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Reasons for optimism with Newcastle United

2 weeks ago

Saturday 4 March 2023, early afternoon, Newcastle United The Etihad.

Our third defeat in a row, including the League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and we’re lying sixth in the table, having won 10, drawn 11 and lost three league games, 41 points on the board and even on the back of this disastrous mini-run, the eternal pessimists could at least claim we’d amassed enough points and therefore couldn’t go down!

As it happens, we won nine and drew three of our remaining 14 fixtures, barnstorming our way to ending the season with a final points tally of 71, cementing fourth place, with four points and a much superior goal difference between ourselves and fifth placed Liverpool. Champions League qualification had also been achieved with a game to spare.

After last night’s win at the City Ground, we find ourselves having played the same number of games. Looking at the league table, we are one position worse off and have 36 points on the board. Whilst we’re maybe not 100% guaranteed of retaining our Premier League status next season, it is of course, all but assured.

My point? Well, it’s been a very difficult season and despite what the naysayers will have you believe, it ain’t a crisis for Newcastle United.

After hitting some notable highs early in the campaign; the 5-1 demolition of Aston Villa on the opening day, an 8-0 win at Bramall Lane in September, League Cup wins over both Manchester clubs and the 4-1 hammering of PSG no less, the optimism of autumn gave way to a bleak winter and with injuries piling higher and higher, our season stalled.

Despite this, we still managed to inflict a first defeat of the season on Mikel Arteta’s mob in a highly charged atmosphere at St James’ Park, and we also swept Man Utd and Chelsea aside, albeit registering home wins against both of those is perhaps not as impressive a boast as it used to be.

Painful losses at home to Milan and at Stamford Bridge in the space of a week extinguished our European and League Cup adventures, as we continued to field the same first eleven for a run of fixtures throughout December and into January that horribly exposed the acute and unprecedented injury crisis that has so cruelly affected Newcastle United this season.

And yet, here we are.

More league wins than this time last season, a first win in a good while over our neighbours from Wearside behind us and an FA Cup Quarter Final to look forward to next month, assuming we can negotiate our way past a poor Blackburn side, languishing in the wrong half of the Championship.

Furthermore, as the walking wounded gradually return to action, there’s room for optimism as we approach what remains of the season. Harvey Barnes has provided a much needed filip over the past seven days and the bench is looking stronger week by week.

Generating 30 points from our last 14 matches still seems like a tall order, especially if we’re going to be without two of our most influential players, Nick Pope and Joelinton.

Even if we could hit the highs of last year’s final third of the season, it’s unclear what 66 points would achieve. In 2023, it would have guaranteed Europa League football; this season it might not.

Then again, there’s always the FA Cup and 2024 has a certain serendipitous resonance to it, Newcastle United winning the famous trophy for the second time in 1924, although our opponent in May won’t be Aston Villa if we were to reach the final on the 100th anniversary of our 2-0 victory against the Villains.

Just like the optimisim that accompanies the days getting longer and winter gradually giving way to spring, I sense positivity descending on Newcastle United and I believe we have hit a turning point in our 2023/24 campaign. HTL


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