The story of Newcastle United's 2017-2018 season is that it took months to get in gear. That was, until February 11, when they stunned Manchester United at home. Newcastle’s season finally began this week.
This season had stalled a couple of times. The first stall nearly killed their season, when Newcastle failed to win between October 21 and December 23. Then a less severe stall occured after Christmas, when Newcastle could only draw against Brighton, Swansea, Burnley, and Crystal Palace. During that time, they also beat Stoke. But 7 points out of a possible 15 was a massive missed opportunity to achieve safety. Of course you have to take whatever points you can get, and 7 points is not insignificant. But had Newcastle won 2 of those 4 draws, they would probably be safe today.
And bad luck happens to teams that are in a slump. Newcastle had victory taken away at Palace due to a very soft penalty.
But sports karma is a funny thing. The Jets helped create the Patriots dynasty when Mo Lewis injured Drew Bledsoe and forced the debut of one Tom Brady. While not nearly as dramatic, Newcastle put all those frustrating draws behind them when Chris Smalling dove in front of Jonjo Shelvey and the referee. Newcastle were awarded a free kick. Shelvey and Lejune delivered the ball to Ritchie’s feet, and he calmly put the ball in the bottom right corner for the only goal of the night. Luck had nothing to do with it. The Lads had done it. They beat Manchester United all by themselves. Man U lacked creativity and sustained attacking. Still, Man U could have scored four goals with their swift counterattacks. But the Newcastle defenders and new keeper, Slovakian International, Martin Dúbravka, held the line.
Watch full highlights of the match (minus Smalling's dive) here.
No one on the home side had a bad game. Florian Lejeune was heroic in his long-awaited return from injury. Paul Dummett was a hero. Dwight Gayle made a goal line block with his legs. Twice. Mo Diamé’s fine recent form continued. Jonjo Shelvey was brilliant. And Jamal Lascelles showed us again why he is the captain - the best team captain in many years.
And with this win, their most thrilling since 2015 or so, Newcastle’s season has begun. There are 11 games left. They only really need to win 2 of them. But look at the table now:
A general rule in football is that a team needs to draw or win against teams that are beneath them in the table. Newcastle have upcoming matches against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Brom. If they win those 3, they will be fine. If they win just 2, I think they are still fine. What they cannot do is lose to any of those teams. They are not out of the woods yet.
But their season has just begun. And Islam Slimani makes his debut on February 25 at Bournemouth.