Miles Starforth: Who cares if Newcastle don’t win title? Not me

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

The question’s already been asked a few times as Newcastle United have limped towards the finish line.

Where did it all go wrong?

The club, after all, has little chance now of lifting the Championship title.

Just over six years ago, Newcastle won the league 410 miles away in Devon.

It was a memorable night.

Most of the club’s 2,431 travelling fans ended up on the pitch at Home Park after United, then managed by Chris Hughton, beat Plymouth Argyle 2-0.

The surface was already the worst in the Championship before it was churned up by jubilant supporters, including one in a wheelchair.

I wrote at the time: “The outpouring of emotion at the end matching any of the highs that United experienced during their 16-year stay in the Premier League.”

It was a incredible high.

And there haven’t been too many of those for United fans over the years.

Plymouth, relegated to League One, were gracious hosts.

They played Geordie anthem after anthem as Newcastle fans celebrated on the pitch.

The club’s shirtless players eventually made it to the sanctuary of the visiting dressing room.

That season, 2009-10, United deserved the title.

West Bromwich Albion ended up finishing 11 points behind them.

This season, Brighton and Hove Albion, the league’s outstanding team, deserve the title. They’ve already secured promotion to the Premier League, and Hughton’s side need just three more points to win the league.

Good on them. I’m pleased, especially, for Hughton.

And I’m pleased for Brighton, a club which nearly went out of the Football League almost 20 years ago.

They’ve been driven on by last season’s disappointment.

Another Championship title, still a mathmatical possibility, for Newcastle would be nice.

But, honestly, all I care about is promotion. And Rafa Benitez’s side, for all their blips, are on course for that.

Yes, United haven’t been good enough at St James’s Park.

Yes, the mistakes that have punctuated recent games have been a frustration.

And yes, the squad will need significant strengthening in the summer.

But the be-all and end-all for this season is promotion.

It’s NEVER been about the title.

Last season, I visited Hughton at Brighton’s training ground, built at a cost of £30million by the ambitious club, ahead of the fifth anniversary of his departure from Newcastle.

Hughton, as ever, as thoughtful in his responses.

He also had a warning.

The Championship, he insisted, was tougher, much tougher were last in the division.

Year by year, players in English football’s second tier have become better, fitter and stronger as tens of millions of pounds have cascaded down from the Premier League.

The football hasn’t got much better, but the division itself has become more and more challenging.

Relegated teams can’t just throw money at the problem.

Just look at big-spending Aston Villa, who are languishing in 12th place.

Norwich City, relegated along with Newcastle and Villa, haven’t fared much better.

It’s tough, and United, for the most part, have been tough enough.

Injuries to Dwight Gayle, Ciaran Clark and Isaac Hayden, and Jonjo Shelvey’s suspension, undoubtedly cost United points, and so too did the decision not to invest in January’s transfer market.

Owner Mike Ashley took a gamble by blocking a move for winger Andros Townsend, and it looks like it’ll pay off.

A second-placed finish, for me, wouldn’t be a failure.

And the question – if the club goes up – has got to be “where did it all go right for Newcastle?”.