Newcastle United have had plenty of must win games already this season but this really is…a must win
Newcastle United haven’t had it easy this season.
Two points in the first nine matches meant no Newcastle fan had any illusions about this season being an easy ride.
Making such a shocking start, little wonder we regularly began to hear about certain games being ‘must win’ matches.
I think the first of these was Cardiff away.
It was only the second game of the season and indeed the first away match of the campaign, yet it was billed by many as a must win one.
The reasoning for that one was because Rafa’s players had four of the ‘big six’ as their opponents in the other four of the five opening matches, therefore points against the club who started the season as long odds on favourites to go straight back down, were seen as essential if Newcastle weren’t to get to late September still pointless.
Those who were worried were proved right, Newcastle lost to the other four (all with a 1-2 scoreline) and so the Cardiff match proved to be the only realistic opportunity for points.
Despite playing poorly, Newcastle fans were still disappointed to only come away with a point, especially when gifted the chance to undeservedly take all three thanks to Muto earning a last minute penalty. Kenedy rounding off a shocking individual display with a feeble spot-kick attempt.
As it happens, Cardiff have looked every inch a relegation certainty based on their away form, one point from nine games so far. However, since that draw against Newcastle they have bounced back at home and actually won four of their last five, including Wolves and Brighton who NUFC lost to.
With hindsight, playing Cardiff away in their first home game back up was maybe more of a must not lose game, and indeed if it had been a defeat, Cardiff would now be above Rafa’s team.
That process has pretty much continued and in the games that have really mattered, where they have been must wins or must not lose as a minimum, the manager and players have delivered.
Brighton look to be pretty certain survivors having 21 points already but then Newcastle head a group of seven clubs with 16 points or less, all averaging less than a point per game, the relegation contenders.
Against these clubs so far…
Cardiff 0 Newcastle 0
Palace 0 Newcastle 0
Southampton 0 Newcastle 0
Burnley 1 Newcastle 2
Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 1
Five of the bottom six played, two wins and three draws, crucially no defeats.
Crucially, if Newcastle had lost against just one of these opponents then respectively, Rafa’s team would now be below Cardiff if they’d lost to them, the same with Burnley and the same with Palace. If Huddersfield had won last weekend we’d be level on points with them now, whilst with Southampton they would now be a point behind NUFC if they had beaten the Magpies.
This is how close it has become, such fine margins.
Maybe at the end of the season we will be able to look back at a draw against Fulham in this pre-Christmas match and say it turned out to be another game that in reality was a must not lose, rather than must win.
I doubt it though.
I think this is 100% a must win game for Newcastle, a tough set of fixtures to follow, some key players injured and/or away on international duty, a squad that will almost certainly remain low on real quality as Mike Ashley looks unlikely to sell the club any time soon and will surely continue to starve Rafa Benitez of realistic transfer funds.
A win today would see Newcastle onto 19 points and if last season is any kind of guide, needing maybe only around 15 points/five wins, to ensure survival, as Swansea finished third bottom last season with 33 points.
Second bottom Huddersfield (10 points) are home to fourth bottom Southampton (12 points) as well today.
Premier League table (not including Liverpool’s win over Wolves on Friday night):
If Newcastle and Southampton both win, then Rafa’s team would be 10 points ahead of Fulham and nine in front of Huddersfield, the Magpies would have to be really bad, and indeed deserve it, if they were then caught by either or both of those clubs and relegated.
Victory today would see Newcastle have a record of five wins, two draws and just two defeats in their nine matches immediately before Christmas, the confidence and momentum of that would I’m sure, see the players carried through to more decent results in the weeks and months ahead, even in this period after Fulham where NUFC play five of the ‘big six’ within seven games.
Today against Fulham is Newcastle’s chance to break out from the relegation back and stay out.
It is a chance they must take.
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