Ding dong merrily on high , in heav’n the bells are ringing : Ding dong! verily the sky, at Saint James Park they’re singing……………….Sorry folks, couldn’t resist. Anyway here we sit, merrily on high, top of the championship and really we couldn’t ask for a better christmas gift at the half way stage. The players and Rafa have done what was asked to date and it hasn’t been pretty at times but it’s been effective.
Newcastle faced a robust and physical Burton this weekend and the first quarter of the game saw Burton have the lions share of possession before Dwight Gayle did what he does best and net on the 15th minute yet just 5 minutes later LLoyd Dyer replied for Burton to level the score. Newcastle continued to battle with smart work from Shelvey who continued his fine form of late picking out some decent passes to Ritchie who also worked hard all game. Then just as Burton looked to be making a few in roads, Shelvey picked out a class pass to Ritchie who fed the on rushing Diame who rolled his man and scored on 34′; 1.2 now and could Newcastle hang on for the win.
Second half saw Burton come at Newcastle again and again we seemed to be struggling with they’re physicality, yet still we picked out some class moments where we should have gotten maybe another goal or two. In the end we saw it out to secure the 3 points and go top for Christmas, well done the lads. So where do we go from here ? Well with the African cup of nations looming, things from here on in could get decidedly sticky. With us losing key players or at the very least tidy back ups, Rafa needs a plan going forward. If we throw in Jonjo Shelvey’s possible ban of up to 5 games, it gets even worse. So, should we be bringing in loan players or signing a couple.
In january we face a drilled and very confident Brighton under the stewardship of the ever popular Chris Hughton and few of us wouldn’t want to see us both escape the clutches of the Championship. Unlike us, Brighton don’t stand to lose any key players to the ACON and this undeniably gives them the upper hand, throughout January and part of February at least. Blackburn, Brentford and Rotherham are the other 3 teams we need to beat in January. Of course we have to beat Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest to finish December in style first.
There has been much talk of who we should or shouldn’t sign in January with differences of opinion on whether to loan with a view to buy or just loan or buy. Likewise there are differences over the calibre of player with some of us feeling we can’t yet attract a top quality Premier league standard player. The feeling being that we should wait until summer and see if we are Champions with the chance to lure really good players to the Premier League under Rafa.
What ever your view, there must be a plan in place if we are to secure promotion and this will be the acid test for Mike Ashley surely. Will he go with Rafa’s demands or think we can coast our way back to the Premier League? More importantly has Ashley learnt any lessons where lack of ambition is concerned. I would like to think he has. Keeping Rafa on board is by far the best bit of business he’s done for the club in recent times; so credit where it’s due, he just has to back him now.
Finally the other talking point seems to be whether or not we have good enough players for the Premier League. Many feel if we go up we will be mid table fodder at best and others feel we will be relegation fighters, destined to forever yo-yo between the Premier League and the Championship under Ashley’s ownership.
Whatever your thoughts there is one thing that cannot be denied, this is a team that you can really get behind. There is fight and spirit there, there is leadership and not just from Lascelles; and I hope he doesn’t leave by the way. In the end they have worked hard and come back from a very tricky learning curve at the start of the season and shown they know how to scrap in this league. We really can’t ask for much more and go into the festive season Merrily on high.
Merry Christmas all