The prowess and desire that Newcastle showed during the opening 45 minutes against Arsenal at St James’ Park on Saturday was that of a team pushing for a European spot, not a side third from bottom.
Anyone who witnessed the way in which Newcastle pushed forwards relentlessly and troubled Arsene Wenger’s side during the first half will find it hard to believe how easily Arsenal ran out as winners in the second half, the Gunners scoring three goals in 10 minutes.
The Magpies were made to pay for an Obafemi Martins penalty miss and Steven Taylor’s absence after he picked up a knock – Diaby and Nasri sealed the points in the second half.
All in all it’s been a tough season for Newcastle fans both on and off the pitch. Kevin Keegan’s departure in protest over the club’s recruitment policy early in the season infuriated supporters, piling pressure on owner Mike Ashley. The club’s owner looked as if he had got the message when he made a statement saying he wanted to sell the club, but no deal emerged and he decided to stay on.
Joe Kinnear was then brought in temporarily to replace Keegan in September, a deal which was then extended until the end of the season. But in early February, Kinnear was taken ill and it emerged that he would need a triple heart bypass operation. Chris Hughton was put in charge of first team affairs until Kinnear recovers.
Following Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to the Gunners, Hughton acknowledged the scale of the task ahead if Newcastle are to escape relegation. “I accept it’s going to be a dogfight through to the end of the season,” he said. “We need to get enough results to stay in this division and we need to get results quickly.”
Newcastle’s recent form leaves a lot to be desired. They have won just one of their last 12 Premier League games, winning at St James’ Park just four times all season – so ties at home to Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham will be crucial encounters. The Magpies’ next fixture is Chelsea’s visit to the north-east.
With eight games left to play, they face tricky trips to Liverpool, Aston Villa and Tottenham. However if they can show the same fighting spirit and genuine attacking quality that they showed in the first half on Saturday, and if they can get results against their fellow relegation candidates such as Stoke, safety is still a realistic possibility.
After Saturday’s defeat, Kevin Nolan called for the team to become ruthless their fight for safety. He said: “The lads are up for the fight and certainly, I believe we have got enough in the changing room and I don’t believe we will go down. It’s down to us now to start being ruthless, ruthless with each other and against teams.”
So manager Joe Kinnear looks set to be back in charge at St James’ by early April – a month that will surely define Newcastle’s season.
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