What do we do now? The ‘difficult run’ which the country hoped would have had us either in third place or within spitting distance of 3rd was was as difficult a run for us as it was Mo Farah running the Blaydon Race. It went so well that even Newcastle United fans on Facebook are calm. Twitter as well and whatever social media platform you want to choose – the most fragile fans amongst us are becalmed in the warm glow of United 9 points clear of third place with ten games to go. It’s so peaceful. We need 13 points to get to 90. No team has ever failed to go up with ninety. 13 points from ten games. What symmetry. Rafa accrued 13 points from ten games last season when parachuted into try and keep the Titanic afloat. We were rubbish and he got 13 points from ten games in the Prem. Now we’re mint and need the same from the second division. Rafa has had to ban the ‘promotion word’ at the training ground. Only teams getting promoted have ban the word ‘promotion’ at the training ground.
Four wins and a draw will do it. Want to back against Burton, Wigan, Barnsley and Preston (all at home) being the four? You only then need a draw from Fulham, Birmingham, Leeds, Ipswich, Cardiff and Sheff Wed. The more I write about it the more I’m convinced the job is done. Thank god it’s Rafa then, picking the team this weekend, and not me or you.
Fulham are a good side. Maybe every season feels like this but was it really this season I was in Putney on a warm August night watching United lose at their place? It seems like a lifetime a go. Daryl Janmaat played. For Newcastle United. At Fulham. It doesn’t seem real. Shelvey wasn’t in the starting line up on merit. Dwight Gayle an unknown quantity. A different United. We were poor and the performance stunk of our problems away from home last season. That’s how long a go it was, we were still shit away from home. Thirteen away wins later and we’re kings of the road, somewhat like FIFA, parachuting into a host town or city taking what we need and fucking off leaving a trail of fume from the incumbents who got themselves so excited about us coming down, but for all the wrong reasons.
Fulham are unbeaten in six and have lost one of the last nine. A good time to be in form. They’re five points off Sheff Wed in 6th but have a game in hand. This is a big game for them, and points are very much needed. It’s no freebie. They’re only seven points off possession’s Jaap Staam, who claims they’re the best side he’s seen this season. They’ll know how to play against us at home. Press the midfield, mark Shelvey out of the game and get the first goal. Obviously we’ve now put that hoodoo to bed, conceding first and losing games. Thanks Brighton. It still applies at home. We could really do with a performance here to settle the nerves. Failure to beat QPR and Bristol in February wasn’t ideal and the performances poor. Beating Derby and Villa was good (and clean sheets kept in both) but workman like. I don’t care how we win, but this Saturday will set the tone for the last ten games, particularly in front of the home fans.
If Dwight Gayle was to return to the starting eleven it would be a massive boost. Murphy and Goufrann have put in great shifts but Gayle is our Man. If they want to press us, fine, but Fulham will be aware that means Gayle getting at least one and one before half time, due to the space left behind the back four. I think the stat still stands where Gayle, Ritchie and Shelvey have played 90 minutes together four times this season and we’ve scored four goals on each occasion. So let’s do that. That seems like a plan.
Ritchie and Colback could do without getting bookings, this the last game they’re each eligible for two game bans. The rest of the team likely picks itself with Goufrann playing left wing ahead of Atsu and Anita playing RB. Fulham have only lost three times this season away from home and have scored 25 goals and conceded just 16. Only Rafa’s travelling mags have conceded less away from home in the division. I don’t have too many memories from games v Fulham beyond Robert’s mental goal against them in 2002. There was 09 when they turned up after we beat Boro and a shithouse ref sent off Bassong for nothing and denied us a perfectly good goal for no reason as Roy Hodgson’s team won one nil. Also they turned us over under Souness 4 1 when we finished the game with Laurent Robert at left back in a two man defence.
United should win because we’re top of the league and the best side in the division. Brighton play on Friday also could likely be level on points come kick off. Huddersfield go to Brentford which is a hard game. Fulham deserve respect but we deserve more. I’m expecting a good open game and United to start winning again at home as we face the ‘final countdown’ to what will hopefully be a ‘party’ beginning with ‘p’. I’ll not say it cos Rafa’s banned it. That’s good enough for me. Come on United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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