The only way is down for Newcastle '“ unless this changes
Three goalless draws, three points.
That’s all Newcastle United have got to show for their efforts with more than a quarter of the season gone.
It’s not enough, not nearly enough.
No wonder Rafa Benitez boiled everything down to finding three worse teams than them this season long before Saturday’s goalless draw against Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium.
It’s come down to that. There could well be three worse teams than Newcastle this season, but it’s likely to be close, uncomfortably close.
There’s January, of course, but the transfer window is still a long way off.
In the meantime, United need to win games. And there are winnable games between now and Christmas, but Rafa Benitez’s side haven’t won a game yet this season. They just don’t score enough goals.
The return of on-loan Salomon Rondon is a positive, but the striker – who has missed a month of the season through injury – must get fit and stay fit.
Yoshinori Muto, another summer signing, will improve as he adjusts to the intensity and physicality of Premier League football, but other players need to make a goalscoring contribution.
Ayoze Perez, last season’s top scorer, hasn’t looked like scoring so far this season.
Kenedy – who had been sharper against Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester United – wasn’t able to create anything in the final third.
Newcastle, at least, are solid. They defended well against Southampton, who had 22 shots – four of them on target – on a bitterly cold afternoon at the St Mary’s Stadium, where United were backed by almost 2,500 fans.
They backed Benitez and his team and chanted against Ashley.
It’s underinvestment from owner Mike Ashley which has left the club in such a perilous position. The players are committed and hard-working. They’re doing what they can, but this team needed to be strengthened in the summer.
Ashley ignored Benitez’s pleas and instead attempted to force him into signing a new contract before discussing figures.
It was a short-sighted move. It could also prove very costly.
Had it not been for goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, the outcome at the St Mary’s Stadium would have been very different.
Dubravka made a series of first-half saves, and then claimed a series of balls and crosses in the second half as the team clung on for a point.
There were blocks, too. Federico Fernandez, Paul Dummett and Mohamed Diame also threw themselves in front of shots.
But United just couldn’t keep hold of the ball. Time and again, they gave it away. They lacked composure and confidence, which is understandable given that their last win came in May.
Benitez, for his part, felt the team was “anxious”.
“In terms of workrate and team spirit, we cannot complain about that,” said United’s manager. “We must improve on the ball, but we need to be a little bit better on the ball to create something on the counter-attack.”
Newcastle never got the ball to Muto in a position where he could use his pace.
Rondon came off the bench in the second half, but he was short on fitness after missing a month of football.
United survived a late onslaught from Southampton to claim a point.
“Both teams were struggling to keep the ball,” said Benitez. “Both teams are anxious and they both kept giving the ball away. For us to get a point away and a clean sheet, it has to be very positive.”
The result moved them off the bottom on goal difference.
Newcastle had climbed a place without having a shot on target, but only goals will get the club out of the relegation zone.
Ashley – who was at the St Mary’s Stadium – may back Benitez in January, but will it be too little, too late?