It’s the morning after the night before and sleep hasn’t helped the feeling. Prior to yesterday’s match at Norwich, the consensus seemed to be that the game was make or break, that defeat would leave Newcastle to be inevitably relegated. That holds true in the light of the new day, Newcastle probably have too much to do, 6 points adrift with 7 fixtures remaining. We can’t allow that to affect how we approach the rest of the season however. The drop is not yet a certainty. There are points to play for, and anything could happen between now and May; a dramatic turnaround in our form, natural disaster or illness striking our rivals. We have to keep plugging away for wins and hope results go our way elsewhere. The balance of probabilities is that we are going down though.
I like Rafa Benitez. Performances have improved in the 3 games he’s been in charge, just not enough for us to pick up the wins we needed. If he’d taken over in January I think we’d have been alright, though that is a hypothetical situation. He had only just been relieved of his post at Real Madrid so even if he’d been approached then he’d probably still have been gathering his thoughts and unlikely to take another job. He has a fine record and given time I think he would make this club successful. He’s certainly the best appointment we’ve made in over 15 years, since Bobby Robson took over. In fact our impending relegation is less of an issue than persuading him to stay. If he does then going down just means starting his long term project from a lower baseline. If not we are cast adrift once more on the stormy seas of Mike Ashley’s whims.
The trouble Benitez is currently finding in kick starting his under-achieving charges into a unit that can win matches casts interesting light on the short time in charge of another panic appointment, Alan Shearer. Viewed as a failure by the wider footballing public after failing to save us in his 8 games in post, Shearers time here should perhaps be reevaluated. Like Benitez, he was saddled with a non-performing squad he couldn’t change. Also like Rafa so far, there were improved performances without that being enough to drag us away from trouble. The point being that both men were on a hiding to nothing and shouldn’t be viewed too harshly for failing to achieve what they set out to do though Benitez still has time to make a difference against the odds of course.
The squad isn’t just not performing at Newcastle though, it’s unbalanced to the point it’s virtually incapable of performing as required. In hindsight, the early successes of Graham Carr were a disaster for the club in the long term as he gained more and more influence and his successful signings became more and more infrequent. Perhaps without Cabaye, Ba, and the early form of Tiote and Cisse the “model” would have been ditched a long time ago.
This season would be the 4th relegation of my lifetime supporting Newcastle. We’ve always come back before and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t again, should it happen. Benitez and the promise of doing things right that comes with him is a rare chance of positive change for us and in contrast to bouncing back we don’t often take those chances. Maybe we can look back in years to come and say this is when we started to get things right.