Everything changes for tired Newcastle '“ as Rafa Benitez is proved right
Everything can change in a week '“ for better or worse.
Speaking earlier this week, Rafa Benitez said: “One bad week and everything can change.”
A lot can also change in 90 minutes, as Newcastle United found out last weekend.
We saw that against Fulham last Saturday after a run of three games away from home which couldn’t have turned out much better for the league leaders.
Then against Fulham last weekend things unravelled for Benitez’s side, whose lead over third-placed Huddersfield Town could be cut to just three points tonight if David Wagner’s side beat Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
And three points isn’t much.
Newcastle, meanwhile, face Birmingham City at St Andrew’s, while second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion take on Leeds United at Elland Road.
United looked tired against Fulham, and the international break can’t come soon enough for Benitez and his players.
It’s been a tiring season for Newcastle.
Jonjo Shelvey was awful against Fulham, so too was Mohamed Diame.
Too many other players had off-days.
Benitez saw all this coming.
The club’s manager had wanted to freshen up his squad in January’s transfer window with a midfielder and a winger.
Benitez was bitterly disappointed when the club failed to sign a single senior player in January.
It was maybe ironic that Fulham’s Tom Cairney, one player Benitez looked at in the window, ran the show against United.
With Isaac Hayden sidelined following ankle surgery, Benitez has had to play Shelvey and Jack Colback week in, week out.
It shouldn’t really be any surprise that they looked jaded against Fulham, who went on to draw against struggling Blackburn Rovers at Craven Cottage three days later to underlined the unpredictability of the Championship.
United have been predictable away from home – they’ve won 13 games on their travels – but they have been far less predictable at St James’s Park.
They’ve been at their best playing counter-attacking football away from home.
They haven’t been so good at home faced with teams that have looked to sit back and hit them on the break, though Fulham, admirably, didn’t come to St James’s Park looking to sit back and defend.
That should have played into Newcastle’s hands, but the players, mentally and physically drained following the away games against Reading, Huddersfield and Brighton, made mistake after mistake.
With five of United’s remaining nine games to be played at St James’s Park, the club’s home form has come into sharper focus.
Injury problems are mounting up for Benitez, who has lost defender DeAndre Yedlin until late next month.
That’s a blow, though Hayden should be back later this month and Rolando Aarons is steadily closing in on his own comeback.
Ninety points has, up to this season, been enough to guarantee promotion to the Premier League.
But that total may well not be enough this season.
It could take 92 or 93 points.
United, on 77 points, also have the advantage of a superior goal difference.
Yes, Brighton and Huddersfield could take this to the wire, but you’d still rather be in Newcastle’s position than anyone else’s right now.