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Opinion

Newcastle United to Sunderland gap down to ‘only’ 32 places – Level playing field next season?

4 months ago
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It is five years and counting since we have a Newcastle United v Sunderland derby match.

The 20 March 2016 seeing Rafa Benitez take charge of his second match, the first at St James Park, a late Mitrovic goal giving the Magpies a point in a 1-1 draw.

At that moment in time, both Newcastle and Sunderland were deep in the relegation fight, but Mike Ashley had once again left it too late.

Only ten games to turn it around and despite an unbeaten last six games that generated 12 points and draws against both Liverpool and Man City, as well as a crushing 5-1 last match demolition of Tottenham, it was Newcastle United who were relegated along with Villa and Norwich.

Following that last derby match, there were four promotions or relegations shared between Newcastle and Sunderland.

The Mags relegated from the Premier League in May 2016, only to bounce back as Championship champions in May 2017.

Whilst the Mackems outdid their rivals in terms of drama – bottom of the Premier League finish in May 2017, followed by a bottom of the Championship in May 2018.

Mike Ashley has continued his madness with the running of Newcastle United, though despite that three comfortable mid-table finishes.

Whilst for Sunderland, a fifth place finish and failure in the League One play-offs in 2018/19, then became only eighth place and not even a play-off spot in the shortened 2019/20 League One campaign.

With 10 wins in the opening 26 games of this 2020/21 season, once again Sunderland were struggling to convince anybody that they were on the way back, seemingly no chance of making the automatic promotion spots and looking less and less likely to make even the end of season play-off lottery.

Defeat to Shrewsbury on 9 February 2021 completed a run of only four wins in Sunderland’s last sixteen League One matches.

Only three days before that defeat for the Mackems, Newcastle United had beaten Southampton 3-2. Even though that was only the second Newcastle win in fourteen matches (all competitions), the Magpies were nine points clear of the bottom three and Steve Bruce adamant that NUFC weren’t even in a relegation battle, let alone in danger of going down.

Nothing much had changed for Newcastle fans who were still worried about their team picking up many more points this season BUT it certainly looked like both Ashley and Bruce were likely to get lucky, with three teams at the bottom incapable of picking up points and Newcastle United staying up by default, even if unable to get close to the old school 40 points safety total.

Funny how things can change though…

Only a month later and whilst Newcastle have continued their poor form and performances, Fulham have finally found a way to win. The gap now only one point and even though Newcastle are sixteenth and still marginally above Brighton and Fulham, NUFC are the favourites now with all the bookies to go down with Sheffield United and West Brom:

As for Sunderland, 23 year old Kyril Louis-Dreyfus (pictured above) was formally confirmed as their new owner last month and this has coincided with a serious upturn in form and results. After that run of four wins in sixteen, Sunderland’s win against Portsmouth last night means they have won six and drawn one of their last seven, meaning the League One table now looks like this:

That makes it by my reckoning, ‘only’ 32 places between 16th in the Premier League Newcastle United and fourth in League One Sunderland.

However, as explained above, the 32 places is very superficial, indeed, as well as the bookies making Newcastle United now evens favourite to be the third club to be relegated, this recent run has seen the bookies now make Sunderland at 4/5 one of the three favourites to fill the three promotion places.

The lower down the leagues you go, it is never going to take much for the fortunes of a big fish in a small pond like Sunderland to quickly change, especially when you have the time to do so in a 46 match season.

I would never judge Newcastle United success by where they are in relation to Sunderland. In the Premier League era certainly, I have always taken the view that if NUFC are doing at least relatively well then that will all but automatically mean Newcastle are also going to be above Sunderland.

I am also not that bothered either way as to whether the Mackems did turn it around and ended up back in the Premier League alongside Newcastle United. As I say above, if NUFC are decently ran…that should automatically put them above Sunderland.

However, we now do have the very real prospect of Mike Ashley somehow bringing about a third relegation in these last eleven PL seasons, a relegation that could prove far more damaging and the club ending up in a far worse state, plus no Chris Hughton or Rafa Benitez on hand to skilfully put things right.

To then combine it with a potentially promoted Sunderland ending up with momentum in the Championship alongside Newcastle but the Mackems with an ambitious owner looking to make the club the best it can be…

I don’t think Sunderland, even if they got promoted this season, would suddenly transform into a far better outfit and go up through the divisions in consecutive seasons BUT I do think Mike Ashley is well capable of smashing Newcastle United. Despite the two previous relegations, he has enjoyed incredible luck these 14 years and there is a genuine belief amongst fans that the owner thinks even if a third relegation did happen, then instant promotion would be a given.

That is not the case and we are now seeing clubs such as Wolves, Aston Villa and Leeds where new owners have ambitions far beyond just getting out of the Championship and have rapidly overtaken a Mike Ashley Newcastle United who are reversing at pace, only massive luck for Steve Bruce (and Mike Ashley) with a number of results these past 20 months since Bruce’s arrival has papered over the cracks.

Steve Bruce must be removed immediately because this squad of players should not be getting relegated, any replacement couldn’t do any worse than Bruce. The big problem as well is that if relegated, the handful of quality players would almost certainly leave, plus anybody else Ashley could get a good price for. Potentially then leaving us with a Steve Bruce led Championship team with the likes of Krafth and Hendrick nailed on first team regulars and Newcastle fans finding out the answer to the question, would Joelinton even struggle to score goals in the Championship?

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