Following the events of Saturday’s disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Fulham, Rafa Benitez suggested, in an interview with The Chronicle, that his team played with ‘anxiety’.
Yes the stakes are high, as NUFC enter the final stretch of a future defining season, but I found this bemusing given our recent form. On Saturday the team returned to yet another packed out St.James’ park crowd having won 7 points over 3 consecutive away games against the toughest opposition this league has to offer. We had just passed a monumental test of our quality and character with flying colours so I ask myself, why the lack of confidence? Why play with ‘anxiety’?
While their may have been some underlying yet inexcusable reasons for Saturdays performance, such as tiredness or complacency, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that the atmosphere in St.James’ Park quickly turned sour.
Admittedly, Newcastle’s performance against Fulham justified mass frustration amongst the fans; the team weren’t at the races in just about every way. The tonic to a lack of urgency or effort sometimes is a kick up the backside, but jeers for backwards passes and boos at the half-time and final whistle are surely uncalled for given our team is top of the table? This only served to negatively impact the team, creating and intensifying anxieties shown on the field.
On the flip side, credit must go to Gallowgate Flags, who’s efforts have certainly boosted the pre-match atmosphere. Their visual displays have acted as a superb rallying call to players and fans in the moments before key games this season. A good start and we’re flying, but I’ve noticed on several occasions that things turn edgy should we fail to score in the first half an hour or so. This is something that I feel has to change.
There is a sense that some fans had begun turning up believing a win was a formality and instead debate centred around just how many we’d win by.
While you would hope that Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United were confident of beating the Brentford’s, Barnsley’s and Burton’s this league has to offer, this complacency amongst fans can be just as dangerous as that in a player. We, as supporters, still have a responsibility to get behind our team, no matter what the opposition.
The trip to St.James’ Park has undoubtedly become a cup final for several sides this season and whilst it is the Newcastle United players’ duty to remain focused and get the job done, the crowd must also do their jobs and support the team. With Newcastle becoming a big fish in a small pond, seeing expectation levels rise, have some fans lost sight of this duty?
As passionate fans of Newcastle United, we all know the difference we can make when the players step out onto the pitch at St.James’ Park. Benitez has regularly spoken of this, encouraging fans to stay with the team & be the 12th man to roar our club back into the Premier League.
Countless gritty away wins go a long way to prove that this group of Newcastle United players are up for the fight, so let’s fight for our team when they need us at St.James’ Park. We’ve reached the final stretch of a long hard season – support will see us through, a hive of anxiety & hostility will only make it harder. We can be the difference. We can get our club back where it belongs. Let’s stay united.