Rafa Benitez’s always been consistent. He’s been as consistent as his team.
April, Benitez has always maintained, is when the Championship will be decided. And he’s right.
Newcastle United need 21 points to reach the 90-point mark which has, up to now, ensured automatic promotion to the Premier League.
And the club can’t reach that total until April at the earliest.
Newcastle were last promoted before a ball was kicked against Sheffield United at St James’s Park on April 5, 2010.
They went on to clinch the title on a memorable night at the other end of the country 14 days later.
Home Park was a home from home for 2,431 travelling fans, who saw their team beat Ply mouth Argyle 2-0 to go up as championship.
The Blaydon Races was played over the stadium’s PA system after the match by the club’s accommodating hosts.
This season’s campaign has a long way to go.
But the next four games, played out over 11 days, will have a huge bearing on April and, ultimately, the club’s fate.
If Newcastle can successfully navigate tomorrow’s home game against struggling Bristol City, and away fixtures against rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Reading, then promotion would surely be a formality for the club.
The thing is, United don’t even have to win those games. Newcastle need to take 1.5 points per game between now and the end of the campaign to reach 90 points.
To put that in context, they’ve managed 2.1 points per game up to now.
Of course, United will have to do without Dwight Gayle for several weeks.
But the club’s record with Aleksandar Mitrovic or Daryl Murphy up front is, in fact, marginally better than that with 20-goal Gayle leading the line.
Gayle, however, will be missed.
The team has a different dynamic without his pace and movement, though Mitrovic, and Murphy, can ably lead the line and bring others into play.
Gayle had limped out of Monday night’s game against Aston Villa, beaten 2-0 at St James’s Park after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
Benitez was unusually subdued, given the result, when he took his seat in the stadium’s media suite after the match.
St James’s Park had been anything but subdued for a fixture which will be best remembered for an own goal.
Maybe Benitez – who revealed that Gayle had missed a few days training in the build-up to the game after his partner had a baby – regretted starting the striker.
But Benitez can’t dwell on that.
There are points to be won, and the Bristol City game is exactly the kind fixture that has troubled United this season.
One game at a time has also been a mantra of Benitez this season.
Week after week at the club’s training ground, he’s refused to look beyond the next game.
“The next game is the most important game,” he has repeated stated.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton broke the season down into segments, each with a points target, during his time at St James’s Park.
Benitez, privately, will look further ahead with his backroom team.
But he certainly won’t look beyond the next four games, as he knows just how pivotal they are to Newcastle’s campaign.