What defines a “must win” game? By definition the phrase is over used as football’s hyperbolic driven narrative is ramped up season on season. There are very few actual “must win” games a season, as it’s only the end of the season where not winning games of football has direct consequences. West Ham at home last season wasn’t even “must win” as a draw would have been ultimately enough. Yet every one called it a “must win” game.
Well bollocks to all of that , United at Bournemouth is a “must win” game. There’s nothing directly riding on the game, but there’s also everything riding on the game. Newcastle need to win it. Lose it and that’s that for McClaren for me. Maybe that’s strong, but 12 games in and one win, one point from Watford, mackems, Stoke and Bournemouth – relegation. I like McClaren. He played the bat-shit mental formation for half the season which simply didn’t work (for 4 years) under the previous manager and his assistant and he picked players which absolutely didn’t suit that formation (Cisse) – but I like him. I thought one of the damning things about the United side we saw at the back of last season was that the relegation side of 09/09 would have made short work of them, and that side was shocking as well. The current crop look like a better team, more dangerous going forward and seem to want to play for the club. So I like McClaren, but time is running out.
The last actual central midfielder we paid money for was Vernon Anita, in 2012. I looked at all the other Premier League teams and well, they’ve all paid money for central midfielders. Moussa Sissoko and Winjaldum don’t count, as they don’t play there. Sunderland bought one for £10 million who can’t get into their team. We haven’t paid money for a central midfielder in nearly 4 years and the one we got in on a free, is knackered. So we’re reliant on a player deemed not good enough by many (Anita) and a player who hasn’t finished a league game in more than two years (Tiote). This will be against a 5 man midfield. At home. In the Premier League.
Lose the game and Bournemouth are 4 points ahead of us. No disrespect to Bournemouth, but fuck that. They get crowds of 11,000. 47K turned up at SJP last week and we’ve rarely seen so many empty seats at a league game for a Saturday 3PM. 4 points ahead. In November. If we lose. The buck stops with Ashley, but McClaren said top 8 at the start of the season. Probably didn’t shift (or save) as many season tickets as they thought, and 4 points behind Bournemouth in November won’t shift many more tickets in the coming months. This is a “must not lose” as much as it’s a “must win”. Lose and the international break looks bleak. Leicester, Palace and Liverpool won’t yield nine points, so this is a must not lose. Really it’s a must win if Newcastle United don’t see 17th as a success this season (again.)
The fixture list hasn’t been kind to date, so by definition it is getting kinder. I predicted 9 points by this stage, pre-season, so we’re not far off. The next 8 games should yield 13 points (Bournemouth -3, Leicester -3, Palace – 1, Lpool – 1, Spurs – 0), Vile 3, Everton – 1, WBA – 1). McClaren needs to win games. So it’s a must win.
The last time United were applauded off the pitch with such gusto after a 0 0 was probably Swansea in 2011/12 – when we battered them, and they were still impressive. We were buying into that side, it appears people have bought into this side. They need to win games though. People have stuck behind the team, the manager and even the owner this season – his name has been absent from the songs that normally swirl around SJP when United are in the relegation zone. It won’t last unless United win some games.
Bournemouth are there to be beaten. It’s not arrogance, it’s a fact. They’ve been decimated by bad luck, absolutely decimated. They were on telly twice last week and disgraced themselves neither time at Liverpool and Southampton. They looked like a League One side there for the day out. Running and endeavour, no one in the side actually thinking they’ll score. If you took NUFC’s 4 best players out of the side with long term injuries (Janmaat, Sissoko, Winjaldum, Mitrovic) we’d already be relegated, so credit to Bournemouth for keeping their head above water with everything they’ve had to suffer to date, injury wise.
At home they lost to an awful Vile side under Sherwood and beat a worse Sunderland team under Advocaat. Draws with Watford and high-flying Leicester, as well as a win at West Ham have seen them to 8 points. They’ll be desperate for the win. No better side to achieve it against than the NUFC side who’ve won one away game all year. This is massive game for them. Their last three league games have brought 0 points and 12 goals concedde. Their next games are Swansea, Everton, Man Utd, Palace, West Brom and Arsneal – 4 of that lot away from home. Bleak. Three points Saturday should give them breathing space. McClaren should use this. I’ve heard talk that they’ll be waiting for us, that the pressure is on us. It is. Doesn’t mean it’s not on them either.
McClaren needs his team to be calm. No red cards. No penalties – and we’ll be fine.
Prediction 3-1 Newcastle United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892