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.
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.)