When I was growing up, the Easter Weekend fixtures were a traditional, enjoyable and crucial segment of the top division season where titles were won and lost and lowly teams fought to survive.
This period has been inexplicably replaced by a series of meaningless international friendlies where players are taken from their clubs at a pivotal point in the season.
Whilst the international break could prove to be useful for Benitez as it gives him much needed time to analyse his new side, this break has dealt Newcastle a cruel and potentially devastating blow as possibly our player of the season, Rob Elliot has been ruled out for several months.
Quite why some of our players are being dragged off to play non-competitive games at this stage of the season is frankly unfathomable. I’m sure Stoke City staff and fans would agree having seen star goalkeeper Jack Butland also ruled out for the rest of the season. At least they are not in the middle of a relegation scrap.
Now Roy Hodgson and his International manager peers will argue that these games are fundamental to their preparation for this summer’s tournament. Well…one could simply counter-argue that, if anything, England’s, and indeed, Ireland’s chances of success in the Euros have actually suffered with the loss of important players.
The trouble for Newcastle is, where England can call on the likes of Joe Hart and Fraser Forster, the Magpies now have to turn to their 3rd choice goalkeeper, untested at this level, to face up to a relegation battle.
Elliot himself, only found himself between Newcastle’s posts due to an injury sustained by Tim Krul whilst he was, you guessed it, on International duty. To lose one goalie long term is unlucky, to lose two is downright ridiculous. It’s a problem that has agitated Newcastle for seasons, with our previous owners attempting to charge the FA after record signing Michael Owen was seriously injured whilst ‘serving’ his country.
Alan Shearer had to retire from international duty in order to prolong his club career. If he hadn’t, then he would not be the club’s all-time record top goal scorer.
The loss of Elliot to the Newcastle line up could be catastrophic as he has been absolutely superb this season after stepping in for Krul. He has made crucial saves and been a vocal member of Newcastle’s otherwise fragile backline. All we can do now is hope that Darlow is able to rise to the occasion and show so real mettle.
We need to support him to the hilt as he could prove absolutely vital to this club’s future.