After a disappointing weekend result (a result we deserved for such a lousy first half performance), it’s time for some perspective for anybody using the dreaded W-word. On this day in 2010, Newcastle United sat on 69 points, 9 clear of chasing West Brom who eventually finished runners up that season. Today, we have 70 points, and sit in second place, 5 points clear of the playoffs. It’s a totally unique season in that respect. Never before have the teams in both second and third in the league had this number of points in February. It’s certainly keeping things interesting, but my point is that United are still having an outstanding season, and for that reason I’m not WORRIED.
Firstly, we do indeed have our three toughest remaining games in a row in the next 2 weeks, which seems to add to the fear mongering, but another record I’m sure you’re all aware of is our away form this season. We’ve won 11 out of 16. So maths means that we will win at least two of the next three, so there really is nothing to worry about!
Secondly, in seriousness we have dropped too many points to the lesser sides in this league. Perhaps struggling with both the physicality and inevitable complacency that comes with a 46 game championship season. We have been excellent, however, against sides at the top end of the table and we are lucky enough to have three of these games in a row. Another reason not to be worried.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we don’t even need to win all of these games as some would suggest. In fact 4 points would probably be fine. 5 has to be the minimum target though, as not losing any of these fixtures would give us the platform we need to see off the rest of this season. We have a kind run in and for me, we just don’t need to be 9 points clear at this stage to get promoted by the end of it, it’ll be fine. Anything more than 5 points is a bonus. Anything less is not a total disaster.
Above all Rafa will find a way to finish what he has started this season, no matter what. We will get promoted either as a result of these games or in spite of them. It doesn’t really matter. I have no doubt though that he will have been preparing for these ones for some time though.
So we play Brighton in the first of this run. Chris Hughton has done a great job with them and it looks like this season will finally be the one where he sees his and his players’ efforts rewarded. Hughton avoided a nailed on relegation in his first half season. In his first full season, 2015-16, Brighton lost only 2 league games but drew too many, which landed them in a third play-offs in 4 years. Again they lost. In fact, Brighton have only ever spent a total of four seasons in the top division of English football. They are a small club but one with a bright future (no pun!).
When Alex Hurst and myself were kindly joined by journalist George Caulkin for a special podcast with Michael a few weeks ago, he had just returned from spending some time down at Brighton and was in awe of what they were doing as a club. He described how they’ve spent nearly £30 million on their training facilities & academy on top of their brand new (6 year old) stadium. This is a football club that is doing things right and a blueprint that more football clubs should follow. Hopefully they treat Hughton with the respect he deserves and if he does get them up (a huge achievement for them) that he doesn’t get Ranieri’d.
To the game itself and I think I speak for all of us when I say that now is the time for a full 90 minute performance. In our last away outing at Norwich, after scoring in the first 20 seconds, we were excellent in spells but we lost control of the game for 30-40 mins either side of half time and that’s why we didn’t win. On Saturday we were awful first half and the second half wasn’t enough to make up for it. Play as we can for 90 mins against these and we will be travelling to West Yorkshire on this weekend with three points already in the bag.
I’m totally bored of watching Mitro and Perez fail to perform to an acceptable level. Daryl Murphy and Mo Diamé are very different players, probably not as technically gifted, but they have the heart for this league. Both should start.
I like Christian Atsu but the Bristol City game showed us how important Gouff has been for us in covering the ground to support Paul Dummett whilst getting forward and chipping in with goals and assists. He’s been this season’s Peter Lovenkrands and even if this is his last, I hope he will be fondly remembered for his contribution.
Defensively we need some consistency and doubt he’ll make any unforced changes. A few of us on the podcast are keen to see Chancel come back in at some point as teams have been pressing us high up the pitch and we need a defender who can bring the ball out. It’s also only 3 days since we last played so you never know, Rafa might fancy this change.
Colback is the only other worry. He’s really struggled this season, both for fitness and form. Unfortunately we are not blessed for options here with Hayden injured and we are just going to have to get behind the lad and get him through this spell.
Whatever the side I see a much closer game than the piss easy win we got at SJP against this lot. Brighton are in good form and have scored in every game they’ve played this year. We have also scored in every game since January 2nd at Blackburn (Oxford doesn’t count).
Prediction therefore, 0-0.
SIMON CAMPBELL – Follow Simon on @simoncampbell11
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