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.

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  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    I haven`t said it to date but Rafa`s team selections, subs & tactics leave a lot to be desired.
    his press statements over the past months haven`t helped either, if he thought complaining in public would work with Fatso he seriously misjudged the guy.
    unless we get our finger out against teams at home then we`ll be in big trouble.

    • Peaky Magpie

      This game really worries me tbh cos we don’t do anything the easy way..

  • Peaky Magpie

    Spurs fan on radio after last nights defeat “if we don’t win the FA Cup Poch has to go” ?????……I really do despair at times….

    • Leazes.

      Same as Arsenal fans but slightly fatter.

      • Peaky Magpie


  • Leazes.

    ‘The crowd then becomes a negative rather than a positive’…. well that’s a bit dangerous Sam, I hope they’re earthed properly.

    This season has been a reminder of how far past his sell-by date ‘crackers’ Mike Ashley has become as United’s owner…. ten years past it. He’s taken the club out of competitiveness into the permanency of cannon-fodder, to be blasted over the premiership fence at will.

    I’m reminded of the story about the Little Dutch Boy who saved a town from flooding by putting his finger in the dike, thats Charnley, then Ashley sticks three magic beans in his other hand and say ‘now go to market and buy a horse to attach to the cart’….. before disappearing to pret-a-manger to sample their entire doughnut collection.

    But that’s neither here nor there…..

    The owner positioned the club at fifteenth, did anyone expect anything different? We all knew of the gulf that we needed to cross to compete ….. and didn’t. consequently that would mean another season fighting relegation. As for Rafa’s tactics… he’s playing percentages, and its not pretty…. its vacant anti football, and there’s no point sending in the cavalry if they are sitting astride donkleys.

    • Wor Lass

      Donkleys? Other than that, very good – one of your best, in fact!

      • Leazes.

        I’ll correct it…. spell check isn’t working this morning.

      • Rich Lawson

        My ”humorous” response to your ”child protection” answer on another article has been blocked by our moral guardians.

        • Wor Lass

          Ha! I did a bit of research on Kevin Mbabu but I was mindful of Blobbi`s comment about Googling “Young Boys”. Be careful out there!!

          • Rich Lawson

            Indeed,it’s a minefield !

    • Rich Lawson

      Aren’t the magic beans to buy a cow with so we can’t hit it’s a##e with a banjo ?

      • Leazes.

        Hoss is more apt.

  • Wor Lass

    Villa are going well, Sam. That`ll make your page-filling easier if they go up. Just dust off the old “bedsheet scandal” and stick in a few “plastic geordie” digs. Job`s a good `un!

  • Rev

    Spot on, win by any means and Rafa has earned his money, lose and its one too many games where we blew it and you start thinking if we go down and if Rafa walks, then the fact is he wasnt a master tactician at Newcastle. Personally wish it wasnt the Saints but its about bloody time for spme payback for those wonder goals HTL

    • Leazes.

      Matt le Tissier has retired, so we have a chance.

    • TheNutJob

      no good having a master tactician if you haven`t got the players

      • Rev

        If we have the players to beat man u then we have the players to beat Saints. Cant have it both ways, beat man u and its down to Rafa getting more out of them due to his genius, lose to Saints and its because we dont have the players but the managers still a genius.

        • Leazes.

          Noooo no no no no….. no it doesn’t work like that, individual games are erratic in outcome, over a season the lack of quality is laid bare, but you don’t have to wait until the end because we know this is largely a championship squad playing for survival!

          • Rev

            But over the season? Ok, put it another way… if Brighton and Huddersfield stay up and we don’t then in my book its because they had better managers over the course of the season.

  • Mike Adam

    Great article Sam, but how dare you question Rafa. Just kidding, it is about time someone in the media brings up this point. Playing on the back foot at home is losing football. You are absolutely right, look how we played against ManU, why don’t we play like that against everyone, especially at home. Rafa’s tactics are a loser’s tactics and also undermind the confidence of the players. We have lost valuable points thanks to these defensive, park the bus, loser tactics! Oh yeah, I forgot we are playing to survive on goal difference, sorry Rafa and the sheep.

  • Paul Patterson

    I haven’t a problem with being cautious in games, but if we had attacked from the off in games against Brighton, Bournemouth, Swansea, Leicester, Everton and Burnley, I’m sure we would have been better off than the three points we have from those six games.

  • 1957

    We need to go out attack and look for an early goal…and hope if we do Benitez doesn’t go into protect what we have mode and have all 10 outfield players in our own half until we concede 2 and are staring defeat in the face

  • S.G.M.

    Park the bus and hope to catch them on the break.