The wins over Liverpool and Tottenham in recent weeks had seen an air of excitement flow through Newcastle United not seen in a long time. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all, perhaps they could actually make a good go of things and not be dragged into a relegation battle.
While the draw with Aston Villa could have been a lot worse, it did put a downer on the new found belief. For large parts of the second half, the side rock bottom of the Premier League were rampant as the Magpies nervously held on. Granted, some better finishing would no doubt have won the game for the Toon Army, but there was yet again a huge air of disappointment.
So, they aren’t out of the woods just yet. The next few months could be the most important in the North East giants’ history. Reports in recent weeks suggest the club will indeed look to strengthen in January in order to maintain their Premier League status. It’s crucial they do so. It’s crucial they get the right players.
Over the summer, owner Mike Ashley finally loosened the purse strings and afforded Steve McClaren around £50m to improve his squad. What followed were some embarrassing losses, abject capitulations and rumours of training ground bust-ups. Typical Newcastle, really.
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While there have been some top quality additions in the likes of Georgino Wijnaldum and Chancel Mbemba, the jury is still out of £13.5m striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. French winger Florian Thauvin has disappointed during his early stages on Tyneside thus far.
The feeling that the Toon had turned a corner after finally splashing the cash has since evaporated and we can start to see that former England coach McClaren has far more of a project on his hands than something that can be mended over the course of a single summer.
That’s where these next few months come in so important. Should Newcastle retain their top flight status, they can move on with their project. Now Ashley is willing to spend, helped by the lucrative TV deals now in play in the Premier League, they can build off this summer and start to shape a more competitive squad.
Already the likes of Saido Berahino, Andros Townsend and Jonjo Shelvey have been linked to the club, taking the calibre of supposed targets up another level. To turn the club round from the dark days of John Carver in just one transfer session is asking for too much, too quick.
If the current crop of players can churn out performances like those against Spurs and Liverpool, the club can look forward to a brighter future. The last few seasons have been miserable for those in the North East, but the next few months will shape the complexion of Newcastle United going forward.
Perhaps a project like the one Southampton are undertaking so successfully could be put in place, constantly remaining competitive and delighting their fans. Perhaps it will take a different path, the route is not abundantly clear. What is clear, however, is the fact it’s likely to be a lot brighter than the dismal last few years.
Building a competitive squad full of exciting players is so nearly in sight, though the threat of relegation looms. With the club so finely balanced between conquering or capitulating, it’s hard to truly rule out the prospect of a second relegation under Ashley’s control.
While it’s clearly stating the obvious in saying dropping down into the Championship would be a disaster for any team with the broadcasting deals soon coming into play, but for Newcastle specifically, it could start an alarming side.
Some of the teams in the relegation scrap could survive with going down and coming back up again. Any of the promoted sides, though that currently looks unlikely, or the likes of Sunderland under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce could feasibly deal with the ordeal.
The Magpies, however, are likely to crumble in the face of such adversity and could tumble down the league structure. Though they made a pretty rapid return to the Promised Land after their last dropout, things are universally different now.
Back then, players like Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll formed a strong backbone of players who understood just what it takes to get a club like the Toon back into the Premier League. Should they be condemned to a similar fate, they do not possess such riches.
The best players; Wijnaldum, Perez, Sissoko, would all leave and the squad does not boast a wealth of academy prospects to promote in such an extreme case. It would be an unmitigated disaster. Think Portsmouth, or Leeds.
Entrusting such an unpredictable group of players with perhaps the most important few months with the future of Newcastle United is a huge gamble. However, it’s one they’ve chosen to take themselves.