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Opinion

Is this a gamble too far for Mike Ashley…?

4 weeks ago
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Now let me get a couple of things straight, I like sure fire things and (except for a sneaky £2 on a football score) I’m NOT a gambler. I like things to be as damn close to 100% certain as is humanly possible.

Now we all know that Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley isn’t this sort of person, quite the opposite in fact, as he’s shown this once again with what has occurred over the summer just gone.

After the poor to average transfer business in the last window, the club finds itself just about keeping it’s head above water after five games.

After this weekend’s matches we are back in the relegation zone after Aston Villa played out a goalless draw with West Ham.

Our season won’t be defined by the recent 3-1 loss away to Liverpool but it WILL be defined by what we do against teams down the bottom.

With Watford now upwardly mobile (new manager) and Norwich showing that they won’t simply be making up the numbers this season with some fine results, we are going to find it even harder to pinpoint which three teams are going to be worse than us come May 2020.

At this early stage, Brighton on Saturday is MASSIVE, make no mistake about it…and sadly, I have my doubts that we have the players to get us out of trouble. That’s BEFORE I start on the management/coaching team.

As ever during poorer times, we always look to the better periods of our recent history to help cheer us up. Back in 1995 we had Kevin Keegan overseeing things and we all knew he could spot a classy player when he saw one. In fact he stated in his autobiography that if given the choice between a flair player or one that would simply do a job, he’d opt for the entertaining option every time.

Make no bones about it, there was a clear methodical approach to signing Les Ferdinand in 95, it was to replace Andy Cole, then we went out to partner Les with Alan Shearer. Just repeat that back to yourselves…We signed LES FERDINAND to replace ANDY COLE and then partnered him with ALAN SHEARER. Unbelievable isn’t it?

KK wasn’t short on attacking options with Peter Beardsley, Tino Asprilla, Keith Gillespie, David Ginola and Robert Lee backing the front two up. Did we REALLY have a side THAT good? You better believe we did and each one was part of the famous ‘jigsaw’ that Keegan was putting together. Now, despite what he says in public, this Head Coach doesn’t even have a say over which players come in.

The defence back then was much maligned although never as bad as it was made out to be. But this was a defence with Phillipe Albert in it and marauding full backs in Warren Barton and John Beresford down the wings. It was decent enough, prone to the odd error but boy was it kept out of jail by the six others going forward. That period was golden in terms of quality, a forward line littered with sure fire things, guarantees of goals and entertainment. That came down from the manager’s blueprint, fair enough we won nowt, but you’d snap someone’s hands off to be anywhere near as good as those entertaining ‘losers’ once again.

Skipping ahead a few years to when Sir Bobby rocked up and he put a similar product on display for the fans to enjoy. Shearer was still there and his foil was now Craig Bellamy and the artistry from the flanks was provided by both Laurent Robert and Nobby Solano, the engine room being the late Gary Speed and Kieron Dyer/Jermaine Jenas. That was enough to get the (once again) much maligned defence out of bother more often than not. Look at both sides, they were both plastered with quality and they couldn’t fail in the scheme of things could they?

Until Sir Bobby came along we never saw a side play in the way Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ did and it did get us ‘So Close’ to that elusive trophy. Under Robson, we saw a diluted version of what Kevin created five years earlier and it was a joy to watch and 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishes hinted at what could have been.

Now in 2019 we have Joelinton, Andy Carroll, Dwight Gayle, Miguel Almiron, Allan Saint Maximin and Yoshinori Muto and let’s be fair to them, they are all gambles and that’s IF we can get them off the treatment table long enough to play.

If Mike Ashley thought he knew what he was doing during the summer break (or if he cared) then he’s much mistaken and by the end of the season we will see if he has made yet another almighty mess of things.

In getting rid/forcing out the triumvirate of Rafa Benitez, Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez we have gone from those sure fire things, the guarantees I mentioned at the start, replaced them with gambles, uncertainties or (in my opinion) incompetence. Players and people that aren’t up to scratch. The defensive bedrock that Rafa Benitez brought wasn’t easy on the eye, but gradually, after a sticky start it brought results and we pulled clear of trouble aided by Rondon’s goals and some excellent line leading to bring Perez into play.

The football landscape is much different now to when we last threatened to do something tangible and we can no longer compete with the top clubs in the same way that we could back then. However, it would be nice to compete with some lesser lights of the game.

Rafa Benitez knew our limits, tailored the side accordingly but was eventually hamstrung by the lack of ambition that Steve Bruce seems happy to accept and as a consequence the product on the pitch will suffer. Rest assured, left unchanged either in the dugout or on the pitch this side is odds on to get relegated at present. Anyone thinking otherwise isn’t seeing the bigger picture.

Yes this team will nick a few points along the way, it’ll upset a few fixed odds coupons like it did against Spurs a few weeks ago but it remains to be seen if it can beat the rest of the chaff that reside in the bottom half of the table. It has been said that Bruce will let this side attack more often than it did under his predecessor, but that’s a risky move as he doesn’t have Rafa’s defensive nous, organisational skills and the sure fire goals that Benitez counted on to achieve safety. And it’s neither entertaining or functional.

What we have at present is a side that consists of the worst of both worlds. A side that will leak a few goals and that won’t have enough firepower to win or draw enough matches to stay in the league. It’s a long way to 35+ points. What we have is that middle ground that we saw post Kevin Keegan and post Bobby Robson. We’ve landed in the halfway house periods of Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness from 97/98 and 04/05 respectively and Steve Bruce doesn’t have anywhere near the winning pedigree of those two managers.

To say Brighton this Saturday is a ‘must win’ rings quite true. Especially with Leicester, Manchester United and Chelsea to follow.

Forget ‘must win’- it has ‘relegation six pointer’ written all over it…

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