Last season’s relative success for Newcastle United was built on two runs of form.
An early season one seeing four wins and two draws in seven matches, then the later February to April one even better, five wins and one draw.
The two runs of form producing 30 points, Rafa’s team only picking up another 14 points from the other 24 fixtures.
When you start a season without a win in the first 10 matches (11 including League Cup at Forest), you can’t help but start to lose hope.
You need a starting point to give a bit of confidence and build momentum, easier said than done though with each extra match without a win.
It might seem strange to pick out a game where you end up losing after leading 2-0 with 21 minutes to go – but that is where Newcastle’s season turned around.
Walking away from Old Trafford you couldn’t help be disappointed BUT at the same time you had seen Newcastle play some good football, especially going forward, and scoring two excellent goals.
On the surface that might not have looked a big turning point, as Newcastle then ground out a goalless draw at Southampton without having a shot on target and then lost 1-0 at home to Brighton.
However, with limited options Rafa had taken that grim point against the Saints, determined not to give a relegation rival the three points. Then the reality was that Newcastle completely deserved to beat Brighton, only to fall to a deflected goal sucker punch with the visitors’ only shot of the match.
It was more luck deserting the Magpies against the Seagulls rather than anything particularly wrong about their play, apart from possibly being unable to put the ball in the back of the net.
By the end of that Brighton match, Newcastle had played 15 hours of Premier League football and scored six goals, one every two and a half hours on average. Not difficult to see where the main problem might be.
The next game was Watford and although not fully fit, Salomon Rondon was brought back in. In his absence Rafa hadn’t felt able to play Joselu and so the side had lacked a focus for the attack.
Whilst riding their luck at the back, Newcastle did look a bit more threatening going forward and the Ki/Perez combination produced the winner on 65 minutes.
A bit too dramatic to say Newcastle have never looked back from that point but certainly three wins in a row and five goals in the last 206 minutes are a veritable feast, a goal every 41 minutes…
As well as starting to score goals and create chances with better all round team play, it has also gone up another couple of notches at the back as well. Only three goals conceded in these last seven and a half hours of football.
Newcastle have gone from scoring a goal on average every two and a half hours to conceding one in that same average timeframe.
Rafa Benitez knows how to set a defence up and despite numerous injury forced changes he has consistently done that.
The difference now though is that he has a team to build on that solid defence and most importantly a focus for the team to attack.
The number of injuries has continued to rise but if you can get other key players fit and on the pitch, you can still get results and put in performances.
There is no magic formula of course and without commitment and willingness to work as a team, you stand no chance regardless. Thankfully though these are two qualities Newcastle never seem to lack under Rafa Benitez.