With Fulham giving Newcastle the gift of losing in heartbreaking fashion in a winnable match, Newcastle were able to walk away with 3 points away from home this past weekend against Burnley. This result proved to be a significant one as the gap between Newcastle and the relegation zone grew to 6 points with Newcastle having a game in hand over Fulham.
Results this weekend have created a little bit of drama as we enter the final stretch of the season here are some thoughts following Newcastle’s win and the results of this past weekend.
Newcastle United Need their Big 3
When Newcastle announced their lineup to face Burnley this past weekend the majority of the chatter was surrounding Callum Wilson and Allan-Saint-Maximin being on the bench. The return of the duo after missing all of March is the glimmer of hope Newcastle fans needed ahead of a crucial match against another bottom half side. That being said, it was not at all surprising that when the pair were subbed onto the pitch Allan Saint-Maximin single handedly brought Newcastle to victory with the match-tying assist and match-winning goal.
It is really easy to walk away from that match and declare how good Allan Saint-Maximin is and how much Newcastle need him. But, I think it is even more important to point out that Newcastle legitimately cannot win matches without the trio of Miguel Almirón, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson. This season, in matches where none of the trio appeared, Newcastle have failed to win. All 8 of Newcastle’s wins involve at least two out of the three players making an appearance for the side.
It seems as if no matter how lost Newcastle may be tactically, or how awful they look, with those three playing Newcastle have a chance to pick up a result. If Newcastle are able stay in the Premier League this season, it will be solely because of those three players generating offense that gets us results... and Martin Dubravka keeping us in matches. We cannot rely on Steve Bruce to get things correct tactically, as that rarely happens. We cannot rely on defensive solidity like we could in the Rafa years because one of the stories of this season has been how many goals Newcastle have let in due to very simple defensive errors or miscues. We cannot rely on other teams around us falling out of form or throwing away results in order for Newcastle to remain relatively safe. It’s reckless to rely on other teams’ failures to keep you safe because that does nothing to guarantee your own team’s safety. The way to avoid relegation is simply to win matches. You can’t be focused on other teams helping you out. You must win matches yourself, and Newcastle’s “big 3” is the best chance they have at winning matches.
Consistency is Key
Winning is great, but Newcastle have failed to do that often this season. One large frustration with watching Newcastle this year has been the lack of consistency. Newcastle seem to be incapable of stringing together 3-4 solid results and picking up a good amount of points in the process. They often somehow look good against a random top 6 side, and the follow this performance up with a loss or draw to a team that is in the bottom 6. The Burnley match is the first time this season Newcastle have followed up a solid performance against one of the “big 6” with a win against a team in the bottom half of the table.
When Newcastle had their impressive 2-0 win over Everton featuring the 4-4-2 diamond formation, they followed up that result with a loss, and then the same formation got them a win against Southampton before they went on to lose 2 straight and pick up a few draws using the formation. Newcastle seem to be incapable of going on a run of results that nets them multiple wins and draws within a span of a few matches.
Results aside, Newcastle have honestly failed to have two complete performances in a row. It is really hard to find a stretch of matches in which in 2-3 straight matches a fan can say “wow we looked good”. Even now after looking really good against Tottenham for 84 minutes, Newcastle faced a struggling Burnley side who were missing their starting keeper and Newcastle were genuinely awful until Bruce made his first subs.
If Newcastle can pick up a result against West Ham, that would mean Newcastle would have gone 3 straight unbeaten for the only the second time this season. That is not even “consistent” by some people’s standards, but going 3 straight unbeaten would be a step in the right direction for a team with only 3 wins in their past 22 matches.
The Relegation Scrap is Far From Over
Yes, Newcastle did create some separation from the relegation zone, but this past weekend’s results have made it a tight race for everyone around the relegation zone. Fulham lost this weekend, while Newcastle won which made the gap between 17th and 18th place 6 points. Burnley’s loss to Newcastle sees them only one point ahead of Newcastle in 16th. Southampton’s 3 goal loss to West Brom not only put West Brom back into the survival picture, but also highlighted the fact that Southampton sneakily have lost 3 of their last 5 and are starting to show some signs of potentially slipping up. After back to back wins over Southampton and Newcastle, it seems as if Brighton are starting to return to their unlucky goal scoring woes. After losing to Manchester United, Brighton failed to score against Everton despite having a whopping 23 shots in the match. This left them level on points with Burnley and only one point ahead of Newcastle.
What makes this interesting is that down the stretch all of these teams have a similar run of matches. The majority of the teams have a run of matches that sees them facing 2-3 teams in the bottom half of the table, and playing a few matches in teams that are pushing for European spots. This means realistically each one of these teams need to win 2 of the matches against teams around them and pull off an upset against a team in the top half of the table. With the majority of these teams playing top half sides all in April, it is possible this does go down to the final match days of the season. The other thing of note is that none of these teams are in good form and have been wildly inconsistent. There is no telling what can happen in the next few weeks as all of these sides are capable of pulling off massive upsets, or getting blown out of the water by teams around them in the table. The only team with a ridiculously hard schedule is West Brom who unfortunately don’t have any matches against teams in the lower half of the table. The “easiest” matches they have to close out the season are against Aston Villa, Wolves, and Leeds.
The good news for Newcastle is that they are one of the few teams in this scrap with a proven goalscorer in Callum Wilson. Goals win you matches, and it is reassuring when you have a player in Callum who you can rely on to get you a goal with very few chances. Newcastle also have the advantage of having probably the most dynamic player in the bottom half of the table, in Allan Saint- Maximin who is a handful for defenders and whose presence alone creates opportunities for other players on the pitch to step up and be heroes. On that same note Newcastle are without two of their most consistent players in Jamal Lascelles and Isaac Hayden for the rest of the season. The loss of those two is crucial as Lascelles’ best trait was his ability to keep a defense organized while Isaac Hayden is legitimately the only midfielder that defends well at Newcastle.
The chaos to close out this season is going to be immense and starts this weekend when Newcastle take on West Ham who are surprisingly in 4th place. Regardless of that result, Newcastle fans are going to likely be paying attention to a plethora of matches around the league in the coming weeks as Newcastle could find themselves in the relegation zone in two weeks time or in 15th. Right now, it’s probably more fun to think about how fun it was to win a match we desperately needed to win.