Fresh from relegation, Mike Ashley secured a massive coup by somehow convincing Champions League winner Rafa Benitez that Rotherham and Burton are must-see destinations. He promised the Spaniard investment in a bid to book an immediate return to the greedy league, and boy, did he back him. Scottish international Matt Ritchie and Howard the Duck impersonator Dwight Gayle both joined for £10 million each. Ciaran Clark, Mo Diame and Grant Hanley came in at around £5 million a piece, and Newcastle finished their spending spree at a modest £54.74 million.
Then the season began and the #RafaRevolution was underway, kicking off with back to back defeats, away to Fulham and then at home against, you guessed it, us. What a fantastic day that was, "Jack Payne, bottom corner, f*ck off" as one of my friends repeated for a solid two hours on the way home. Since then however, Newcastle have galvanised and moved to where they really should be. On Monday night they leapfrogged Brighton into top spot and currently sit 8 points clear of us.
The last time they were in this division, they walked it, never once looking back and rising back to the Premier League with consummate ease. This year though, there seems to be a different narrative amongst fans and pundits with comments such as;
- "They should be p*ssing this league with what they've spent"
- "They're on a bit of a wobble at the moment"
Well firstly, they're well on course to finish with over 100 points this year and probably won't be too far off the total figure (102) they finished with almost seven years ago, not that bad, and they actually haven't spend as much money as say Aston Villa. Which, just on a sidenote, gives me the opportunity to say, isn't Steve Bruce an ugly man? Yes, he is, let's move on.
Secondly, if Newcastle are on a wobble, I'd love to see them in top form, for the past 10 games in the championship they're 2nd in the table, only behind ourselves. When you consider the teams they've played in the last 10 it's even more impressive: Brighton (A), Norwich (A), Derby(H).
They do present a very real threat to us today and probably should be considered favourites, all things included. Which reminds me, their away form...
Played 17, Won 12, Drawn 2, Lost 3....Ominous
Enough of the ominous stats and the fawning now, back to focusing on ourselves, something which the manager and the team have done very well this season. Maintaining our identity, the terrier spirit and sticking to our overall plan.
Christoph Schindler, Izzy Brown and Chris Lowe all look set to return to starting line-up this evening and perhaps even more importantly Jonathan Hogg could be set to start a match for the first time since his injury. If he does start the match I think it will be a massive boost to our chances of success in this game. The man is everywhere, he touches every blade of glass, mops up loose balls and cuts out attacks before they've even begun. For me he is our most important player and his work in the centre allows our flair players to monopolise the ball and work the opposition defence.
David Wagner has called on the crowd to make another special atmosphere in the stadium, akin to the one that we had last month when we beat the champions of Europe 2-1. A loud, rocking stadium, out singing the Geordies will enable us to get on the front foot as we've done in many big games this season. I believe the key to this game will be starting with a high intensity and ripping into Newcastle as soon as possible. We all know that Benitez is an astute tactician and will be instructing his team to continue their swift counter attacking game plan put to such great use at the AMEX.
But if we get into them quickly, unsettle them, get an early goal and muzzle Dwight Gayle the three points can be ours, cutting the gap to the leaders by 5 points with a game in hand and further putting the frighteners up Brighton. I fully expect us to do this, and can already hear Oggy screaming, "Ant and Dec, Paul Gascoigne, Gaz Beadle, youuurr boyyyss toook one hell of a beating!!"
Until next time, UTT