There is only way for Newcastle United to go this Saturday.
Newcastle v Southampton is arguably the biggest game of the season, at least so far.
It is so tight at the bottom with Newcastle (29 points) only two places and two points above relegation and the Saints (28 points) the team directly below them.
A win would be massive for Rafa’s team, a draw would make you very nervous, whilst a defeat would be pretty much disastrous.
Looking at the fixtures remaining, it is difficult not to assume that Newcastle will stand or fall on three games – the home matches against fellow relegation strugglers Southampton, Huddersfield and West Brom.
Points from any other of the six games (Home to Arsenal and Chelsea, Away to Leicester, Everton, Spurs and Watford) will be simply a bonus.
The three key home matches can only be approached in one way.
Newcastle have to get at Southampton (and Huddersfield & West Brom) from the first minute, press from the kick-off, put the opposition under pressure on the back foot, get the crowd going.
If I have a (small) criticism of Rafa Benitez this season, it would be that last point.
At St James Park, I don’t think the United boss has really harnessed the benefits of the crowd.
When you look at the Man Utd match, Rafa had everybody pushed up the pitch 10 yards, getting in the faces of the better quality players, got the crowd going from the start – the result being the likes of even Pogba, Matic and others making mistakes and losing possession. Newcastle could and should have gone ahead in those opening minutes, when Shelvey went close.
In far too many home matches this season, the atmosphere has been good before the game and then the kick-off comes and very quickly it has been killed off.
I understand at times, even at home, Newcastle might have to be cautious, such as maybe those Man City, Spurs and Liverpool games.
However, it has been painful to see us stand off the likes of Brighton, Swansea and Crystal Palace, playing a patient game of waiting for the odd chance come and not taking at least an element of risk by pressing.
The crowd then becomes a negative rather than a positive because these days, as we saw with the Man Utd match, it is either all or nothing. It is pretty much all of St James Park roaring you on, or the match played in virtual silence.
At the time Palace were rock bottom and we were so lucky to get anything, never mind all three points thanks to sub Merino’s 85th minute header, our first proper chance of the game.
Matches such as Brighton and Swansea at home saw the visitors so comfortable, when it had to be Rafa and Newcastle taking the initiative.
This is a follow on from last season really, to finish top and yet only win 15 of your home games in the Championship, especially losing five (Newcastle lost no home games in the 2009/10 promotion season) at St James Park, was really bad. Much of that for me was Rafa failing to get the crowd whipped up with too careful tactics that weren’t needed against inferior teams.
The Newcastle are the biggest asset at St James Park BUT only if they are given the chance to get involved.
If Rafa delivers the right pressing tactics from kick-off on Saturday, Newcastle will beat Southampton.