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Opinion

Two questions have arisen with the Newcastle United survival challenge

2 months ago
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As the Newcastle United relegation drive is now well underway, two questions have now arisen for me.

The first is serious.

The second is a bit of morbid-like fun with a serious challenge mixed in.

The first question is, how hard is it for Newcastle United to survive this season?

The answer to that should be – Not very hard at all.

In fact, let’s say hypothetically Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley were duly worried about Premier League survival (they’re clearly not) and pulled the trigger on Steve Bruce. Whoever was asked to come in would look at the situation, assess the fixtures and the players available and must surely think it’s going to be a doddle for them to keep the club up. Seriously, from this point in the season, it’s shouldn’t be hard. In fact, it should be easy.

We have two cracking goalkeepers, good defenders in Federico Fernandez, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett, the workmanlike Isaac Hayden, the attacking instincts of recent loan signing Joe Willock, to go with Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Ryan Fraser and (when he returns) Callum Wilson. Even Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll are options a new manager could utilise better than we’re seeing at present.

Steve Bruce has been blessed with the worst bottom three to be up against that I can recall for years and crucially has started this relegation battle almost entirely of his own making, from ahead of the pack. In fact we were as much as 10 points ahead of Fulham (Fulham having a game in hand) just eight days ago and yet now it’s just three. We have lost three more games than Fulham this season, we’ve conceded eleven more goals and as a consequence have a worse goal difference of -6 on our rival. That three point gap at the minute is really only two.

Now I said there was a second question and here it is.

As Steve Bruce seems to have an inferiority complex on previous manager Rafa Benitez, here’s a question come challenge. Will, or can, Steve Bruce beat Rafa Benitez’ points total?

I’m not talking about the points total from 2017/18 when we managed 44 points, a whopping eleven clear of the drop zone. Nor am I talking about the points total from the following season in 2018/19 when we managed 45 points, another massive eleven clear of relegation. I make no apologies with the Benitez references but this is now serious. I’m setting a challenge that is far more pertinent and realistic in our current predicament.

Can Bruce manage to beat the points total that Benitez managed in 2015/16 when we actually got relegated?

A couple of things. The Spaniard had just ten games, we finished the season with 37 points and went down. This was despite him not having the chance to sign or loan a single player. He also started from behind the curve. In the relegation zone and getting beat on a regular basis. Yet we were all of a sudden hard to beat, we drew against Manchester City AND Liverpool, were unbeaten in the last six games and beat Spurs 5-1. Benitez amassed 13 points from 10 games. Survival? He nearly did it after the calamity that was Steve McClaren.

This season we still have Wolves, West Brom, Brighton, Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham to play. Are we seriously at such a stage where we are questioning if Bruce can manage another twelve points from the remaining 13 games? It should be a walk in the park, yet here we are.

Steve Bruce managed 44 points in his first season and rightly claimed to have matched “The Mighty Rafa“…

We’ll not mention the fact that we hadn’t just come up from the Championship and that he’d had a comparative fortune spent on the team that Bruce himself said he was happy with.

We’ll also not mention that this season we won’t get anywhere near either Benitez’ points total since we got promoted. Nor will we get anywhere near Bruce’s points total of 44 last season.

We’ll also not mention the vast amount of money spent on the team to take us to the point of relegation and as things stand, remain 19 points worse off than at the end last season. Progress? Don’t you bloody dare.

Forget matching his own target of 44 points, that’s pie in the sky. But in comparison to 2015/16, avoiding relegation this season should be child’s play and for the record, I still think Bruce will manage it, primarily on the basis that Fulham’s run in is horrific and ours isn’t. It could take as little as three more positive results of varying kind.

However, only this Head Coach could risk snatching relegation from the jaws of survival.

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