With showdown talks complete in the St. James’ Park boardroom and former Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez drafted in as the latest man at the helm, all systems are a-go at Newcastle United.
As Steve McClaren insisted on reminding the Toon faithful and the English media, there are ten games still to play, but with local rivals Sunderland due to visit in a fortnight’s time, it is imperative that the Magpies head into the Tyneside showdown firing on all cylinders.
The fans have certainly made up their minds – that was made apparent against Bournemouth after another embarrassing home display – and it is surely now two from the trio of Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich who will be consigned to relegation with the hapless Villa – for the latest betting tips, visit onlinewedden.com.
The major question is, if Newcastle were to be relegated to the Championship like in the 2008/09 season, would they find it anywhere near as straight forward to bounce straight back up?
Every Toon fan will have that fateful day in May 2009 engrained firmly in their minds. It was that sun-drenched afternoon at Villa Park where caretaker manager Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and co. were consigned to the Championship for the first time in 16 years. Away trips to Plymouth, Scunthorpe and Barnsley became a reality after a poor season (with five different managers) had ended in disaster.
Similar to the current season, the players at the clubs disposal back then should have been sufficient to prevent the club ending up in the bottom three. Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Ryan and Steven Taylor, Nicky Butt, Andy Carroll, Shola Ameobi, Coloccini, Enrique and Alan Smith all had bags of quality and the majority of them could also boast a wealth of experience at the top level. Michael Owen, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka added fire-power in attack, but ultimately none of them could save the club from the drop.
As summer came around, it was obvious that changes would need to be made. Owen’s contract was up and so his wages; the highest at the club, immediately relieved some of the strain. Martins, Bassong, Habib Beye, Duff and Viduka also left, but importantly the main English core was kept on.
Smith, Butt and Nolan shared the captaincy throughout the next season and Ameobi and Carroll thrived up-front, netting 27 league goals between them. Nolan himself scored 17 goals from midfield and with Chris Hughton taking the manger’s job permanently in October, Newcastle won the league at a canter, finished unbeaten at home and with 102 points.
Newcastle bounced straight back, partly because they had kept the main core of English players from the previous season, partly because they were united as one and played for each other, and partly because they were still getting upward of 50,000 fans for many home games-the like of which the Championship had never seen before. It is definitely questionable whether any of the above would combine to ensure they bounced straight back up?
It would be a real test for even the most avid Newcastle fan this time around to sign up for a season ticket. Fans who haven’t seen their beloved Newcastle win a trophy for almost 50 years, who week in and week out, year after year, have been starved of any meaningful success, particularly over the last decade. The Mike Ashley regime is sucking dry the last remains of some of the most passionate fans in the country. Could relegation finally tilt them over the edge?
More worryingly though would be the squad that Newcastle would be left with if they were to drop out of the Premier League. If the majority cannot currently show the desire and commitment needed to play in the best league in the world, how many of them are going to be up for mid-week matches away to some of the clubs that ply their trade in the Championship? How many of them are going to roll up their sleeves on a cold Tuesday night and fight for the cause?
It is difficult to think of anybody apart from one or two who could be relied on if relegation was to happen. Players would undoubtedly leave in the summer and a number of suitable, battle-hardened Championship replacements would need to be found.
A lack of home-grown and British based players is a real problem for Newcastle currently in the Premier League and they would surely need to toughen up their ranks with a few new ones. The acquisition of Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend were good bits of business but they signed on the premise of playing Premier League football and who knows if they would be up for the fight in the second tier.
The numbers show that clubs have been swallowed up by the Championship in recent times. Only five of 30 clubs relegated in the last 10 years have come straight back up. Blackpool, Wigan, Norwich and Southampton dropped into League One having recently played in the top flight and bigger clubs like Leeds and Nottingham Forest still haven’t been able to find their way back up with the big boys. Relegation and a season in the Championship would undoubtedly be damaging, but it is staying there that will most frighten Newcastle fans.