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’