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Opinion

Mike Ashley coasting by untouched as media refuse to criticise him and pundits even praising him

9 months ago
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During this Premier League mid-season break, time to take stock at Newcastle United.

At the two thirds of the season stage, Newcastle are on 31 points after 25 Premier League matches and moving into February, still in the FA Cup!

None of it has been particularly easy on the eye but how do you see the current state of affairs at Newcastle United?

We have asked a number of regular/irregular writers for The Mag to answer various sets of pertinent questions, next up is Billy Miller.

How do you feel about Newcastle United compared to 12 months ago?

A lot less optimistic.

This time last year we had just broken our transfer record for a player who looked like he could be excellent (and has been). We were building up a head of steam and ended January with two home wins on the bounce, one of those an unlikely comeback against Man City.

Rafa seemed to have lofty ambitions for us. I didn’t think he’d have his demands met and I thought we’d be waving him goodbye in the summer but last February the hope was still there.

Now we’ve reverted to type with a yes-man manager, no forward thinking at any level of the club and Mike Ashley coasting by untouched as the media refuses to criticise him and many pundits even praising him.

One of the really sad things over the last 12 months has been old fan favourites such as Kevin Nolan and Chris Waddle coming out and speaking highly of Ashley.

Have you enjoyed this season?

I can’t say I have. It’s going to be the first season, certainly in my adult life, that I don’t attend a single game. I watch all the ones on TV and can’t honestly remember a season that I’ve been less entertained or engaged.

There have been some moments but the football has been turgid.

We’ve been outplayed in pretty much every fixture and we’re back to a McClaren/Pardew type charlatan who blames everyone/everything but themselves and pushes players back from injury too early, thereby further aggravating the initial concern. The spectre of Benitez has drifted away and feels like a dream now.

Don’t get me wrong, Almiron’s goal and celebration was amazing. That image of the kid clinging onto Miggy like his life depended on it, whilst the rest of the team piles in around them, will stay with me forever and makes me smile every time I watch it. There have been other good moments too…but overall the entertainment has been lacking.

With 17 of Newcastle’s current 26 man first team squad seeing their deals end by June 2021 at latest, what do you think is happening with contracts and why?

I just don’t get it. Is the renewal of contracts somebody’s job or what? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Joe Kinnear back at the club in his latest role. Blustering around in a back office f’ing and blinding. Dropping paper everywhere whilst he hastens to ensure we don’t let Caviar Mannequin and Matty Longshaft run down their contracts.

Maybe this is the territory when you only have one director. Lee Charnley could be too busy ordering paint for our next training ground revamp and making room in the trophy cabinet for our latest Championship trophy, to organise something as petty as keeping the vast amount of our playing staff.

Whatever has gone on, it stinks of unprofessionalism and is precisely what we’ve come to expect under Mike Ashley. Can you imagine Man Yoo leaving Mason Greenwood or Brandon Williams this late to renew their contracts after breakthrough seasons? It wouldn’t happen.

Was the January 2020 transfer window a success for NUFC?

It’s not been terrible as we have added bodies and I have no issues with the players brought in. I like Danny Rose and we needed more depth in that position with Willems’ season ending early. I’ll be interested to see how the other two lads do but we were desperate for a bloke who realises that round thing he’s kicking is supposed to go in the goal.

With the money we had left over from the summer ‘budget’ we should have invested in someone that could get goals. For me, a successful window would have seen the purchase of Jarrod Bowen, the loan of a decent striker (let’s not get greedy and expect one to be signed permanently) and then maybe, I don’t know, Hatem Ben Arfa on a free. Okay, the latter hasn’t played football for an eternity and after being frozen out by Newcastle was frozen out by Bruce at Hull, so that one was extremely unlikely. But if we’re going to go for an emotional free in Carroll, we may as well repeat the trick with our maverick French ace.

Are Newcastle safe, or capable of still been dragged back into relegation trouble?

I’ve said in separate articles that we are far from safe and I stand by that. In reality, I think we will stay up this season but the teams near the bottom are picking up points and the teams that usually finish higher are shedding them. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was relegated with 40+ points for only the second time ever in the Premier League era.

NUFC on 31 points after 25 games, how would you divide the credit for it between…Steve Bruce, Mike Ashley, Rafa Benitez, the character of the players, luck, Dubravka, the defence, the strikers…?

Mike Ashley gets less credit than a recent bankrupt. He has been nothing but a hindrance over the last 13 years.

I think anyone that doesn’t believe luck has played a huge factor is deceiving themselves. People say you can’t be lucky all season, but I would put luck and Dubravka together in probably being worthy of at least 50% of the credit for us being where we are.

Consider this, Newcastle have had the lowest possession of any team in the top five European leagues this season and Dubravka has made more saves than any other keeper in those divisions! We’re bottom of the Premier League on expected goals and expected points.

The defence have been resolute but then Dubravka has still faced all those shots, so they definitely don’t carry a higher ranking than the keeper himself. They do get bonus points for scoring half our goals though.

The character of our players has had an input. Players like Almiron and ASM may not score as many as we’d like but they run all game and carry the ball up the pitch to alleviate pressure when they can.

Going back to the luck thing, let’s look at a couple of recent games and put it to the test. Against Chelsea and Everton, we expected little and came out with four points.

Great, but we didn’t have a shot on target in normal time in either of those games. For the Chelsea game I was watching on TV with a girl. It was her first experience watching us and I spent most of the game apologising for how boring it had been.

For the last 10 minutes I spent more time focused on her than the game as I’d grown weary of the all-out defence. I didn’t even realise we’d scored until I saw Hayden racing towards the fans and Ritchie take someone’s tip off with the corner flag. That game we had 30% possession and 7 shots to 19. We’d had 1 corner to their 10! Even the goal had a lucky element to it as Hayden went to header ASM’s excellent whipped cross and connected with his face.

Three days later we’re playing Everton and see ourselves completed dominated once more. We were 2-0 down without a shot on target as the 90 minutes ended. Over the final 30 minutes Steve Bruce appeared to try and limit the damage by taking off Joelinton, Atsu and Clark for Schar, Krafth and Lejeune. Turns out that damage limitation became a stroke of genius as Lejeune, who has never scored a goal for us, turns up with two in two minutes! That’s either luck or genius.

If those two games had yielded the zero points they probably deserved we would be three points off relegation currently and looking a lot more precarious.

Rafa gets credit for bringing in a lot of the higher performing players and setting the formation. Bruce has gone on extensively about how he has to play this way because it’s what the players are used to, and these chaps paid millions of pounds can’t possibly adapt to a new system or way of thinking. Therefore, I would give Rafa more credit than Bruce, but Steve can have a bit too as the players appear to be playing for him at least.

So, let’s say 25% luck, 25% Dubravka, 15% character of the players, 15% defence, 15% Rafa, 5% Bruce and 0% strikers and Mike Ashley.

Over the course of the next three seasons please predict Joelinton’s most likely progress/career development, if any?

I feel for Joelinton. He didn’t ask for his price tag or to be the leading the line of the most defensive attack since the English at Agincourt.

He’s potentially being played out of position and had to deal with being booed by his own fans on a couple of occasions. He’s a young player, learning the ropes in a tough league and I feel for him when he gets stick.

All of that aside, he’s not good at scoring goals. For forty million quid, you’d be expecting a 15+ goal striker, not one that makes Andreas Andersson look prolific.

Hopefully he will improve and become the striker his price tag demands but I think we’re more likely to see our most expensive version of these players that get massive long-term contracts and then can’t be shifted for an eternity; see Saivet, Aarons, Colback, Haidara, Marveaux etc etc etc

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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