The latest run of games for Newcastle have been great, and not just because of the wins. Yes, four straight wins in league play, five overall, is outstanding form. But to do it against the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City? Heavenly. Taking all three points away at fellow mid-table side West Brom was a great way to cap a stretch of games heading into the International break as well.
It is tempting to look at Newcastle's upcoming fixture list and proclaim that the good times will continue. Relegation candidates QPR, Burnley and Sunderland are peppered amongst what might be considered "more challenging matches. But, Newcastle often has trouble producing against the bottom sides. If newcastle is to compete for a spot in Europe, or even keep their place in the top half, they can't overlook these sides that have sometimes gotten the better of them. Let's take a look at how Newcastle have faired against the bottom five clubs each season since coming back to the Premier League. We'll also take a look at Sunderland, who while sometimes escaping the bottom five usually aren't that far away.
Newcastle finish: 10th (Still kind of funny)
Bottom five: Hull City, West Brom, Norwich City, Fullham, Cardiff City
Sunderland finish: 14, 5 points above the drop zone.
Newcastle against Bottom Five and Sunderland: 6-1-5
Most embarrassing defeat: it has to be the 3-0 derby loss to Sunderland at home, doesn't it? Or if you prefer, the 1-0 loss to Fulham or the 0-0 draw to Norwich.
Newcastle actually had a winning record in the selected matches, but still left a lot of points on the table. The 0-0 draw to Norwich is panful, since the Canaries conceded 62 goals and carried a -34 goal differential. If you put a lot of stake in the derby, you could argue that if Newcastle had won those matches, then Sunderland might have been relegated. Even grabbing two points makes the Mackems sweat a little more.
Overall, Newcastle was a +3 in GD in these matches, due in part to a rare convincing win: 4-1 over Hull.
Newcastle finish: 16th, 5 points above the drop zone
Bottom five: Newcastle, Sunderland, Wigan, Reading, Queen's Park Rangers. Since Newcastle was in the bottom five, I'll include Aston Villa and Southampton in my count. This will give us 12 matches to look at.
Newcastle in selected matches: 5-3-4
Most embarrassing defeat: Probably the 0-3 loss to Sunderland (two years in a row!) Other losses included two 2-1 defeats to Reading and Wigan. Reading is more embarrassing because it happened at home, and that Wigan match was awful on many levels.
Another winning record. It was getting all three points late in the season at QPR that saved the season for Newcastle. But, they missed chances early in the season to gain points. The first three of these matches ended in draws. With just five points between Newcastle and the trap door, those are major points to leave on the table. The Mackems meanwhile finished just three points above relegation, so Newcastle's failure to gain wins in the derby was once again instrumental in keeping Sunderland in top flight.
Newcastle finish: 5th
Bottom five: Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers, Bolton, Blackburn, Wolves
Sunderland finish: A respectable 13th, 9 points above the drop zone.
Newcastle's record in selected matches: 8-4-0
Newcastle took care of business against the bottom feeders this season, compiling a fairly impressive +12 GD in the 10 matches. There were no losses either. The most frustrating of these matches might have been a 2-2 draw to Wolves at St. James' Park, where Newcastle had a 2-0 lead after 18 minutes and let it slip away. This was also the last time Newcastle beat Sunderland, with a 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light.
Of course, success against the bottom leads to a high perch on the table. Getting 28 of the possible 36 points here helped Newcastle to a top five finish and entrance into the Europa League.
Newcastle finish: 12th
Bottom five: Wigan, Wolves, Birmingham City, Blackpool, West Ham
Sunderland finish: 10th
Newcastle's record in selected matches: 7-4-1
Not that bad, actually. For a newly promoted side, Newcastle knew they would have to win matches against other lower teams to survive, and that they did. Over half their points that season came from these matches (and all but four of their wins). But let's see what happened two years prior when Newcastle were relegated.
Newcastle finish: 18th
Bottom five: Sunderland, Hull, Newcastle, Middlesborough, West Brom
We'll include Blackburn and Portsmouth in our calculations this time, as both were level with 41 points (7 above Newcastle) and had a GD of -20 and -19 respectively. I will not include Bolton, who also had 41 points because they had a GD of -12. More or less, Blackburn and Portsmouth are practically the same quality, while Bolton proved themselves to be a little bit better. Also, it keeps our selected matches at 12, which fits in with the rest of the entries.
Newcastle's record in selected matches: 4-4-4
Most embarrassing defeat: None were overly bad, except for an 0-3 loss to Blackburn. Blackburn actually managed a double over the Mags that year. Newcastle got a double themselves over West Brom, who finished last that year. If you want to look at most infuriating, Newcastle lost 2-1 and drew 1-1 with Hull, the team that stayed in the Premier League by one point. The 4-4-4 record isn't terrible, but with a little improvement, Newcastle stays in the Premier League.
As you can see, Newcastle has not exactly been world beaters against the bottom feeders of the Premier League. If you want a reason as to why Newcastle hasn't challenged for European spots, look at the points being left on the table during these matches. While Newcastle's record in these matches isn't terrible, it isn't nearly where it should be considering where this club should be. (Interesting note: In the one season in the Championship, one of Newcastle's four losses was to a side that was relegated).
With QPR and Burnley sandwiched around a match with surprise West Ham, the next three matches could truly hold the key to Newcastle's season. Following these three is Chelsea, Arsenal, and Sunderland Take the bulk of the points, and there's a chance at competing for Europe. Drop a few results, and it may be another mid-table slog again. Every match matters in the Premier League, and Newcastle would be wise to not overlook their competition down the table.