For some clubs, relegation from the top flight of English football has been the start of a downward spiral that no amount of parachute payments can save them from. They continue falling through the trapdoors, until they end up wondering just how they managed to let everything slip through their fingers. No club is truly safe. (Just ask Aston Villa, currently sitting in 19th.)
For others, the drop drown gives them a chance to drop the deadwood in the squad, reshaping the team as they’re suddenly expected to win a majority of games in a league where the quality of defenders is lessened. Strikers can have a new lease of life, while realistic transfer targets will work hard and respect the fans and the history of the club.
Performances on the pitch are transformed, and the club gets promoted with a solid foundation to build upon in their first season back.
So, what will become of Newcastle after they suffered the drop last season? A majority of pundits and papers made it clear at the beginning of the season that they expect the club to achieve automatic promotion, and they look more than capable of achieving those aims if they carry on at their current rate of points per game.
Results have been steady so far, although it’s near impossible not to drop points in the Championship. They currently sit third in the table, and it took a hard fought 1-0 win over Rotherham to take all three points in their last league encounter. Winning the league could be a stretch, but they’re just three points off the summit with 11 games played, and the squad is beginning to settle.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the players in the famous black and white strip have had to fight their way out of the Championship. They went down in 2008/09, as the appointment of Alan Shearer as a temporary manager wasn’t enough to get the side to raise their game in the latter stages of the season. He was hardly the English equivalent of Pep Guardiola, but it was widely agreed that there was enough quality in the side to beat the drop. They had just underperformed all season.
They were promoted in the following season, as Chris Hughton led the team to a league winning tally of 102 points. They finished 11 points ahead of West Brom in second, and a whopping 23 points ahead of Nottingham Forest in third. They got rid of high earners like Michael Owen, Damien Duff and Geremi, with former youth trainee Andy Carroll and free transfer Peter Løvenkrands scoring 30 goals between them.
There are a few parallels with the team of today, although they’re unlikely to cruise to the title in a similar manner. There are lots of potential bumps on the road to the top flight, and they’re arguably the biggest scalp in the Championship.
Holding on to Rafa Benitez proved to be a masterstroke, regardless of whether or not the Spaniard expected to be plying his trade in the second division of England. His tactical abilities are proving to be the difference, as a reshuffle led to more control in the Rotherham game, who belied their status as the club currently propping up the table.
Georginio Wijnaldum, Andros Townsend and Moussa Sissoko were hardly deadwood, but the club have brought in Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Grant Hanley among others. They made a £30m transfer profit over the summer, but still managed to bring in enough bodies to shore up the gaps in their squad. They’re undoubtedly more of a cohesive unit, and they’re playing for each other and the manager. Keeping players that are proven at Premier League level such as Jonjo Shelvey has also helped, as he and Ritchie have been able to bypass defenders with their passing range and dribbling ability respectively.
Current form suggests that the club have what it takes to clinch the title, but it’s worth remembering that they needed late heroics to win their first game in three just a week ago against Norwich. The 6-0 demolition of QPR in early September led to claims that they would walk the league with ease, but they followed it up with a loss to Wolves and a draw with a struggling Aston Villa side. It was an early wobble, and they needed to respond in their next match with a statement of intent on the pitch.
When they were down 3-1 at home to Norwich in a must-win game, it seemed that their early promise could have been short lived. Instead, they fought back in a 4-3 thriller that ended with their notoriously calm manager pumping his fist in delight as the extra-time goal flew in the fifth minute of extra-time.
The manager isn’t there to collect a paycheck, and it would enhance his reputation to no end if he manages to guide the club back to the Premier League after arriving just a little too late last season. Despite receiving praise for instant change seen upon his arrival, the relegation is a stain on the resume of one of the best in the business, and Benitez will want to bring them back up straight away. He’s committed to the cause.
They face Brentford and Barnsley after the international break, and a couple of wins could see them up into the top spot by the end of the month. The 2008/09 squad recovered from a blip in October to sprint to the finish, and the current crop will be hoping to emulate the side for the rest of the season.
It’s too early to call, but Newcastle look to be in with a great chance of coming back up at the first time of asking. They’ve been able to restructure the side in a short period, and the new playing personnel seem to be up to the task. Above all, they’ve done things the right way, which is strange considering the continued mismanagement seen at the club since they last made it back to the Premier League. It might not be a canter, but they have the capability to win the league once again.