Massive game, this one. If you’ve given up already, probably best to stop here. Rafa Benitez hasn’t given up. I haven’t given up. Even if you think the players have, it’s no reason to stop fighting. This game is the one. A win will be needed to keep Benitez and rid ourselves of Ashley far more quickly. Newcastle United in the Premier League is a far more saleable asset than the club who Ashley even more than they already do, in England’s second tier. So even if we win this game and don’t stay up, let’s believe/pretend for one or two games more. If you’re one of the people (and there’s more than a few of you) who go to the game and from minute one scream in anger at players misplacing passes, Mitrovic missing a chance or Perez losing possession – stay away from the game. You’re divisive and help no one. I’m not interested in telling fans how they should think or behave, but I’d rather fans stayed away if who’ve any other intention than getting behind the team with everything you’ve got, vocally.
Yes this set of first team players is as weak, gutless and soulless as any I’ve seen at St James’ – worse than the class of 2008/9 which I didn’t think possible. They don’t deserve support, but they still need it. This game should be bigger than the derby. It’s not but it should be. If you know any whoppers who get all excited for one game a year and pay £200 a ticket for the privilege of watching two of the consistently worst top flight sides in Europe, ask them why they aren’t at this game. Tickets are available still. This is the biggest game I can think of in years for the club. It is simply a must win. Forget about Sunderland, Norwich, Man City, Liverpool or anyone else – Swansea need to be beaten. I don’t want a repeat of Fulham 09 -0 the home game which should have kept us up. We went in on a decent enough run under Shearer (not great, but better) and I travelled up from Leeds up for it. More up for it than the derby that took place a couple of months earlier. A game to save our season, and a chance to keep things in our own hands. We lost the game with an incredibly harsh red card being dished out and were probably the better team against Fulham’s best ever PL side. What disappointed me was SJP was quiet. Nervous and tentative. Expecting the worst to happen. The same can’t happen this weekend. Everyone needs to create an atmosphere to intimidate the opposition. You all know what I mean. We see it a couple of times a season. Why do Chelsea hate playing SJP? It’s because we’re always up for it, on their backs, behind the players. Wins can do that. The easy thing to do this weekend will be to go, get angry and verbally abuse the players when they do something wrong (which they will). Don’t be part of the problem. Don’t prove Merson and all the other gob shites right, that the SJP crowd are part of the problem.
The atmosphere for this one should be better than any other. Make it happen.
There’s the small matter of another massive game happening at 12.45. I hate that Norwich face Sunderland before us. I’m sure Benitez will do his best to keep that result out of the players mind, it’s the crowd I’m more worries about. Let’s face it a Norwich win is a huge blow. Not fatal, but bad enough. We’d start the game 9 points off them with two games in hand. The pressure will be ramped up. A Sunderland win is mathematically the superior result, a draw is probably realistically good as it’s the result neither Sunderland or Norwich are after and keeps Sunderland in the shit. I don’t really care who wins, as long as it isn’t Norwich. However, it doesn’t matter. Newcastle United need to win this game. Win this and anything is possible against Man City on Tuesday. So let’s just win it. I don’t care how. Bar Watford and Bournemouth at home, we haven’t really seen the real horror shows we’ve clocked up in practically every away game. Yes other performances haven’t exactly been stellar, but the team has been transformed at home (if still deeply average). Yes, these are the straws to which I am clutching.
Swansea are good. Their new manager has lost 3 of 13. Credit to Swansea for making a difficult choice and sacking club legend Garry Monk after 16 games, giving themselves time to botch his successor and still fix it. With Monk’s Club Legend status, the majority of his tenure being overwhelmingly positive, his popularity still high amongst supporters and his media popularity, sacking him was a massive call. The right call. Unfortunately the same decision fell to Charnley and despite McClaren performing worse with the side than Monk was, not having emotional ties to the club at all and most in the media supporting a change in manager and most supporters desperate to see the back of him. It makes me feel sick that Benitez wasn’t given half the season to sort this mess out. Interestingly Julio Arca on this week’s Football Matters was able to provide some Spanish lip reading services from the weekend and his message was of fury from our manager as he watched the first half unfold. We’re still waiting for the reaction from the Bournemouth game, it may never come, but it might.
Benitez has been handed a rotten squad, and rotten luck by Charnley. 3 of the first 4 away from home. The derby. He hasn’t been able to name a back 4 full of defenders once. Team selections have been ambiguous. Who do you start and where? Rafa Benitez has forgotten more about football this morning than me or anyone reading this knows. However I believe he has got his last few team selections slightly wrong. There is no way Lascelles would have been worse at left back than Anita. Sissoko is still our most creative player, whether you like it or not, and the last three games he’s played left back, right back, centre mid, left wing, right wing and for a short time at Norwich, behind the striker. He needs played on the right of midfield, his best position, ahead of Daryl Janmaat – if the Dutchman is fit. Yes he fell over, hurt himself and punched a wall. He’s an idiot. He’s also our best (only?) right back and needs to start if fit. Him and Sissoko’s partnership is one of the only successful on pitch partnerships we have. Yes it contributes very little but it’s better than the alternatives. No more Sissoko left wing. If Townsend can’t play left wing, drop him. I like Townsend and hope he starts. If he has to play Sissoko at right back, then play Obertan (not Perez or Winjaldum) on the left. No more putting players in positions to shoe-horn them into the side. Maybe Colo is out, maybe he isn’t. A ‘calf strain’ picked up in training that was supposed to keep him out of one game. That was two months ago. Only Newcastle United.
Either way, we need our best players playing. If Mbabu is fit and Colo injured, play Dummet at in the middle. He’s good there. Don’t start Mitrovic. He’s miles better coming from the bench. He’s only scored one goal in the first half of a game this season. He is a great sub. Start Cisse and De Jong. We can’t afford to play Mr invisible any more. Winjladum has had his chance. We have a poor record against Swansea. They’re full of confidence. Their last away game saw them two down and they battled back to win a point. Most of all I just want to see a performance full of passion and pride. Noise and encouragement in the stands. Let’s get a win, and see what Man City are made of on Tuesday night. It’s pointless worrying about other games, goal difference or how rubbish Watford are right now.
I think we’ll do. I believe in the manager and the crowd. At 17.00 on Saturday I hope I can believe in the team.
Prediction: 3-1 United
ALEX HURST – FOLLOW ALEX ON @tfalex1892
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