St James Park is once again vibrant. Rafa’s arrival has regenerated both players and supporters. Can Newcastle make it out of the bottom 3 in time for the end of the season? 

Let’s be open about this, here on Toontoon.co.uk, on 3rd January, we predicted a bottom 3 of Newcastle, Villa and Norwich unless anything major changed with Sunderland making up the bottom 4. No fewer than 6 days later, we called for the appointment of one of 3 managers here.
 

After a delay of 62 days, Ashley’s minions made their move. The intervening period saw the Toon win just 2 league games out of 8, suffering 5 defeats on the way. The damage was already done. 

It would be hard to deny that Rafa has made significant improvements. We see the team press. We see a defensive organisation. We see players making the effort to cover back. We have even seen 5 away goals in 4 games as compared with failing to score in 8 of the previous 15. 

We have seen some fight. After falling behind against a controversial goal by Manchester city, the players stuck at it to recover a point. We came from 2 behind against Liverpool. We came from behind against Sunderland. 

Rafa’s management has shown us strategic and evolutionary substitutions. We have seen a quality manager at work. 

Two big results may have sealed our fate. A win against the Mackems would have put us ahead of them now. A draw at Norwich would have kept us ahead of them. These were the new manager’s 2nd and 3rd games. If only he had been appointed sooner! 

Last weekend provided mixed blessings for Newcastle. A point at Anfield is always welcome. However, Sunderland’s point against the team from the Emirates also gave them some encouragement. 

Let’s have a look at the remaining fixtures:

 

The fact remains that in 19th position, if either Sunderland or Norwich win 3 games, Newcastle are down. 

Both of the other teams in the mix face beaten FA Cup semi-finalists in their last 2 games. Neither Everton nor Watford have anything to play for. Managers’ futures are in the line. We probably could have done with both of them in the final, players chasing down a place at Wembley. Both look winnable for our direct competition. 

For Norwich, however, they have 2 tough fixtures to come. Next up is Arsenal away. The Gunners may be unable to reach Leicester but still have North London rivalry potentially at stake and are yet to guarantee Champions league qualification. Then comes Manchester United at home who could still be chasing a Champions League spot for themselves. 

It should also be taken into account that the Canaries have a poor recent record, with only 2 wins in 14 games and 2 more points from draws. Even with their last two opponents, it still looks an uphill battle for them. 

For Sunderland on the other hand, the other 2 non semi teams are currently mid table with nothing ostensibly to play for. Stoke have already lost at home to Sunderland and have undergone an end of season collapse with 1 win in 8 games and only 1 point from the last 4. Chelsea have only lost twice under Hiddink, both of those being in the last 3 games. 

Sunderland seem to have the most realistic hopes of avoiding the drop, set against their upcoming opponents’ dismal records, selectively 6 wins in 38. 

Against that, with 41% of their games this season being drawn, only 2 wins in their last 13 yet 3 defeats in their last 12, the Mackem record means that the Magpies must retain a glimmer of hope. 

Statistically, we should expect Sunderland to achieve 5-7 points. Whatever, Newcastle can not afford to lose. With a goal difference 8 worse than Sunderland, big wins would help but as things stand, we need 2 more points than them from one game fewer. 

First up, Palace may be buoyed by their FA Cup final. However, with 1 win in 18, Pardew’s league bubble has burst and they should be there for the taking. Likewise, Villa have lost 10 on the trot, won 3 all season so should ensure that Rafa at least takes it to the last game. 

Spurs are the biggest challenge. Having lost 1 in 14, 2 in 19 and 3 in 34, no team has conceded fewer than their 26, they surely look favourites at the moment. One of those defeats was at Newcastle’s hands, the only team below 7th at the moment to win. 

Last week may have played into our hands. Falling a further 2 points behind Leicester, winning the league should be out of reach for Spurs, 2nd place should be secure, international players may want to avoid injury. 

The challenge is enormous. Realistically only 3 wins will do. If anyone can do it, Rafa can.