I don’t wish to dwell too much on the Everton result. I’m one of the more vocal critics about this team, and the direction it is going in, but that all stems from my well-founded hatred for Mike Ashley. Without Loic Remy we struggle to score goals and without Debuchy we struggle to prevent conceding them. Take the two of them from the team and we’re going to struggle, and against very good opposition (Everton aren’t quality opposition) we were made to look like a bunch of amateurs. The defending for the first goal was a comedy of errors that would have been funny for non-Newcastle United supporters. The lack of cover for Paul Dummett, who was being destroyed by Deloufeu the entire game, demonstrated how our coaching staff failed to make even the most obvious of tactical changes. Needless to say, we were beaten by a much, much better side. However, the fact that a club like Everton are streets ahead of us in terms of quality and where they are as a football club has to be one of the more damning indictments of where Mike Ashley is taking us.
As I said, I am not going to dwell on the game, we were poor, we were beaten, end of. Next up is the ‘crunch match’ against Southampton in the game being billed as ‘the race for 8th’ – it’s being billed as this either by those who are being incredibly sarcastic or by bona fide morons.
Having watched a lot of both clubs this season, I wouldn’t describe this game as a ‘race’ but rather more of a slow crawl; as the headline would suggest. While Southampton are a team I very much admire, in particular, players like Lallana, Rodriguez and Shaw are excellent players who should all be on the plane to Brazil this summer. However, despite this admiration I do feel that Southampton are a flawed side as well. They buckle under pressure, and while it is rather easy to play football on the front foot, when the pressure inevitably comes back at you you’ve got to be able to cope with that and in recent weeks, I’ve seen little grit and determination from this Southampton side – case in point being the utter capitulation in the 2nd half at White Hart Lane following an impressive 1st half performance where they totally dominated proceedings.
I predicted a few weeks ago that Southampton would finish in 8th comfortably, yet we still occupy that position by a single point over Southampton – due solely to lucky last-minute winners against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace which afforded us 6 points when 2 looked likely as well as the fact that Southampton look keen to hand us 8th place with some really poor results of their own – defeats to West Ham and Spurs in recent weeks. I still think Southampton will finish above us and no doubt it will be lauded as a successful season for us to finish just behind Southampton due to how we ‘cannot compete financially with clubs like Southampton’ – That was an ACTUAL quote from the silver fox about our respective clubs!
So realistically, here is how I see things panning out. I can see us getting beat off Southampton fairly easily, Southampton will finish in 8th with us a good few points behind them in 9th which will be hailed as progress. That is my pre-match assessment. I will not go into any more detail because the rest of our season does not matter. Forget about this season it is dead and buried. I am going to focus on the future – ie the next couple of months.
In an attempt at being pre-emptive I will guess what the apologists will say. They will say that the likes of Everton and Southampton spent more money than us so it is to be expected that they finish above us. They will say that clubs like Swansea and West Ham spent more money than us so it is a success that we finish ahead of them and shows that money can’t buy success blah blah blah. They will compare us to Sunderland who have had great cup runs but look likely to get relegated and will say that they would rather mid-table obscurity than the delirium of a Wembley visit. They will look at the next transfer window and say that we should ‘wait and see’ and that ‘this window will show whether Ashley has ambition or not’ despite the fact that they said the same thing 3 transfer windows ago.
All of the above is utter tosh, of course. We were outspent by every single Premier League club this season – due to the fact that we spent nothing. It is never success for a club like Newcastle United to finish 9th, or even 8th if we win this nail-biting ‘race’ against Southampton. Mid-table, early cup exits, 2 derby defeats and the sale of the best CM we’ve had since Speed or Lee can never be seen as a successful season.
As for the next transfer window? It will get worse before it gets better. Remy is certain to leave, as is Shola due to his contract expiring and de Jong looks unlikely to be offered the chance to stay at Newcastle United permanently unless he can get some goals. Colocinni is likely to leave as well, with Hatem Ben Arfa in the shop window with only 1 year left on his contract. Mathieu Debuchy, Tim Krul and Cheick Tiote are our remaining high value assets and while I don’t think Krul or Tiote will leave the club, I do think Debuchy could be eyeing the exit. Whether a club comes in to match his valuation remains to be seen.
It is without doubt that we entered this season at least 3/4 players short of an accomplished squad. We have been relatively lucky with injuries this season yet when minor injuries stuck, we have been woefully exposed – as we have been recently. So if we were to state that with the sale of Cabaye, we are 4/5 players short of an accomplished squad, with the departures of Remy and Shola certain, that number increases to 6/7.
So without even speculating about the possible sales of other United players, it remains that we need to sign 6/7 players in order to have a competitive squad.
There will be people out there who will be happy if we sign 1 striker, a winger and a Cabaye replacement and see that as progress. Despite the fact that this will leave us with 2 strikers, one of whom will be Papiss Cisse. It will also not bolster the squad as we’re simply replacing a player we’ve sold 6 months prior as well as signing a winger we’ve desperately needed for years.
We need to demand more from Ashley. We will sign players this summer. I am certain of it. The reason I am certain is because we will be relegated if we don’t. Ashley is lowering our expectations to such an extent that we will welcome any signings as progress, he is the benevolent master and we are the worthless dogs on the ground feeding off the scraps from his table – at least that is how he sees us.
When will we have some respect for ourselves and demand more. I will state it right here and right now that unless we get 6 quality players who can make an immediate contribution to the first team, we will struggle next season. We will certainly finish lower than the 9th position we are currently occupying and unless we make that number of signings we will realistically be fighting a relegation battle.
Sound over-dramatic? That is the reality we are faced with. Do not let the apologists and the happy clappers fool you into thinking anything different.
Race for 8th? This time next season we’ll be involved in a much more exciting race. A race for survival.