The longest away trip of the season beckons for Palace fans this weekend, so to provide something to read on the journey, TEB had a chat with Jake Jackman to find out about the season so far for Newcastle and thoughts ahead of the game.
Q. What did you make of the game at Selhurst earlier in the season?
I don’t remember it too well, which probably says more about the game than anything else. Palace have been poor at home and we were in the midst of a poor start, which led to what was a shutout. You had the better of the game, but despite a lack of investment across the playing squad, we are well organised and able to keep clean sheets in situations like this. I think both teams have improved since then.
Q. How desparate are the fans to see the club sold to new owners and see the back of Mike Ashley?
That is an obvious answer, we are counting down the days until we get a new owner. There have been several false dawns for the club in this regard with false takeover rumours. I believe there has been interest, but a deal of this magnitude is difficult to pull off, especially when the seller isn’t as motivated as he claims to be. Ashley likes owning a football club in the Premier League. If he didn’t, he’d have sold the club for a reasonable fee by now. You’d have to be deluded to buy Newcastle for £350million+ considering the investment needed in the facilities and the playing squad would take any potential takeover into numbers surpassing that. Unless a very rich Newcastle fan emerges from the Middle East, we won’t be without Mike for a while yet. Although the day will come…
Q. Is there a fear among the fans that Rafa Benitez may be tempted elsewhere in the summer?
There is always that fear, of course, he is a world class manager and he continues to show that. He doesn’t get enough credit for the job he has done at Newcastle. It isn’t easy to be promoted from the Championship as Aston Villa, Stoke and West Brom have shown in recent years, regardless of the financial muscle you have to have in comparison to the rest of the division.
The consistency across the last two seasons in terms of wins, draws, losses, goals scored and goals conceded is incredible. They have almost been replicas of each other and to do that with an underinvested squad is very impressive. Only six teams have conceded fewer than us this season and that is a hallmark of good coaching.
The general feeling is split regarding whether he will stay. The club are desperate to keep him with Ashley being the main person behind that. He has finally seen the value of Benitez and I’d expect all the stops to be pulled out to keep him. Rafa is a clever bloke. He knows he holds all the aces in the contract talks and he won’t be quick to agree an extension, but like the supporters, he sees his future at St James’ Park.
Q. Do you consider Newcastle safe for another season?
Another win would make it comfortable, but yes I do. It is unlikely that all the teams below us will make up the points on us. It would require us to lose nearly every remaining game and with Benitez at the helm, I don’t think that’s possible. We play percentage football with the margin for error being relatively small. If an opposition team shows up, it can be difficult for us in the style we play, buy we are excellent at taking advantage of mistakes. We’ll pick up another couple of wins to secure safety.
Q. Who has been the stand out Newcastle player this season?
There hasn’t really been one standout player, but the player that makes us tick is Fabian Schar. We are a much better team when he is in the eleven. We are a strange team that rely on two of our centre backs as our ‘passers’, but this unique approach does create a lot of space for our attackers up the field. Schar is excellent on the ball, reliable at the back and capable of scoring goals from open play as he has done twice this season. That is impressive for a defender. We signed him for £3million and we could make five times that if we sold him tomorrow.
Q. Did Newcastle do the business they needed to in the transfer window?
No, but the business we did do has made us a better team. It is amazing what one player can do a team and Miguel Almiron has made us a much more threatening team in attack. He suits our style perfectly, with both Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez improving as a result. We need more quality across the squad to improve competition for places, but if the club was to make only one major signing, they had to get it right. They did.
Q. If you could pick one Palace player for Newcastle to sign in the summer, who would it be and why?
Obviously, Wilfried Zaha, but that isn’t likely. A more realistic one would be Christian Benteke. His current poor form in front of goal means that Palace may be willing to cash in for a loss and he would be perfect for our system. Rafa relishes coaching players like him and I’m sure he would benefit from the way we play. If we aren’t going to sign Rondon, I’d want us to go for Benteke.
Q. Name a player from each side that you believe will be a threat in this game?
Zaha is the one to fear. He is so good driving at players and winning dangerous set piece situations. We are a good defensive team, but one or two of our players can struggle against direct attackers.
For us, it would be Almiron. His best performances have come at home and although he is still learning the league and his best days won’t come this season, he is due a breakout performance. I think one will come before May.
Q. Perhaps you could share your opinions on Palace this season?
I think it has been a steady season, but Hodgson will never deliver more than that. Over the last two years, I’ve always considered Palace a good, but unlucky team. There comes a point where you can no longer consider it bad luck and that the inconsistency comes from the style of play. Roy will always deliver these steady and unspectacular campaigns, but with the players you now have, you should be aiming for more.
Q. Your prediction?
I know Palace are a better team on the road, but we have won our last five at home including the only victory any team have managed over Manchester City in 2019. We are a confident team at home, who actually play some good stuff. The pressure is now off Palace, but we need one more win. I think we’ll come out on top this weekend. 2-1.