A week or so ago, I wrote an article highlighting the individual run-ins of the Newcastle United relegation rivals. In it, I somewhat confidently stated that we would be alright, due to the fact that our rivals, which I class as every team from 9th down, have a hard finish to the season.
This group of teams include: Everton, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Swansea, Huddersfield, West Ham, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Stoke and West Brom. Now, if we are assuming Alan Pardew has finally relegated West Brom (they are eight points off safety) that leaves two spaces to fill.
This weekend couldn’t have gone any better if we had cherry picked the results ourselves.
Watford and Bournemouth got heavily beaten on Sunday, while on Saturday Brighton, West Ham, West Brom and Palace were beaten and Swansea held Huddersfield. We of course did our job and dispatched another rival in Southampton and then Manchester City completed the round of good cheer on Monday night with a 2-0 win over Stoke.
So, after the first group of fixtures everything went according to plan. I’m not going to bore everyone with the next two sets of fixtures but if you care to look at them, every team around Newcastle either plays each other or has a ‘top’ club to face, while we have to contend with Huddersfield at St James Park, hoping for a similar result as against the Saints. In beating Manchester United, Southampton and the draw at Bournemouth, we have firmly put this survival challenge in our own hands.
This is key for me, as I’ve stated in the last few weeks that nine points from what was nine games left before Southampton, would be enough for safety. Put simply, if we get to 38 points there won’t be three teams getting near that total.
We are currently five points clear of the drop and our goal difference is a full ten goals better off than those in the bottom three, making it a theoretical six points we are clear of trouble. The teams down there will be aware of this and the result against Southampton will have given us a great psychological boost over the rest. At this stage of the season 5/6 points is massive, especially when you look at the form guide of the teams in the bottom three.
Once again, the point that can’t be overstated is that Rafa Benitez has got a Championship squad, sparsely populated with Premier League quality, on the verge of Premier League safety. That is as good a job as is needed in a first season back up from the second tier. However, it’s only worthwhile if in the summer we build on what was done last May, with that great day against Barnsley when we clinched the title, and Rafa Benitez told all the fans to go away and enjoy the summer after positive talks with Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.
Those positive talks proved to be false and the owner once again moved the goalposts, pulled the rug and stopped what momentum Benitez and the team had built up. Meaning that we have been needlessly sweating on a Premier League status that should have been sewn up months ago. Only the belated additions that arrived in the form of Martin Dubravka and Kenedy have given us a shot in the arm and provided the quality that Benitez wanted way back in August.
Rafa (provided he got a couple of quality players) had confidence in the side he had to stay in the league and since the two lads arrived in January, the likes of Mo Diame, Matt Ritchie Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey have instantly looked better, more productive and better quality going forward, takes a hell of a lot of pressure of the defence. Funny what a bit of trust and confidence in the manager can do.
If only I had confidence in Mike Ashley learning and doing what’s best for the progress of the club and not himself. History has repeatedly not been good to Newcastle United on that score.