It’s hard to understate the importance of Newcastle’s next game away at Norwich. Three points behind Saturday’s hosts, a loss would be a bitter pill to take and would leave them with a proverbial mountain to climb to escape relegation
Win by two goals or more, however, and they would overtake the Canaries and make the task of avoiding the drop far less daunting and distinctly more achievable. With the tactical nous of Rafa Benitez now shaping the side both in formation and mentality, the Geordie faithful will be more hopeful of seeing their side do just that than under previous boss Steve McClaren.
Victory might even get them out of the relegation places, dependent on what local rivals Sunderland do at home to West Brom on the same day, and with four home fixtures in their last six games, the passionate crowd at St James’ Park will be optimistic they will still be watching Premier League football again next season.
But further to that, if Benitez can keep the Magpies in the nation’s top division (and it is a big IF) for at least another season, there is enough in place in the North East for a complete turnaround in form and fortune, and perhaps even a challenge for a European spot this time next year.
I’m sure that assertion is enough to make many scoff with derision, but we’ve already seen this season with Leicester how a side can completely transform their fortunes in a relatively short space of time. Unlike Newcastle, however, they had already begun to win games towards the back end of last season, so had already ‘got the ball rolling’ in terms of winning games and changing the mind-set of the whole club.
No-one really expected them to carry it on of course, but should Newcastle manage to pick up four or five wins in their last eight this campaign, a feat that would surely see them avoid relegation, there is plenty to suggest that, whilst they might not ‘do a Leicester’, they could at the very least return to the top-half of the table next season.
Benitez has a wealth of experience throughout Europe to call upon of course and ultimately it is that experience that will go a long way to improving Newcastle’s fortunes. Playing staff too are well equipped to help instigate a dramatic change in fortunes for the club. Having been the biggest spenders in the January transfer-window, the much-derided owner Mike Ashley finally put his money where his mouth is and added extra quality to a squad already littered with some solid talent.
Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend, amongst others, were brought in to bolster a squad already containing Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat and Moussa Sissoko – all quality players on their day – so if they can align their thinking with the manager, who will be charged with getting the most out of a group of players who should be no where near the relegation zone, they have the inherent quality to not only avoid the drop, but kick on next season and help guide the club nearer to the other end of the table.
The past few seasons have been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride for the side in black and white. From a fifth-placed finish in 2011/12 to barely avoiding relegation the very next campaign, the club sure knows how to extract the complete range of emotions from the loyal Geordie faithful. And I only see more extremes of emotion on the horizon.
Whilst the trophy cabinet might suggest otherwise, the St James’ Park side are one of the biggest clubs in the country. The fan-base in the one club city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne is both loyal and passionate, while the stadium at St James’ Park amongst the best in the country. If the club is run properly – clearly a major sticking point under the Ashley regime – they have everything in place to return to the upper echelons of the league.
With Benitez at the helm and given a three year deal with the club, if they can just escape relegation in this, arguably the most important season to avoid the drop in Premier League history, a rapid turnaround in fortunes is just around the corner… and round the loop… and through the corkscrew… and via every other twist and turn of the roller-coaster course that is the life of Newcastle United.