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It is hard to imagine given the trials and tribulations of the past few seasons that with a mere handful of matches remaining in the League this year that the toon army are still in with a very realistic shout of attaining a hallowed place in European competition next season.
And not just in the Europa league, but with a reasonable shout at getting a coveted champions league spot. With the wheels properly off the managerless Chelsea’s bandwagon and the perennial underachieving Arsenal facing a difficult run in it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the boys in black and white will leapfrog into fourth place and the knockout stages of the Champion’s league.
Cracking the top four
Not many have managed to crack the top four in recent years and even when Everton bucked all the odds and managed the impossible they went spiralling out of the premier European competition at the first hurdle. But still the prospect remains in place at the moment; Newcastle United could realistically get into the Champions League next year. If you had suggested that at the start of the season to anyone in the north east you would have been smiled at, patted on the head and given an appointment card for the local head doctor.
April is the key
Looking at the run in there are a series of key matches in upcoming weeks which will define the season. Sure no one can deny that the results that the team have managed to pull off up to now have got them into the position they are at the moment. Particularly memorable are the 3-0 win over Manchester Utd (what odds on that at the start of the season) or the early season away win over Sunderland which set the momentum for the team to project forward.
A speculative look over the next ten fixtures shows up a number of matches where you find yourself already adding on the points. You would expect at least 4 more from the March fixtures (Norwich at home and West Brom away). Six points would take the team to 50 for the season.
Fourth place in the league
For the fourth place in the league the target is usually mid to high sixties. Certainly within Newcastle’s sights, particularly with the run of fixtures which is to follow in April. Four key matches really stick out in the April schedule. At home to Bolton and Stoke, then away to Swansea and Wigan are the four games that could make or break the season.
None of those matches are easy. Particularly with teams scrapping for their Premier League lives. Who will forget the heroic Houdini act performed by Wigan last season? Given the calibre of performances Newcastle have put in this season these are games they should win, must expect to win, let us hope that their nerve stays true and they don’t falter with the prize almost in their grasp.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
Ok the club has the uncanny ability of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, of blowing it big style, and just when the success seemed almost assured. So what should be different this time? Are we about to experience another nearly ran season? A recent run of defeats, particularly the crushing dying seconds defeat by Arsenal are ominous. What is going to be different this time around and what is there about the team, the squad and the manager to give the Geordie faithful something to pin their hopes on.
Depth in squad
Well depth in squad is not something that they have in abundance. There is some cover in a few key areas but truth be told that the loss of any of the key personnel at this stage of the campaign could prove cataclysmic. In particular they cannot afford to lose their goal machine Ba.
The loss of striker of his ability at this stage of the game, even if only for a few matches could prove the undoing of the team. It is impossible to see Leon Best stepping in and having the impact that Ba has had in front of goal, were he called to at this stage. His match fitness alone could take two or three games to gear up and even then he is just not the same standard of player.
Are the team good enough?
The team as they are are good enough, they just need to stay fit and focussed. In order to do that you must look to the manager. Pardew is undoubtedly a cool head, good under fire, given the baptism he had at the club he has managed to turn the fans around, but he is untested in this situation.
He has seen a few relegation battles, and been on the wrong side of winning but if he can manage to keep his players fit, settled and driven he has the opportunity to write himself into the clubs history and at least earn himself a contract for the next two years.