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Why Newcastle United now give me reason for cheer

3 months ago
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The Christmas period has seen Newcastle United yuletide joy replaced with Tyneside agony.

A poor home performance against bottom club Fulham was followed by a battering at top team Liverpool. On the flip side, Santa brought me the Kevin Keegan autobiography I’d asked for, so I can at least read about some better times whilst the harsh current day reality rages on around me.

We have the latest in a long and unreliable string of ‘serious’ takeover bids. Our manager is all but confirming that he feels we are heading back to the Championship and it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing many/any signings in January.

The future’s bleak, the future’s black and white!

Or maybe not.

This time last year we travelled to London and beat West Ham in an excellent game which then saw us go on a great run and pull away from trouble. Based in the South West, I only get to a handful of games each season but that was one of them. So I decided to try and repeat the trick and head down to Watford this year.

This would be my fourth game of the season. The first was Cardiff away, which was the worst live performance I’d ever witnessed. This was then followed by Southampton away, which usurped Cardiff as the worst live game I’d ever witnessed. Both games were shocking 0-0s.

The only thing that made the Cardiff game better than Southampton was the brief euphoria when we won the penalty. We celebrated like we’d already won the game. Kenedy’s feeble effort was saved and the euphoria was crushed but at least we got to cheer something. There was absolutely nothing to cheer about against the Saints.

My third game was at home to West Ham; a match in which I thought we actually played pretty well but lost 0-3 to the visitors. All in all; 3 games, no wins and no goals scored. Not a great run for me so far.

In case you weren’t aware, we haven’t won at Vicarage Road ever in the top flight! That was a handy stat I found out on my way down. Ah well, I still had belief. Sometimes it feels like that’s all we’ve got.

I ended up sat by the corner flag and, being five foot six, had to get on the very tips of the tips of my toes to catch the action when the ball was nearing the goal at our end.

All in all, I thought we played well and a lot of players that have been out of sorts showed us what they can offer on a good day.

Diame broke up everything and I was beginning to feel this could be a replica of the West Ham game from last year. He bossed that game, grabbed a goal and went on to be one of the most commanding midfielders in the Premier League for the second half of the season.

The other midfielder at the London Stadium was one Henry Saivet. A player who had barely featured for us and would barely do so again. But he too played well and scored a great free kick.

There were parallels to be drawn between he and Isaac Hayden who came in for a rare start. I thought Hayden looked very much like the player he’d been in the Championship. He was tidy on the ball and broke up play well enough.

Two of the games I managed to get to in the Championship season were the record breaking Cardiff away and the Barnsley one at home. Both of those days I felt Atsu was the best player on the pitch. He mesmerised defenders and created chances aplenty. He also scored a wonderful free kick against Cardiff. He wasn’t officially our player then but the small buy out clause was seen as a no brainer by many when the transfer window opened last season.

Now some say it’s been a waste of money…but I still feel Atsu could offer something and against Watford he proved it. He played with a confidence and flair that we have seen far too little since he signed permanently.

Matt Ritchie is another man who’s come under the cosh this season. Hard working, tough and a grafter; fans will always give him his due. However, many have suggested he hasn’t offered enough creatively. I’m biased as he’s my favourite player and have been since about four games after he signed, but I believe he is our best creative outlet, and that sometimes he just doesn’t have the players around him to finish the chances that he can create. Yes, he’s not quick and won’t go past many full backs but his left foot is sublime and he proved it with a fantastic delivery for the goal.

It was a great move. Atsu who I quite like, played it to Ritchie who I love, who whipped it in to Rondon who I really like and who headed the ball home.

It took approximately 317 minutes of football and 1,138 miles (of round trips) travelled but I’d seen my first Newcastle goal of the season!

Ritchie had a great game all round, I felt. There was one moment where he was the furthest player forward during a Newcastle attack. We lost possession and Watford began to break the other way. They made it all the way to our box but, when their winger tried to square the ball, it was none other than Ritchie that was back to intercept and clear the danger.

Rondon was a powerhouse up front and bullied the centre backs all day. He should comfortably get to double figures this season and we need him to if we’re going to stay up.

Unfortunately, we didn’t hold out. The defence and goalie had been solid all day but with just ten minutes left on the clock, Doucour√© found himself free to head in the equaliser.

Gutting we didn’t hold out but I walked away fairly happy with the draw and performance.

We’ve got huge games coming up in January but we beat both Man U and Chelsea last season. It seems impossible that it’ll happen again right now but you can’t rule out anything. Man City have lost three of their last five! Who had money on that?

It’s going to be a tough second half of the season regardless of whether we make signings or not, but at least on Saturday we saw signs that players such as Ritchie, Atsu and Diame can offer more than they have been recently and, in Rondon, we have a powerful striker who can stick his head on it.

If Kenedy and Shelvey can find the form they’re capable of and the defence and goalie continue as they have been for most of the season, we do have enough to stay in this league.

Of course it’d be nice if Ashley sells and we buy four or five quality players…but I think those of us that had that on our Santa lists may be disappointed.

Here’s to keeping the faith that Rafa and the boys can do it regardless.

Happy new year!

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin
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