Here we take a look at the three Christmas fixtures where the relegation battle may be won and lost, and how recent history, stats and trends (up to the end of November) may impact on the flow of these matches.
Much has been made of Newcastle’s brave stand against Burnley back on November 26, and for good reason. It was ugly and scrappy at times, but Newcastle looked every inch like survivors-to-be after a start to the season that few teams ever recover from. While the three points were fully merited, there was a distinct element of fortune where getting the early momentum was concerned. This, combined with Sam Vokes’ header over the bar – with the very final touch of the game – has served to underline the fact that Rafael Benitez’ men still have far to go.
Newcastle Fans TV reviews a Monday night win over Burnley. [Source: Youtube]
Two trips to Merseyside in December will do the currently 13th placed Newcastle no favours, with the club boasting appalling records at both Goodison Park and Anfield in the post-Robson era. A home match against Manchester United on January 2 will also be a difficult hurdle, even though (as noted on 11v11) Newcastle have emerged from their last two home meetings with the ‘Red Devils’ in far better spirits. Of course, the official start to the ‘festive’ season is disputed, but there can be no doubt that the five matches up to and including the first of 2019 qualify. Subsequently, Newcastle begin their Christmas run-in with a trip to Huddersfield that is nearly impossible to predict.
Huddersfield (A) – December 15
If ever there was a banker for 0-0, this is it, and the importance of key strikers like Salomon Rondon maintaining their current form cannot be underestimated. While many might have said the same for the Burnley game, David Wagner’s men have rediscovered their ability to shore up the defence and frustrate the opposition. Prior to December’s opening round of Premier League matches, both Huddersfield and Newcastle had plundered just 19 goals between them – less than the tallies each managed by last season’s top six, Everton and Bournemouth up to the same point.
Market to back: Winning margin of less than 1.5.
Throughout November, all but one of Huddersfield’s home matches had also ended up being settled by a single-margin scoreline. If not a draw, this will end by a slender scoreline either way, with last season’s corresponding fixture also producing that result – a 1-0 defeat, sadly.
Current odds for relegation, and the festive fixtures involving the relegation favourites. [Original content – no source]
Fulham (H) – December 22
If it was Slavisa Jokanovic, and not Claudio Ranieri taking Fulham to Tyneside for the final pre-Christmas match, then this would have all the makings of a match Newcastle simply couldn’t fail to win. With momentum at a premium ahead of what will be a hellish end to the festive calendar, that remains the case.
Market to back: Over 3.5 goals/handicap win
As reported by BBC Sport, Ranieri’s first game as Fulham manager gave us all reason to believe that he has restored some confidence to a shattered dressing room. Nonetheless, the Cottagers remained defensively inept, and still deserve to be (as they were on Betway throughout November) odds-on to drop back into the Championship. They were ultimately bailed out by Aleksandar Mitrovic, who chose that occasion to return to form. Logic dictates that goals should be expected, but there is interest for both optimistic and pessimistic Gallowgate-enders alike here. Mitrovic is, of course, bound to score against Newcastle at some point, but by the same token, a handicap win for Newcastle should also be a worthy investment.
Youtube channel Geordie Boot Boys looks at whether Newcastle were right to let Mitrovic go. [Source: Youtube]
Watford (A) – December 29
The fact that this is a third away trip in four matches lends extra importance to the Fulham game, especially with the assumption that Newcastle will approach this one just three days after being hammered at Anfield. While Watford appear to be in little danger of relegation at present, their tendency to collapse under pressure manifests at unexpected times. Their home games against Bournemouth and Liverpool are testament to this, and just one or two injuries to key players in a hectic schedule could yet make this one a ‘six-pointer’ in due course.
Market to back: Win/loss after level HT score
With a huge home match against Manchester United lying in wait just three days later, conservation of energy will be high on Newcastle’s agenda, even though they won the reverse encounter. Benitez’ men know that backs-to-the-wall defending is one of their key strengths against anything other than elite opposition, but with none of Watford’s level half-time scores at Vicarage Road yet being maintained until full-time, this is an interesting market to explore.