Newcastle United Football Club are going up back to where we belong in The Premier League. If anybody at the start of the season or at the end of the last one, had said to Newcastle fans, ‘with three games left, beating Preston and Barnsley at home and Premier League status is a certainty’ Geordies would have snapped their hands off.
Just five points are needed mathematically to secure a deserved place back in the top flight of English football and if Huddersfield fail to beat a resurgent Fulham side on Saturday, promotion could be secured with a win at home against Preston North End on Monday night, a side already thumped 6-0 at St. James’ Park this season.
In fact, Newcastle have already beaten Preston twice this season in The EFL Cup and Championship, Cardiff at home and Barnsley away so the omens are good.
Promotion permutations are various yet no matter what opponents do, if Newcastle win one game & draw two of the remaining three left against Preston and Barnsley at St. James’ Park and Cardiff City away – to clinch a club record for away wins – or win two and lose or draw the other, the Premier League is Newcastle’s playground again.
After an encouraging display against Leeds on Friday night that felt like a Magpies loss when Chris Woods’ late-in-additional-time 96th minute goal stole a draw from the jaws of defeat for the away side following a Yorkshire pitch invader, Newcastle were poor against Ipswich Town after Benitez made five changes.
Yet it is very much in Newcastle hands and while the promotion party may not be able to be planned with any exactitude, the champagne is certainly on ice across Tyneside.
Cool, Calm and Collected – Ciaran Clark & Jack Colback Are Key
Its the kind of ice that runs through the veins of the man who has made himself indispensable to the Newcastle United cause this season – Ireland defender Ciaran Clark.
Alongside Jamaal Lascelles, he has forged a defensive partnership that has been the bedrock of Newcastle’s successful season so far, borne out by the statistics that show The Magpies collect an average of 2.22 points per game with Clark in the side – a 102 point projected 46-game season – and just 1.18 points per game without his presence, a 54-point projected 46-game total. (Stats from The Mag)
The one real mistake – if you can call it that – Clark has made was the last-minute own goal against QPR at home following treatment for a head injury and maybe he should have been substituted before that out-of-character error.
Experienced Clark’s concentration and calm assurance on the ball has contributed to 14 Newcastle clean sheet this season and a further 3 for Ireland and the sooner he is back the better.
Similarly, Geordie Jack Colback has been at the heart of most of Newcastle’s good play and results this season and is certainly JonJo Shelvey’s best partner in midfield as titanic displays away to Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading in the most important week of the season to date demonstrated.
Once described by Adrian Durham as “the most under-rated player in The Premier League” for his bravery and ability to keep the ball – two qualities Newcastle need in abundance right now – in the 15 games Colback and Shelvey have started together, Newcastle have won 11, drawn three and lost just one.
4-1-3-2 : Time To Unleash Mitrovic & Murphy Together
Speaking of under-rated players, 10-goals this season Aleksandar Mitrovic is one doubted among Newcastle’s players despite doing it regularly for Serbia and previously in The Champions League – versus Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal – as well as scoring against Man City, Man United and Spurs in The Premier League.
His was an excellent display against Leeds on Friday night setting up Newcastle’s goal against Leeds for Captain Jamaal Lascelles during a selfless 90+ minute shift.
Mitrovic tore Preston North End apart in The EFL Cup in October scoring twice as Newcastle ran riot 6-0 then scored another brace against them in The Championship several days later.
In short, Mitrovic has to play against Preston and for the rest of the season and Newcastle might be best off pairing the big Serbian with the big Irishman Daryl Murphy, who has notched 7 goals for club and country this season, to fire the club out of the division for Newcastle cannot rely on referees and narrow wins, more the 6-0 variety NUFC enjoyed with Mitrovic up front against both QR away and Preston at home..
Rafa Benitez – ‘Strange Refereeing Decisions’
The Newcastle manager spoke after Friday night’s game against Leeds about the increasingly odd officiating that has plagued The Magpies season (and a long time besides, see ‘FergieTime’)
“I think that the fans realise after these four or five games we don’t have an explanation why (things are going against Newcastle) and they realise they have to support the team because we are on our own and we have to fight for ourselves.”
Regular readers of this blog will recognise this as a theme halting Newcastle’s progress yet is by no means limited to the club alone – at the business end of the season when trophies are handed out and the flow of hundreds of millions of pounds decided, strange decisions abound as PSG and Bayern Munich will testify though none quite as blatant as this disallowed Burton penalty with its flagrant flouting of the rules.
Pre-season favourites for not just the EFL title but record-breaking title-winning statistics, the breaks have been put on Rafa’s Benitez’s Magpies not least by referees from the opening day handball farce against Fulham to 2 wrong red cards at Nottingham Forest and other points-sapping ref-reversals.
Yet Newcastle – the best team in the division having beaten Champions-elect Brighton Hove Albion home & away only conceding the following farce of a penalty given by known anti-Newcastle referee Bobby Madley, whose decision to send Fab Coloccini off a year earlier ultimately cost Newcastle United their Premier League place and £100M – have kicked on to establish themselves clear favourites to seal automatic promotion.
Don’t Stop Believin’
Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.
According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.
Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.
The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:
Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.
Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.
“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.
“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”
Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.
“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.
“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.
“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”
Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player
27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.
Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.
Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.
Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.
“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.
“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.
“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.
“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.
“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”
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