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Opinion

The bigger problems don’t mean that this Newcastle United season can be neglected

10 months ago
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I think last Saturday was one of the most deflating home performances I have seen from a Rafa Benitez Newcastle United side since he took over in 2016.

There was no energy, no obvious desire, a complete lack of quality and it appeared a complete lack of responsibility out on the pitch. Even the opponents were mediocre.

This is not the fault of Rafa Benitez. This is not the fault of those in the stands, but it is we who will suffer. It feels like at present no one has the stomach for the fight. Everything good is being channelled into the brilliant pressure demonstrations outside the ground and the sports direct shop on Northumberland Street. The key though, is to channel that into the SJP.

We will need our home to be a fortress to have any hope of staying up. If the anger and passion from the fans is channelled into player performances, then results will turn around quickly. Obviously supporters can only do so much but why not aim to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition.

Relegation can never be a positive in any way, shape, or form. The stories of clubs using relegation as the making of them, is often complete fantasy, and in our case certainly, relegation does not lead to a positive path.

We have been extremely fortunate in both of our previous relegation scenarios.

The first time we were able to hold on to a large majority of our first team players. We were able to form at minimum a strong 13/14 man squad which was hugely competitive in that division. We also were fortunate Chris Hughton was part of our backroom staff at a time when the club required positive, calm leadership.

The second time we, and I am still not quite sure how, had Rafa Benitez in charge, in the Championship! It still astounds me. A find it hard to believe our luck would continue if we are relegated for a third time under Ashley’s ownership. Rafa would be gone in a blink; chaos to go beyond anything seen previously would be likely.

PR will continue to come and I think it’s all part of the Ashley game. Press releases. Taking the players out for meals, it’s all bluff. Always will be where MA is concerned unfortunately.

I did see the intriguing poll ran by ‘The Mag’ a few weeks ago – Would relegation and Rafa Benitez leaving as manager be taken, if it meant Ashley leaving the club permanently?

I think it’s genuinely a difficult choice without a right or wrong answer and respect that each fan should be allowed his or her view without judgement from peers. I know a lot of our fans would take the greedy one leaving at any cost, and that is completely understandable, and also very hard to turn down.

I do also believe that a further relegation would significantly harm us in the long term, particularly with clubs in the second tier now spending more than ever in an attempt to get out. The last promotion campaign was hugely tight and it’s unlikely to be easier to get back up in the future.

I do not believe Mike Ashley particularly wants to flog Newcastle United or ever had any intention of putting the club on the market. However, if he ever got to the point of considering finally leaving, surely it would only come after a few years of premier league stability. Ashley’s equivalent of milking the cow for all it’s worth.

I understand the apathy towards what is going on the pitch while he refuses to re-invest but that is why actually staying up is more important than ever. Only in the strongest position possible is new ownership realistic if we can hold on for another season and Ashley has one more year of profit of the back of us, as tough as it is to swallow, it might be what eventually sees him off. Here’s hoping anyway.

This is precisely why this season should not be allowed to slip away, and everyone connected with Newcastle needs to be prepared for, and up for the battle. At the moment it feels like games are just slipping away. Saturday was a classic example, soft goals conceded and a flat feel to the whole game. The siege mentality and unity between players, coaching staff and fans was evident last season. In those crucial back-to-back games against Southampton and Huddersfield, it kept us afloat and pushed us onto safety.

We need to recreate this for 2018-19, and make every game as difficult for the opponent as possible. If things do get tight, like they did last season, experience shows that Rafa Benitez can give us a crucial advantage on the opposition in that bottom half.

We desperately need to start picking up points before the gap between the bottom three and rest of the contenders is extended. Very soon it could become a bridge too far. But at present it is still early days, and the ridiculously difficult early fixtures mean we should now have a chance to catch-up over the next month.

I am hopeful Rafa can reinstall some of the belief and positivity to the club on the pitch, for those ninety minutes, with everything outside the match time focused on making life as difficult as possible for the ownership and anyone associated with it. I hope the current uneasy atmosphere can turn into noise for ninety minutes and push the team on.

Remember how the place rocked in those big victories against Manchester United and Arsenal last season. Things will change in time, but that does not mean this season should be neglected, let’s believe in Benitez and the boys.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JackLaceySport
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