In late December a rampaging Man City arrived on Tyneside.

Having won seventeen games in a row, the visitors sat twelve points clear at the top, scoring four goals in each of their three previous games.

A disciplined Newcastle performance unfolded, frustrating and limiting City’s attacking prowess we succumbed to a single scuffed Sterling goal. The expected defeat was kept down to the most minimal damage. Of course those great know-alls in the Sky (studio) had their say.

Gary Neville blasting Rafa Benitez for playing the “most negative” style of football he had ever seen, “no ambition” and tactics that were “not acceptable” for the Premier League.

Jamie Carragher added “It is becoming an embarrassment – the Premier League, is now becoming a bit of a joke. The teams at the top are so far ahead that the teams at the bottom are accepting they’re going to lose the game and long as it’s by one or two.”

Now let’s fast forward to the last day of the season…

That embarrassment, that joke of worrying about goal difference, sees Newcastle currently leading a pack of four teams all on 41 points.

rafa benitez

There may well be five teams finishing on the same points separated only by goal difference. Discipline in games against the likes of Man City proving key in the final standings.

Looking further down the table in a position we could well have found ourselves in, there is a chance that goal difference may well lead to relegation for Southampton or Swansea.

If as expected Southampton lose at home to City, and Swansea defeat an already relegated Stoke, they will both be locked on 36 points. The Saints will survive due to their goal difference currently being NINE better than Swansea’s…unless the scorelines today are huge.

Swansea are relying on Stoke crumbling and City running riot.

So will Southampton be (to quote Carragher) an “embarrassment…accepting they’re going to lose the game as long as it’s by one or two” if they play with defensive discipline and minimal attacking intent against City, just as Newcastle did in December? Or should they go out to try and win, knowing they may well ship five or six goals, leaving the back door open for Swansea?

What you can guarantee, is whichever way they play they will be either applauded for being professional and keeping the score down, or criticised for being gung-ho, the polar opposite to the criticisms levelled at Rafa.

And why do Swansea have such a poor goal difference?

Could it possibly be anything to do with the fact that Southampton lost a “negative, not acceptable” 2-1 game earlier in the season to Man City, as opposed to Swansea losing entertaining and ambitious 4-0 and 5-0 fixtures against City?

Swansea adding NINE goals to their goals against column, the exact number of goals they need to find today.

Whatever happens, you can guarantee that the sages at Sky will be singing a very different tune at full-time today, but the approach of  Rafa Benitez has been proved right.

(From a Geordie currently exiled in Highbury.)

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  • Leicester Mag

    We’d have a positive goal difference if we had a centre forward who could hit a 🐮rse with a 🎸

    • GC

      Yep, agreed. Our own tactics would have been very different if we’d had a superstar forward line. Rafa didn’t have Shearer and Ferdinand at his disposal so his tactics have been spot on. We all know that the EPL is in fact two separate leagues, therefore it will disappoint the Sky desk when Southampton park the bus and stifle the game, which would be my plan if I was in charge down there.

      • Tony English

        I don’t think it will disappoint the Sky desk if Southampton park the bus and scrape through. They’ll use words like ‘professional’ and ‘disciplined’, they’ll say its all about staying in the Prem and going again next season. The same thing they should have said about Rafa using his resources as best he could.

        • Big Al 1967

          Exactly. They were full of praise for Huddersfield on Wednesday night with not an ounce of criticism in sight. The double standards and hypocrisy at Sky makes me sick

          • Tony English

            What they then do is say “Newcastle fans expect more” which is quickly followed by “who do Newcastle fans think they are expecting more?” …ignoring the fact that plucky Huddersfield spent proper money.

  • Simon Ritter

    The so-called negative tactics that were lambasted by those Sky/BT/BBC buffoons are in reality yet another example of Benitez seeing the whole picture. He feared from even before kick-off this season that we would be in a fight for survival and thus tried everything possible to give us an edge. That sort of expertise is a million miles from the rent-a-quote money-for-old-rope tossers who are either failed managers or never had the guts to try. I’m probably in the majority of NUFC supporters who would like Benitez to be more expansive but he has proved correct in cutting his coat according to his cloth.

    • Tony English

      Exactly.

    • Leazes.

      The Author is a fool.

      • Tony English

        Thanks for your well thought out and detailed response.
        [slow hand clap].

        • Leazes.

          I don’t need to its a statement of fact.

          • Tony English

            You are indeed the Chris Kamara of this message board.

          • Leazes.

            You make Kamara look like a contender for mastermind.

          • Tony English

            You make the festering grease and mould in the bottom of an industrial abattoir bin look like a Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac.

          • Leazes.

            Is that you Job….. industrial abattoir cleaner? Stick with it and leave the thinking process to people with a brain!

          • Tony English

            If it was it would be a step up from talking to you.

  • Paul Patterson

    I said this months ago . .

    • Tony English

      Many of us said this months ago, but now we’re at a point when the numbers add up, and today we will see the hypocrisy of pundits if Southampton play defensively.

      • Leazes.

        Idiot

        • Tony English

          Who? Me?

          • Leazes.

            Yes you!

          • Tony English

            Oh no it isn’t!
            (what Panto are you in this Christmas!)

  • mactoon

    I never had a problem with setting up to keep the Man City score down. Rafa’s tactics were lambasted by Adrian Durham on Talk Sport among others claiming no ambition, a disgrace and so on but looking at the bigger picture the better goal difference could have made a hell of a difference if we were struggling down at the bottom where we have -11 and the others have -27 -23 and -24.

    It just shows how narrow minded these pundits are, they keep spouting on about how the teams should entertain the fans but I suppose that’s easy to say if your club never battles at the bottom of the table. It’s a results based business and if you can get those points while entertaining that’s fine but if not I’m sure most fans would take battling to get points before entertainment and relegation.

  • magpiefifer

    Rafa has more football knowledge in his little finger than these so called pundits!!!

  • pedrodelgardo

    It has never been about goal difference! It is all about staying competitive in the game with the goal difference a happy by product, jeez!

    • Tony English

      When the “AGUEEEERROOOOOO” goal went in with the last kick of the season, Man City won the Prem on….goal difference….so you can’t say it’s ‘never’ about goal difference.

      The league is about the entirety of the season, not the game on the day, you need to try to be competitive but know when to shut up shop as Rafa tried against City.

      Some pundits say “well if your going to lose, you may as well give it a go and lose six nil”…well I think Swansea took that attitude and have a goal difference of MINUS 9 against City, compared to Southampton’s current MINUS 1.

      If CITY win 8-0 today, and Swansea win…it’ll STILL go down to goal difference….so ‘never’ about goal difference, you’re wrong.

      • Leazes.

        You really are stupid.

        • Tony English

          Good to see you multitask and type ball-icks on three threads at once.

          • Leazes.

            Which part of Wigan are you from Kevin?

          • Tony English

            Originally NE10OAH, now N51NE.
            Get someone to show you how to use google maps.

            No Kevin’s here.

          • Leazes.

            No Tony there either…. its a row of solicitors offices!

          • Tony English

            You really don’t know how to use google maps do you? I shouldn’t be surprised. Not all Victorian Terraces are solicitors offices! There isn’t even a shop or an office on this street. Try again, get a grown up to help you.

          • Leazes.

            That one is! Walker Terrace.

          • Tony English

            This simple task is kind of proving you’re bewildered.

            Lets try this again phonetically…
            “EN” “EEE” “TEN” “ZERO” “AY” “AITCH”
            You’ll find is Eastwood Gardens in The Felling.

            “EN” “FIVE” “ONE” “EN” “EE”
            Is Stavordale Road in Highbury.

            I hope your crayons aren’t too sharp.

          • Billmag

            Ha ha brilliant. 😀😀😀

      • pedrodelgardo

        Is that 1-0 to you?

      • pedrodelgardo

        Shelvey had a shooting chance in the last minute that could have stolen a point which was the point not keeping the score down are you thick?

        • Tony English

          I’m well aware of that, but if we’d been four down by then, a last minute goal would have made very little difference would it? To get to the point where you can ‘steal’ a last minute equaliser you have to shut up shop against team with more attacking ability and hope to capitalise if an opening comes.

          I’m addressing the criticism of the media regarding playing defensively and how they carped on about not being more expansive and sitting back, saying that if your going to lose, you may as well attack and lose by six.

          Are you wilfully ignorant?

  • Leazes.

    If Pardew or Allardyce had served up this rubbish they wouldn’t have had flags or scarfs made with their face on it. Arsenal won the double playing the most defensive football we’d ever seen (Graham) but the difference was they won things by doing it….when you combine rubbish anti-football with lack of striker power it equates to survival…. and that isn’t a reason to celebrate it!

    You should be in mourning for the loss of something special, not trying to justify it because we survived!

    Another name another ‘Home Counties’ name writing for the Mag…. go and get a hobby instead of trying to make people bite…. is that the game? Trying to justify the impossible?

    • Tony English

      Apologies for being born in Gateshead (the wrong side of the river), but I make no apologies for leaving ‘The Felling’ as I approached my 30’s in 1998 to study and start a business in part of the world that could keep me employed.

      I’m not ‘from’ or ‘in’ the Home Counties, I’m a stones throw from George Graham’s old stomping ground…a team as you rightly say had won a title based on a great defence, but he also had the harrying of Ian Wright and Alan Smith, and Rocastle, and Merson and Limpar….

      …the usual half baked factually bereft comment from you.

      • Leazes.

        Tell the truth you are an Arsenal fan working in the media for Islington based company (oh aye that’s where Transfer Tavern AKA Snack-Media is based) writing a filler for Mark Jensen like the rest… not a single Reivers name amongst any of them!

        First time your name has cropped up like the others that disappear instantly!

        • Tony English

          Hilarious. If you’re at Arsenal away next season give me a shout and I’ll take a short stroll to the Away fans pub, the Drayton Park and you can watch me drink a warm pint with a flat cap on, doing my best fake Geordie accent.

          • Leazes.

            No thanks you appear to be a as thick as a jellied eel bap.

          • Tony English

            ..and that’ll be because you’re a keyboard warrior who doesn’t go to away games but knows exactly what happened as he listened to the radio.

          • Billmag

            Take no notice of him mate he’s nothing but a doom and gloom merchant.Don’t think he goes to any games he just sits in his darkened room pulling everyone to bits.

          • Tony English

            Hence his difficulty with maps (see lower thread) no need when you don’t get out much. It’s quite easy to take no offence from someone who is convinced you’re called Kevin and live in a solicitors in Walker.

          • Billmag

            He blocked me also saying I was one of the Manchester brothers who ever they are.

          • Tony English

            The Manchester Brothers? Hahaha…priceless.

            Actually Billmag, sooner or later he’ll realise me and you are one in the same person having a discussion with each other in our cottage in Whitstable whilst nibbling on potted shrimp.

          • Billmag

            😀😀😀😀

          • Leazes.

            I had blocked Billmag as one of your logs last year….. and I’m doing the same with this one Kevin. I think there are about 20 or so that I’ve blocked….bliss!

            You might be able to post articles to Mark Jensen but you could at least make an effort to be slightly interesting….it is you hallmark.

            No doubt if you insist that you are genuine we would have seen you in the comments section in the past and you won’t just disappear in the future like your irregular pseudonyms.

            TTFN with this one!…. oh dear you’ve just disappeared never mind.

          • Tony English

            I’ve commented on umpteen occasions this season, clearly my comments were so boring they didn’t register with you, but hey, I didn’t see you in the crowd at Wembley on Wednesday, so either your face is boring or you’re also a figment of someone’s fevered imagination.

            I didn’t disappear, I was watching the football then fitting a new lock to our the front door…obviously an imaginary door…a door of perception perhaps…as apparently I don’t exist.

            What a weird little conspiracy filled bubble you exist in?

          • Billmag

            I asked him ages ago to write a piece on the Mag but unfortunately he gets confused after 2 paragraphs.

          • Tony English

            Just don’t ask him to look up a postcode.

          • Albert Stubbins

            Noel and Liam?

          • Billmag

            Ha Ha I wish.

          • gallowgate26

            Why would he be at Arsenal away?… I bet he’s never been to a game this season…

      • gallowgate26

        I’ve proudly lived the ‘wrong side of the river’ my whole life. I was born in the RVI in Newcastle however. Hahaha, oh dear, they won’t like that. The ‘North of the river’ society…

        • Leazes.

          Its Clarko.

  • Oldgeordie

    Just listen to the Sky pundits today. Wonderful backs to the wall performance by Huddersfield What is the difference between that and our performances against Man. City?

    • Leazes.

      They expect more from us! This is Newcastle United…. not a town where the local transport is a bath on wheels.

  • Damon Horner

    Damage limitation season in honesty. Disastrous relegation, team was overhauled and first season back. This is probably more than I expected from this season. I think Rafa knew he had to pick his battles this season.

  • Paul C

    great article!

    I hope now everyone backs the manager! cmon Ashley,sell the club!
    If Ashley stays Rafa walks, out of respect for himself, and his quality.

    a response to a post from three months ago, when people were skeptical of rafa’s tactis..these people were slippin…i still love them though

    Paul C ghostrider • 3 months ago
    look at our goal difference, much better than the two bottom clubs. goal difference can be worth a massive point at the end of the season, and could keep us up. Rafa is right for parking the bus.we arent barcelona. we just want premier league survival, not champions league, we arent even after the sense of pride you feel when we beat a team like man utd or chelsea once or twice in a decade. not allowing a handful of goals to a top club is priority, just as beating the teams lower in the table is so we can survive the year and hopefully the fat man sells. this is all that matters right now. so get behind the players, get behind the manager

    at home we drew with liverpool, beat man utd,arsenal and chelsea. 7th best goal difference in the league. world class manager. proud supporter!

    The keeper he brought in has been fantastic. for me he has been the biggest difference and deserves player of the year. I think it is his contribution since arriving at the club that has kept us up. Of course with Ayoze scoring or assisting on every toon goal in the past two months he deserves a lot of recognition, and so do other players.

    • Billmag

      Correct and he wanted them at the beginning of the season, some people on this forum have been scathing of Rafa at times this season do they not realize the importance of keeping him, sometimes I have my doubts the naysayers are real supporters.

      • Paul C

        there are some hardcore internet trolls with warped agendas.
        what a day today! I will be back in Newcastle and at st james’ next year for the first time in 20 years!

    • Tony English

      Dubravka has been a revelation, lets hope he doesn’t do a Sylvain Distin and decide against signing after his loan spell.

      • thewildchimp

        He’ll sign. It’s not often that you get to be the 1st choice in the Premier League, with the fans and the manager fully backing you. For some reason, he couldn’t find regular football in Slovakia but looks good in England. Baffling.

  • Leazes.

    Whatever happened to our Mexican American chum from California?

    • BenMagpie

      Perhaps as a victim of xenophobic cyber bullying he chose not to frequent this site any more. I wouldn’t blame him.

      • Leazes.

        Doubt it Ben… more than likely it was a troll or a full time writer of the Mag seeking to propagate recidivist conservative views like Jane Clark, Jackie Smithfield or Graham Porter. or Tony English…..

        ….even the names reek of fakeness….. what was he called again?