Defeats to Burnley and Bournemouth in consecutive fixtures. Only one win in six – and even then a hard-fought 1-0 victory at home to the worst team in the league according to the table. When you say it out loud, it doesn’t sound too good for Newcastle United at all; and this is a side who were sitting in the top four at the end of September.
By now, the Magpies are only five points better-off than they were then, coincidentally that’s the same number of points they now sit above the relegation zone. And with Manchester United up next it’s likely they’ll fall even further after the international break.
But no one could have seriously believed that it was going to last, even if the words ‘consecutive defeats to Bournemouth and Burnley’ don’t sound great.
That’s not totally fair, though. Burnley, along with Watford were one of three teams including Newcastle whose good starts showed they were punching above their weight. But it was impossible that all three could have kept it up. In the end, it’s been Burnley who have kept the pace as Newcastle and Watford were the ones to drop off.
It may be a blessing in disguise, though.
Since the Magpies have come back into the Premier League, their performances have appeared to veer between two extremes: defeats in the first few games made things look bleak on Tyneside before three wins on the bounce put them in the top four. Now that they’ve reverted back to one win in six it feels like the needle has to settle somewhere soon. From a start that made some think that the season would be a battle against relegation, though, it shouldn’t be seen as a terrible ignominy to have lower expectations on the back of a few poor results. Survival should always have been the aim this season, and perhaps always was. The assault on the top half of the table should be next year’s aim.
Whatever you think about results and season objectives, there’s been a common theme, throughout the first few months of this campaign; a strand running through each performance and one that should be cause for a more legitimate and long-term optimism than any good results in September.
Even if results have been inconsistent, it’s becoming clear that Rafael Benitez has built a team which is more than the sum of its parts. This is a side who battle their way to results, even if the last two don’t particularly show it. It may not be the most exciting football on show this season, but at this stage for a promoted team it’s always about the fight.
A few results aside, Benitez’s team are winning or losing by the odd goal for the most part. They currently have a goal difference of zero – ten goals scored and ten conceded. Outside of the top three in the table, only Burnley have conceded fewer. It show their battling spirit and their sturdiness, and that will stand them in good stead for the rest of the campaign.
That solidity, though, coupled with the fact that Newcastle have dropped from the group of teams in the top seven means that they can continue to fight without the weight of any expectation weighing heavily on their shoulders. And with some new investment on the horizon, potentially in the summer and maybe even in January, it seems prudent to create a side with heart and fight as well as solid tactical discipline before moving on to add a bit more attacking flair after that.
A bad run of form is never a good thing, but in this case it could be useful for a Newcastle side who are still trying to settle into a real rhythm of form this season.