn’t conducive to getting fans off their seats. It is just simple fact that Rafa hasn’t really had the players to try and play a pressing game and/or committing numbers forward, except against the handful of teams who are as weak as Newcastle – the likes of West Ham and Stoke.
Rafa Benitez has said a number of times since he arrived that he wants to add more pace to his team and just maybe we are now getting closer to that point.
Loan signings Kenedy and Slimani definitely add pace, whilst Murphy is now also emerging as somebody who deserves a more regular chance and also has pace. When you add in players such as Yedlin, Atsu, Hayden and Gayle who also have the necessary pace/energy, there is definitely the possibility forming of being able to play a more attacking, pressing game in these remaining matches.
Whether we see that today might be another matter.
Man Utd may not give us that many opportunities but if the Newcastle players who are selected today, can get the opposition on the back foot, then the St James Park will respond.
The best chance is if, as Rafa Benitez indicates, that Newcastle get at Mourinho’s team from the start. Getting the atmosphere going from the first whistle can only be a positive for both the crowd and players, and I think Rafa will be picking a team to try and do that.
“We have seen our team playing against top sides like Chelsea and Manchester United, scoring early and before them.
“We have been competing but not having enough to hold on to the result, so we have to learn to do that.
“If we start with a high tempo, push, and score a goal we need to keep doing it.”
Rafa asked if the atmosphere can be like that of Newcastle v Man Utd matches in the past:
“Hopefully it will be like that again.
“If we can create this type of pressure from the beginning and have an atmosphere, it has to be a positive for us.
“The only thing is we have to be sure we don’t lose our heads because we are too open because they will punish you on the counter-attack.
“But if we can keep the atmosphere hot it will create pressure for them.
“We want to be on top of them and be on the front-foot from the beginning, that would be fantastic.”