I’ll start by admitting that true faith was once again invited by Newcastle United to spend time with Rafa Benitez on Wednesday afternoon. I was lucky enough for the second time this season to spend 3+ hours with the man talking football and Newcastle United. I have to thank you, the people who read, subscribe and listen to everything true faith produces for continuing to do so as it’s the platform you provide us which interests the club. Not that I’ve got a specific message for you from the club or Rafa. We know most of what Rafa is thinking as he speaks to the press regularly and speaks the truth. He’s delighted with how the season has gone. We’ve lost five games yet are top of the league, effectively seven points clear of third place. That will change this weekend as Leeds play Brighton at the Amex and one of them has to close the gap on us. Given the inconsistency of the chasing pack (for example Reading last weekend) I’d rather Leeds closed our automatic promotion gap than Brighton picked up points. Leeds will have a rocky month, a bad spell etc. Brighton are relentless and it’s testament to how well we’ve done this season that we remain above them in the league despite being the victims of disgraceful refereeing decisions in more than one game. A draw will do for me.
Rafa is a pragmatist. People whose hysteria bemoan the number of defeats, or lack of this or that – it’s irrelevant to Rafa who just wants to get promoted. He wants to improve the football club. Improving the football club doesn’t mean breaking Reading’s points total or not losing games to keep people who don’t go to games happy (but are very angry on twitter). It means buying good young players who have the ability to get better as footballers while at the club, improving the academy so that we don’t just produce players that are fit for loans and then careers in the football league but can represent Newcastle United in the Premier League. Rafa had a coaching delegation over from Sevilla FC yesterday. Their academy has notably produced Alberto Moreno, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and many, many more. That lot represented Sevilla with distinction before bringing in around £130m+ for their services. Rafa has the credibility and the pull to bring people like this in to help our club. The absolute aim is promotion. If we lose ten games and still win the league it doesn’t matter. The Blackburn game was disappointing but like most defeats, the manager learnt a lot about certain players in defeat than it’s possible to in victory. Making Newcastle United into one of the biggest clubs in the country again won’t take 6 months, or twelve or maybe even eighteen. If we continue to pull together in the right direction then it’s more than likely other clubs won’t. They’ll make bad appointments, sign bad players, make bad decisions. With Rafa at the helm we’ll make progress as a club and a first team and with hopefully transplant many of the clubs currently above us in the Premier League.
The Birmingham game is a great opportunity for the club to get back on track after a difficult week. Shelvey and Dummet are massive boosts as is the return of Jack Colback. I’m a big fan of Hayden but Colback and Shelvey are our premium midfield pair. I would bring in Diame for Perez but think Rafa may stick with the Spaniard who is going through a seriously lean patch. We need him to start contributing. The back four should remain the same and Gayle will start up front. I thought the performances at Hull and Forest were very good, so more of the same would be nice. Gayle will make a huge difference to the performance we saw at home against of Blackburn. As usual I hope that 49,000 home fans are fully behind the lads in what is a big game. Birmingham are bringing 3,000 up and without wanting to be condescending it’s a big game for them. Rightly so. They’re away at the side top of the league who play in a fantastic city and stadium. Had they not suffered a shock home defeat to Barnsley last week then they’d be coming into this game in third place and not fifth. Our record against the teams around us in this league is exceptional (wins over Brighton, Reading Leeds and Norwich) so I expect more of the same. Let’s get behind the lads.
Birmingham are having a great season by their standards. They’ve only lost four of nineteen games, one fewer than us. They, like many teams, draw too many games however they find themselves with a great chance of reaching the divisions play offs under excellent manager Gary Rowett. Away wins have been achieved at Fulham, Leeds and Brentford and defeats (just two of them) came at Forest and Burton Albion. Their notable success came at home against Norwich ( 3 0). Birmingham will fancy themselves for at least a draw. They play fast, direct football and will get men behind the ball and move the ball as quickly as possible up field with Clayton Donaldson providing our centre backs with a physical challenge. He, Jutkiewicz and Adams have 13 goals between them. It’ll be a test.
It’s also a great opportunity to put ourselves 12 points clear of Birmingham and reassert ourselves. With games against Wigan and Burton, both strong favourites for relegation coming up this week – things could look very rosy for two home games in 4 days by the time Christmas come around.
Prediction: 4-1 United
ALEX HURST – Follow on @tfalex1892
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