19 March ~ What a weird season it has been for the Premier League. With just nine games left no one really has a clue who is going to be demoted to the Championship. For Newcastle fans such as myself, thumping Aston Villa 6-1 then losing to Stevenage – with an inexplicable change of managers in between – is all par for the course.
I always start the season with a mixture of excitement and dread, but this year, with the club returning to the Premier League, the dread won out. While some of the more optimistic fans were talking about qualifying for Europe, I would have been quite content with finishing 17th and beating Sunderland at St James' Park. Yet Newcastle currently lie tenth with just a quarter of the season left. A win at Stoke today and a European place is still not completely out of the question.
My first season following the club in 1995-96 – when we were ten points clear at the top of the table at Christmas but had thrown it away by Easter – should serve as a constant reminder not to take anything for granted. Yet we have already gambled on survival by selling Andy Carroll on the last day of the January transfer window leaving us with an underwhelming strike force and no time to replace our leading goal-scorer.
True, it was for a huge amount of money which could be used to improve the team in the summer, but if we are relegated the club will lose much more than £35 million. Not to mention that the transfer upset most of the current squad; some players, such as Joey Barton, are even considering leaving because of it.
As things stand Newcastle have 36 points with ten teams below them. No club has ever been relegated with that number of points at this stage (West Ham got a record 42 points when going down in 2002-03 but they only had 26 points after 29 games before four wins nearly brought salvation). Surely two wins from nine is achievable. For any other club in any other season I would be convinced of survival but if any one could find a way to mess this up Newcastle will be the club to do it. Philip Lewis