One of the things I love about being home in Ireland is getting together with family and friends around the Christmas period for a good old knees up and catch up. When the banal chit-chat subsides, we revert back to our old selves and discuss the pressing issues in our lives. When I say ‘pressing issues’ I mean football, of course. Ireland has such a plethora of differing football supporters, ranging from the obvious Manchester United and Liverpool fans, to the recently sprouting glory supporters of Manchester City and Chelsea, with a fair few Arsenal, Spurs and Everton fans thrown in for good measure. I blaze a lonely trail in my home-town as being of the few Newcastle United supporters I know. So when debates are raging about where the title is going this season, and who will make up the top 6, no-one mentions Newcastle United, not even me.
However, in the cold light of day (and sobriety) I wonder to myself, do Newcastle United have a genuine claim on the top 6, or even higher? A team that has put itself in the mix of the top 6 by the halfway point of the season must surely have done something right? Newcastle United have already taken maximum points from perennial top 4 contenders Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as avoiding defeat to Liverpool, so why should we not consider ourselves among those competing at the top?
We all know the reasons why we are not being considered, and why largely, we do not even consider ourselves to be of that calibre. First and foremost, we are over-achieving. Many of our players are playing above and beyond their capabilities, and while that is welcoming to see, one must consider the fact that this is not sustainable over the course of an entire season, and sooner or later performances will dip. Secondly, we have been fortunate with injuries and suspensions thus far, if we were to suffer from either in the coming months, then surely our results will suffer too.
I look back at the season in which we finished 5th and I am seeing an awful lot of similarities. We are staying relatively injury free, getting the rub of the green in some games (we would not have beaten Stoke without those 2 red cards in my view) and a number of the top teams are under-performing – Manchester United and Tottenham to be precise. So amidst this concoction, does there not lie an opportunity that could be seized upon? If we played these circumstances to our advantage could we not sneak into the top 4?
Personally, I think with the squad we have currently, that would be a stretch too far and that the only way that this opportunity can be seized upon is by some intelligent investment in January. God knows where we would be in the table had we signed more than Loic Remy in the summer, but alas there was another opportunity missed by the ‘omniscient’ Mike Ashley. This blunder can be rectified in January though, and our top 4 pipe-dream could become a very real possibility if we see some ambition from the top.
As we head into a crucial game at home to title contenders Arsenal, the question must be ‘how far can this Newcastle United team go this season?’. If we manage to beat Arsenal and take all 3 points, the answer on all of our lips should be ‘very far indeed’. The only issue then is will this potential and momentum be seized upon and capitalised by Mike Ashley, or will we be left to huff and puff and run out of steam? Just because top 10 was the target by the start of the season doesn’t mean we should let our season be determined by it.
What do you think? Should we strive for more, or settle for where we are at?