Following Steve McClaren’s sacking in March, Newcastle appeared to be staring into the abyss.
One point from safety, six Premier League wins to their name, fans were envisioning following their team around England's second tier next season.
However, hope was renewed once the appointment of Rafael Benitez was made public. Since starting the 2015/16 campaign managing Spanish giants, Real Madrid, it is somewhat of a coup for lowly Newcastle to have attracted a manager with such pedigree, perhaps facing the biggest job of his career.
For Benitez, the job was simple. He had to make his team and the fans believe again.
Benitez may not have had all the results he wanted since taking over. A narrow defeat to Leicester in his first game followed by defeats at Norwich and Southampton have made the task of keeping Newcastle up even tougher.
The Toon remain nineteenth in the Premier League, two points from safety with four games to go. If McClaren was in charge, many would have written Newcastle off for survival, but there is definitely a new found optimism around St-James’ Park.
Yet four points out of his last six have fans believing that the escape from the drop is well and truly on, thanks to a resounding 3-0 against Swansea and important point against Manchester City on Tuesday night.
Benitez’ decision to take over shows his love for the game and how he has relished the challenge of saving a club like Newcastle United from relegation from the day he took over. This was a manager putting his entire reputation at stake.
Within hours of his appointment on Friday 11th March, he called his players into training on their day off as he prepared them for their tie against leaders, Leicester City. Benitez meant business.
Although results may not have changed a great deal, fans are beginning to see a change in attitude with players giving everything to the cause, pulling in the same direction and fighting for the black and white shirt. A trait that was starkly void earlier in the season and one of the main catalysts in Steve McClaren’s exit.
Fans are getting behind their team and the players are responding. During their draw against Manchester City, fans were on their feet throughout and Benitez was prowling the touchline getting every ounce out of his eleven players.
So far in Benitez’ brief reign he has not been scared to make bold decisions. Jonjo Shelvey and Aleksandar Mitrovic, two recent big money signings, have been left out simply because Benitez needs them to battle for the cause. An imperative trait when in a relegation dogfight. Two points from safety with four games to go and four points from their last six, Newcastle manager has the Toon Army believing they can stay in the Premier League.
Following their recent displays there is no reason why Newcastle cannot get results in their remaining games to avoid the drop.
Newcastle travel to Liverpool at the weekend, before welcoming Crystal Palace to St-James Park. Benitez will then see three points as a necessity against already relegated Aston Villa before league chasing Tottenham Hotspur come to Newcastle on the last day of the season.
Benitez will need to use all of his managerial experience and nous if he is to be a hero at Newcastle, with a trip to his former managerial home Anfield next. There is certainly no time for mixed emotions as Benitez looks to take all of the spoils back to the North-East at the weekend and go one step closer to survival.
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