In Part 1 of our "Managing Expectations" series, we asked whether Newcastle's 11-game unbeaten run was impressive or merely unremarkable. Our conclusion: We wouldn't dare dream of a title run lasting through May, but this is a special team (relative to Newcastle's recent fortunes, of course). With that in mind, we look forward to a three week stretch featuring Manchester City (A), Manchester United (A), and Chelsea (H), and wonder how many points the Toon can steal.
It's not often that a team faces the number 1, 2, and 4 teams (as of this moment) in a row. In years previous, I would have looked at such a gauntlet and said, "Zero points." It may happen this year. But the play of the current team - not just the results, but the process that has gotten them to a place where they have earned points every time they stepped on the pitch - has me wanting, and Lord help me, expecting more. But to what end? There would certainly be no shame in losing outright to all three (and, as I stated in Part 1, I would still believe Newcastle were "real", as long as they don't lose 8-1 each time). These opponents are all quality teams fielding deep rosters full of talented players we would kill to have the privilege of cheering for. I have to admit, though, such a result would be deflating, if only a little. Again, there are no illusions of grandeur here. Newcastle is a team built to turn draws into wins and losses into draws, so to fail to do that once in three tries, no matter how superior the competition, would be cause to reevaluate the long-term tenability of such a system.
If we're not happy rolling over and losing, even if the scoreline is respectable each time out, what should be considered a success? 1 point? 2? I'll be honest: 3 points would probably send me over the moon. Either a win and 2 losses or 3 draws would send a message that Newcastle can play with the big boys. Maybe they're not truly a third place team, but they can take a punch and even deliver one back. That's not out of the realm of possibility, either. We've broached this subject ad nauseam, but Newcastle's failings last year were mostly self-inflicted, as they played down to the level of competition rather than failing to get up for big games.
That's no guarantee that they can do the same this time out, but it's a comforting thought nonetheless. The Magpies were unable to obtain a positive result against City last season, but they were able to draw Man Utd and do the same to Chelsea twice. It's not an impossible job, which is a pretty relieving thought. It's easy to look at any three hard tasks you've got to accomplish and make them even more difficult in your mind, simply from the accumulation of it all. However, if you can follow the cliche and take it one at a time, it's not so bad after all. If Newcastle go into the first match thinking about the stretch ahead of them, it'll be 4-0 to the bad guys by halftime. However, if they've got City in their crosshairs, anything can happen. I believe in Alan Pardew enough to see this as a viable possibility.
I'll probably find a way to be happy with this team even if they embarrass themselves over this stretch. 25 points from 14 games is not bad, after all. However, I will be disappointed if they come away empty-handed. Where do you stand? 9 points or bust? Or will you just be happy if they aren't laughed off the pitch at any point?