First off, well done Brighton & Hove Albion and congratulations especially to Chris Hughton who is still held in an extremely high regard by all Newcastle United fans. Brighton deserve to clinch their promotion ahead of anyone else, they have been the standout team throughout this season and are rightly going to go on to win this league. Well done, sincerely.
Anyway, back to Newcastle United!
I purposely held off writing my article today until I had seen the Derby County v Huddersfield Town score and boy am I relieved as this could have turned out to be an absolute nightmare of an Easter period for Newcastle United. Our form has been dreadful over the last few weeks and prior to the Ipswich Town game today we sat 15th in the form league. Yesterday’s 3-1 defeat will have seen us drop lower than that I am sure, a worrying trend given the few games we have left and need points in.
Last Friday I wrote an article on Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United and whilst the performance was encouraging, the result felt like a real kick in the guts. I was completely deflated after that game and I couldn’t understand how the Sky commentators were talking about how Newcastle were already up – regardless of Leeds’ last kick of the game equaliser. No mention was made of the fact that due to Huddersfield’s own last minute goal to grab all 3 points against Preston North End, the pressure was really on Newcastle – especially as Huddersfield still had a game in hand on the Magpies and were seemingly flying in terms of their form.
When I mentioned this fact to mates and in a couple of Tweets I was sneered at – how on earth could we blow this lead? We were odds on to go up – no chance, not a hope, the promotion is nailed on. Has everyone forgot this is Newcastle United we are talking about? Well, I bet some people changed their minds at 5pm and more so about 10 minutes later when Huddersfield took the lead against Derby County in the late kick off. I genuinely take no pleasure in this and I’m not going to say “I told you so” but I, errr, told you so?
No, in all seriousness, the reason why I held off writing this article is because how important that 5pm kick off was and thankfully Derby County fought back to get the draw. I can’t stress how significant that point is, or rather the fact that Huddersfield did not get yet another win. However, once again after the game, the Sky commentators were talking about how Huddersfield’s play-off chase is now under threat – not one mention of the possibility of them catching us? Very odd.
As for our match against Ipswich Town, what can I say? I’ve always had a soft spot for Ipswich – there is of course the Sir Bobby Robson connection but we have also had the likes of Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramdle and, err, Darren Ambrose from them in recent years so yes, I have always kind of liked the Suffolk club in a kind of “they’re harmless and alright with me” way. But the match today was a dreadful performance from start to finish and the Tractor Boys more than deserved their victory. We played with an air of arrogance, like promotion was already assured; there was no fight, no grit, no determination and no character. It was an awful game to watch but had Huddersfield got all 3 points at Derby, it could have been a disaster.
What I don’t understand is why Rafa rotated the squad after such a good home performance just a few days before. Yes, I am sure tiredness was a factor but come on, there are 4 games left (before the game yesterday) and I am sure momentum and the fact that they are physically fit professional footballers would have carried them through. I get the rotation thing, I really do but I for one do not think the likes of Chancel Mbemba, Aleksandar Mitrovic or Vurnon Anita deserved to lose their places in the side after such good individual performances on Good Friday against Leeds. What does it say to them? No matter how well you perform, you may lose your place?
I don’t get it – I trust Rafa, I absolutely adore Rafa, but I don’t get it and clearly it didn’t work today. We sat back, we rarely attacked, the midfield were all over the place when they had the ball but more often than not the ball was 50 yards above them flying through the air from a Jamaal Lascelles or Grant Hanley hoofed clearance. Christian Atsu and Mat Ritchie looked lively on the wings as ever but something didn’t click today and it is not the first time that has happened – I’ll save the individual and team criticism until the end of the season. We still have 3 games to play so now is not the time for me to start laying in to individuals but that was not nice to watch today, not nice at all.
Against Ipswich we were as bad as we have been all season and whilst I am sure nerves and indeed fatigue played a part, there seemed to be something up with them. We never got going from the very start and why oh why did we revert to a long ball style of play? When has that ever worked for us? One little conspiracy theory I read was that the players have stopped playing since hearing Rafa Benitez will not be manager next season – it’s certainly a theory and one that could go some way to explaining the downturn in form over the last 6 weeks but I am not buying in to that one. I do have a nagging doubt as to whether he will be here next season but I don’t think any decisions will have been made or finalised just yet.
No, I think the poor form is down to a run of injuries, a bit bad luck, poor confidence – but mainly nerves. The players know how much promotion means to everyone connected to the club and whilst Brighton have the experience in being in this situation and have thrived, we have struggled as the pressure has hit. Huddersfield’s recent form hasn’t helped but promotion is still very much in our hands.
As it stands, Brighton sit top on 92 points with 3 games remaining, we are second with 85 points and 3 games remaining, Reading then sit in 3rd place on 79 points with 3 games remaining and Huddersfield are fourth on 78 points but have four games remaining. Huddersfield’s game in hand is an away match at Wolves but they also have to face the very much in-form Fulham so their run in could be tricky. Both Huddersfield and Reading can catch us but it is Huddersfield that worry me most – they are getting the results when needed.
I do still think we will be ok. If Huddersfield win all 4 of their final games (unlikely I know) they end up on 90 points which means we need 5 more points to GUARANTEE promotion. We face Preston at home, then have an away match against Cardiff City and finish the season with a home game against Barnsley. Quite frankly, if we don’t get 5 points from those games we don’t deserve to go up automatically.