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Opinion

A long struggle to spring if Newcastle United don’t do this now

10 months ago
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It’s a fair assessment that few would have expected Steve Bruce to have reached 25 points by Christmas.

Even fewer would have expected it after the 5-0 honking at Leicester City in October.

At that point a classic Newcastle United crisis looked inevitable.

Yet Steve Bruce has found a way to get some crucial wins.

The football has not always been easy on the eye, at times we have looked pretty ropey, but probably the best collective group of defenders in this club’s recent history has given us a stable platform to get the odd win.

Now we get to the New Year facing the season’s crossroads with the January Transfer Window. The last two transfer windows at this time of year actually helped the team hugely.

In 2018 the boost of Dubravka, Kennedy and Slimani probably made the difference when securing our survival.

Then 12 months ago signing Miguel Almiron may not have been the busiest transfer window in United’s history but it was vitally important.

It finally broke the record fee spent, which had become a huge monkey on the club’s back and highlighted the lack of ambition from the top.

Also, Almiron’s addition provided the team with another crucial attacking outlet and gave Benitez another dimension going forward. I am certain that despite his lack of goals and assists that Almiron’s signing helped the team get a few extra points along the way before the end of last  season.

It will be hugely interesting then to see what sort of backing Steve Bruce receives in this window now. After the Everton game he spoke of irons in the fire but in Ashley-era Newcastle you have to take such words with a pinch of salt.

Our points total as the year ends is higher than at this stage in both previous seasons. Does this mean funds will suddenly become more restrictive? Few would be surprised if this was the case.

The 2014/15 season is the obvious parallel. We made no major January signings, trimmed the squad letting decent players depart and didn’t replace the manager who had left for pastures new. The result was an awful second half of the season that very nearly relegated us. The decent first half of the season was completely ruined by a lack of activity and care in January. To make this mistake again would be criminal.

That season we had even more points than this time (26 to 25), so to think we cannot be dragged back into the dogfight is both naive and ignorant.

As our injury list stacks up, signings are paramount to ensuring the second half of the season isn’t a lot harder. The lack of goals from our forward line also shows we have much to improve on and not adding a striker could prove disastrous for the second half of the season.

Joelinton may work hard in a system that isolates the striker. His hold up play is pretty hit and miss and he does make sure the centre-backs have to be tight on the ball – but since being paired in a front two in the last few games I have seen no improvement. We may be playing him out of his natural position as many argue. Fine but then we need someone who can play that position. Ideally someone who might score the odd goal.

Unfortunately, our Brazilian number nine never even looks like scoring. I can’t say I get the feeling he might go on a sudden run of scoring, because he spends very little time in the penalty box and even less time in goalscoring positions. At this point I don’t see him scoring more than three goals this season and he already has one.

This makes acquiring a striker paramount. Alfredo Morelos has been linked with a move in the tabloids and although the deal will probably be impossible due to Rangers’ title challenge, he is exactly the type of striker we should be looking to sign. Can link play. Can also run-in behind. Offers a physical presence and knows where the goal is.

It is great to see Andy Carroll fit and back in a Toon shirt but his injury history tells us that we cannot rely on him to be the main man (although he still should have been given the number 9 shirt). At best he can be a rotation option and turn games from the bench like he did against Southampton. Will he even be fit to face Leicester having played so recently? I doubt it.

Until the strike force is bolstered, Bruce will run the risk of tarnishing some good work earlier in the last few months.

As ever, it will not be the fault of the manager if money does not get spent in January. For better or for worse that’s the way this club is run, but I hope those in charge of spending the coin in January, do realise that a few tight wins doesn’t mean we are not a work in progress.

If we don’t act now then it may feel like a long struggle to spring. Getting the next 15 points to secure safety needs to be done sooner rather than later.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JackLaceySport

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