EPL survival for improving Newcastle unlikely, says Richard Buxton
Newcastle show signs of revival under Benitez, who picks the best players, but survival seems unlikely
(Vurnon Anita 31)
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 14)
Rafael Benitez is fast gaining a reputation for himself as football's go-to man in a crisis.
From the heights of Real Madrid and Chelsea to the depths of Newcastle United, seemingly there is no job too big or miniscule for an increasingly journeyman manager.
Less than six weeks into his tenure, the Magpies are already a club in the Spaniard's own image.
Yesterday morning's (Singapore time) hard-fought 1-1 draw with Manchester City was a sign that Newcastle's fight for survival is set to go right down to the wire.
But it may be a case of too late, rather than too little.
Much like the already condemned Aston Villa, Newcastle's prospective demise in tumbling into the Championship for the second time in seven years has been founded on almost a decade of chronic mismanagement, both on and off the pitch.
Throwing Benitez, a man who spent large part of his managerial career at odds with hierarchical figures, into that mix appeared, with foundation, to be a recipe for disaster.
Yet the fire-starter has reformed himself into a firefighter, desperately trying to put out the inferno which still threatens to claim Newcastle's English Premier League status.
Unwelcomely holding the accolade of transitioning from the Champions League to the Championship in less than four months is what spurs Benitez on.
He has ruthlessly rung the changes, with form now ruling a squad which was once dictated by favouritism.
Resilience and belief, two attributes that were conspicuous by their absence earlier this season during the rudderless reign of Steve McClaren, have returned with a vengeance.
The Gallowgate End's long-suffering inhabitants finally have something to cheer about.
Two points currently separate the Magpies from safety but another dramatic final-day escape, as proved the case last season against West Ham, appears increasingly unlikely.
An unenviable run-in sees them contend with his former club Liverpool on Saturday, a barely safe Crystal Palace (April 30), a doomed Villa side playing for pride (May 7) and title-chasing Tottenham on the final day of the season.
Even with a game in hand, Sunderland's prospects do not augur much better.
With remaining fixtures against Arsenal, Stoke City, Chelsea, Everton and Watford, few would give Sam Allardyce's side much hope of emerging as the sole survivors.
Newcastle's arch-rivals, however, have form with beating the drop - it has become an annual occurrence in recent years.
Injury free and riding high following last weekend's comfortable 3-0 victory over Norwich City, the Black Cats appear better placed than most.
The Canaries are set to face similarly stern challenges, not least with the Gunners as well as three of their opposing managers still scrapping for their futures - Watford's Quique Sanchez Flores, Everton's Roberto Martinez and Manchester United's Louis van Gaal.
Even with a one-point lead over Sunderland, Alex Neil lacks the experience required to steer away from a relegation dogfight - Allardyce has founded an entire career on it.
Even Benitez's track record for overseeing the improbable - including Liverpool's famous comeback victory over AC Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul 11 years ago - may struggle to save Newcastle from their EPL fate.
Timing, or rather the distinct lack of it, is what threatens to condemn them to the second tier of English football.
Dithering over whether to jettison a beleaguered McClaren, leaving his successor with little over two months and nine games to transform fortunes, is set to be their greatest undoing.
Wondering what might have been may haunt the Magpies in the seasons to follow.
My connection with Liverpool is obvious, it’s quite good, but hopefully they will do really well in the Europa League and we can get three points in the Premier League. What we have is belief. We believe now that we can fight, we can beat anyone and, in the next games, we have to show that.
— Rafael Benitez targeting victory over former club Liverpool on Saturday
The relegation dogfight
Press Association Sport analyses the run-ins of relegation-threatened Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle United
- Current position: 17th
- Games played: 34
- Points: 31
- Goal difference: -25
Alex Neil's side have points on the board but, after taking just three from a run of games against Newcastle, Sunderland and fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, their survival is no longer in their own hands. The Canaries face two sides fighting for the top four in their next outings and the clash with Watford at home in the penultimate round of fixtures could prove crucial.
- April 30: Arsenal (a)
- May 7: Man United (h)
- May 11: Watford (h)
- May 15: Everton (a).
- Current position: 18th
- Games played: 33
- Points: 30
- Goal difference: -18
Just two losses in their last nine means Sunderland have the chance to define their own destiny, starting with Arsenal this weekend.
A tricky trip to Stoke is followed by consecutive home games where Allardyce will be hoping the Black Cats can inspire another memorable escapology act, with a clash at Watford closing the season.
- Sunday: Arsenal (h)
- April 30: Stoke (a)
- May 7: Chelsea (h)
- May 11: Everton (h)
- May 15: Watford (a)
- Current position: 19th
- Games played: 34
- Points: 29
- Goal difference: -26
Four points from their last two games have given Newcastle hope that Rafa Benitez can keep them up.
A confident 3-0 win over Swansea was backed up with a battling draw against Manchester City, but their close to the season is a mixed bag. Games against Palace and already-relegated Villa are promising but tricky matches against Liverpool and Tottenham could yet prove too much.
- Saturday: Liverpool (a)
- April 30: Crystal Palace (h)
- May 7: Aston Villa (a)
- May 15: Tottenham (h).
Magpies rue linesman's miss
PHOTO: SCREEN SHOT/SKY SPORTS
Rafael Benitez was left to rue an offside goal from Sergio Aguero yesterday morning (Singapore time) that could cost Newcastle United in the relegation race at the end of the season.
Aguero scored his 100th goal in the Premier League as Newcastle missed out on moving out of the bottom three for the first time under Benitez.
As Manchester City waited for Aleksandar Kolarov to whip in a free-kick in the 14th minute, Aguero stood in an offside position (above).
As the free-kick was taken, the Argentinian was still offside. Yet, when he headed the ball into the goal, assistant referee Dave Bryan did not raise his flag, so referee Kevin Friend allowed the goal to stand. - Wire Services.
WHAT THEY SAY
I did not see the replay but everybody says it was offside. It was a pity. Hopefully, we will not have bad decisions in our next games. That’s it. We cannot change it.
— Rafael Benitez
Aguero’s two-and-a-half, three metres offside when the ball is delivered. The linesman has to be asking the question, ‘is he going to stay offside?’. It should be quite obvious. He’s running with the play, but he’s not in command of the situation.
— Former Man City striker Niall Quinn