Mike Ashley is ready to take a gamble with Newcastle's future

Now have you seen enough, Mike?

By The Newsroom
Monday, 14 January, 2019, 11:00

There’s still time for Mike Ashley to act, but Rafa Benitez isn’t holding his breath.

Ashley, Newcastle United’s owner, was at Stamford Bridge for Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.

Willian, left, and Isaac Hayden.

There was much to admire about the team’s performance after going a goal down with eight minutes on the clock.

Newcastle didn’t panic and they didn’t fold.

They kept going and kept going, and what separated the two sides at the final whistle was one bit of quality from Willian.

Much better United teams have suffered far heavier defeats at Stamford Bridge in recent decades.

Plaudits, however, aren’t going to keep the club, which is third-bottom of the Premier League, in the division.

Only points will do that, and the team Benitez fielded against Chelsea looked short of quality in the final third of the pitch. So near, yet so far. Again.

“From the beginning of the season, we know that we are close, but sometimes that’s not enough,” said Benitez.

“Everybody can see that the effort is there and the players are trying their best. We’re trying our best, but still it’s not enough in some games, these kind of games against the top sides where one player can make the difference. Still, you can see we are very close.”

Newcastle could be even closer with some investment.

Ashley, however, seems ready to gamble with the club’s top-flight status. Again.

Why? Why take the chance? Benitez can’t understand it and United’s fans can’t understand it.

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The teamsheet at Stamford Bridge told its own story. There was no comparison between the two starting XIs – or even the benches.

Benitez had just two fit central midfielders to choose from, and one of those, Isaac Hayden, has made it clear that he still wants to leave the club.

The other, 21-year-old Sean Longstaff, had never started a Premier League game until the weekend. As it was, Longstaff did very well on his full league debut.

United’s manager had to name four defenders on his bench.

If fans hadn’t feared the worst when they saw the team, they did when Pedro got between Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark to latch on to a superb ball forward from David Luiz.

Newcastle, organised and disciplined, steadied themselves. Then they prodded and probed a surprised Chelsea.

Clark levelled with a powerful header from a Matt Ritchie corner before the break.

Chelsea fought back after the break, and there were some nervous moments for Newcastle early in the second half as Maurizio Sarri’s side pushed for a second goal.

That goal wasn’t long in coming. Eden Hazard played the ball to Willian, unmarked, on the left, and he came inside and beat Martin Dubravka with a right-footed shot which went in off the far post.

And that was that. Chelsea seemed content with a one-goal lead, and United couldn’t come back a second time.

Ashley didn’t speak to Benitez, the one man he should be listening to when it comes to football. Maybe Keith Bishop and Justin Barnes, his matchday cohorts, know more. Or maybe they just agree with him.

This is Ashley’s last chance. Once the window closes, Benitez and his players are on their own.

“The team played well, and we had chances, but the final decision in the final third is decisive,” said Benitez. “If you want to get that right, you have to spend the money.”

Will Ashley listen before it’s too late?