How was the break for you? Enjoy it? Miss it? Neither? I have to say that the lack of football has been alarmingly easy to manage. Even as recently as a couple of years ago in a disastrous run under Pardew I felt that Monday night games were a chore as the football free weekend took its toll. It’s no secret that many people feel as disconnected as ever. I was supposed to be going to Stoke. One of those games everyone agrees to but no one actually does anything to get us there. It’s not just because Newcastle United are rubbish. It’s not just because we can’t score away from home (worst away goal tally in England’s top 9 leagues) It’s because away from home we can’t even compete. We can’t make a game of it. Everton hadn’t won at home in over two months. It should have been 10. Watford – no wins in 5. We hardly lay a glove on them. Chelsea, more draws than anything else and shaky defensively. Should have been 10.
I’ve been told I’m too miserable these days and that it’s not as bad as I make out (Ed: sounds familiar). I watched Sunderland deservedly lose at West Ham at the weekend. They could and maybe should have nicked a point. They competed though. They’ll come to St James’ and be part of the game, regardless of the result. Norwich went to Leicester and gave as good as the hosts. These are realistically the two teams we are hoping to better to stay in the division. Realistically both teams are better than us, as they can expect to compete, and therefore pick up points away from home. McClaren has showed no kind of ability to get anything out of his side away from home bar Spurs away. Spurs, who are excellent, had played in Europe three days earlier. I’m banking on ‘fresh legs’ being our only chance on Wednesday. They meant little at Everton.
McClaren has tried different things. The defensive (ha!) displays at Everton and Watford. Gung ho attack at Palace, City and Chelsea. 16 conceded. No other team has conceded 4 times or more all season. Not even Vile. We can’t score and concede loads. It’s not even like we’re good at a single side of the game away from home. If I think hard, I could say we pick up less red cards than we used to? The game plan against is dead simple. Attack loads. Don’t worry about leaving gaps at the back. They won’t be exploited. It seems to be a little known fact amongst large swathes of our fan base but Newcastle United at home is the game other fans look forward to. The stress free game. The banker. Only Spurs and Bournemouth have tasted defeat in tight games each should have won. Two smash and grabs. It’s humiliating.
United’s away record last season was only worsened by QPR. 3 wins in 19 games. That in itself is a scandal. Last season was a scandal. Never to be repeated we were told. This season feels worse as it’s the best they’ve got. This is Charnley’s best shot. He got the man he wanted, the man no one else did. They got their targets in the summer – the players seemingly top of the list. This is it. This is the best they’ve got. Nothing left unturned. I think they’ll have wanted the lad from West Brom, but what difference would he have made to our away form? This is Newcastle United 2016 and we’re getting relegated. I don’t have any answers or solutions bar changing the head coach. I fear for next season. If it’s in the Championship, anything could happen. If it’s in the Premier League how long will McClaren last into the next relegation battle. Mike Ashley reckons we can get into the top 4 and the Champions League under his leadership. I don’t know if he’s checked the coefficient recently but the Premier League’s top 4 may well become the top 3 for qualification if things don’t improve. Either way, it’s a nonsense to suggest that you want your team to be among the best in the land and then appoint a sacked Championship manager who you faced absolutely no competition for. This is literally as good as it gets with Charnley and Carr pulling the strings.
The game itself should be straight forward. Stoke have gained a lot of over the top praise this season for their ‘style’ of play. It’s still largely the same mix of crosses and long balls. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not worthy of praise. ‘When will someone talk about the job Mark Hughes is doing?’ Repeat that 4 thousand times and you have Stoke’s media coverage this season. Hughes has done a reasonable job of taking a mid table team, over 4 seasons, into the top 10 with constant financial backing and a good owner. It’s hardly a feat never to be repeated in English football history. The ‘Stokelona’ tag has been used to mock the club rather than by it’s own fans. It’s harsh to mock them for it though. Barcelona have a great defensive record, just like Stoke. So it’s accurate.
Stoke beat Vile 2 1 in a game they dominated and controlled on Saturday. If they turn up they’ll turn us over. They can do a ‘professional’ job and get by. It doesn’t matter who starts for United. It’s United away from home under Steve McClaren.
Prediction: Stoke 2 United 0
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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