Now that the club has a top notch manager on the books the Toon Army is awash with full blooded optimism. It’s a refreshing change for us but it’s important not to lose sight of the cold, hard reality of our dire current standing.
I’m still not convinced we are staying up ‘if I’m being honest‘ (to borrow a phrase from the Alan Pardew handbook of handy sentence closures). I hope Rafa can work miracles and we certainly stand a much better chance now than we did under Steve McClaren – who appeared tactically inept and seemingly lost the dressing room a long time ago.
The big concern like a few have pointed out, is far too many of our players are either simply not good enough or just dont seem to care. I know the Grin Reaper lost their respect and they were not playing for him, but they are very well paid professionals and regardless of a lack of tactics or an inspirational leader they should still have been displaying the basic principles of football such as pass & move, chase balls, close down the opposition and commit to winning the ball. It’s not rocket science and the absence of the concentration and/or will to get the basics right for large swathes of the last 18 months under various managers and coaches worries me.
This league has been a funny one and anyone can beat anybody else on their day. I know a lot of people have us down for victories against every one of our relegation rivals, but it will more than likely be the case that those teams will come fighing for their lives. They will want the points just as much as our players. Who saw Norwich picking up a point against title chasing Man City for example?
If we as fans expect and pin our hopes on wins against every relegation rival then I fear we are in for disappointment. Numerous people have pointed out that local rivals Sunderland have displayed fight in recent games. Newcastle have not. The Derby game is absolutely massive. A loss puts Sunderland 4 points clear of us but secure a win and we are right back in it, with a psychological advantage.
Its worth noting that every bottom half team has beaten us at least once this season with the exception of Norwich. We seem to fold when the pressure is on. More often than not, these games against relegation rivals come down to who wants it more and tactics go out the window. Do our lads have it in them?
No doubt Rafa Benitez will inspire a few individuals and bring a fresh impotus into the squad. He has been there and done it in several Countries and we could not have wished for a better managerial appointment. He has several big tasks to overcome. They include making our defensive unit more robust, making our forward line more potent and getting key players such as Gini Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko to perform consistently.
I just hope the lads listen keenly to Rafa’s instructions and actually go out with focus and determination. If they do, they will pull off a shock result or two against the better placed sides we are due to face such as Liverpool and Man City. It could well be those games that we will be relying on to stay up, not necessarily your Norwich City’s and Swansea’s.