Results may have dipped but it’s not panic stations at Newcastle United just yet
Eddie Howe’s side have suffered three 2-0 defeats in a row with the latest coming away at the champions. At a venue where they are yet to taste Premier League victory, Newcastle put in a solid performance and were far from embarrassed by their opponents as they slipped to their third league defeat of the season.
It was a spirited performance at the Etihad Stadium, one that reminded all watching just how far they have to go to bridge the gap to the Premier League elite. Although they were in the game for most of the encounter, they never really looked like they would come away with all three points.
So where does that leave Newcastle right now? Three defeats in a row, including a cup final defeat, could set off alarm bells. Certain sections of social media have certainly been ringing these bells, but they should and will fall on deaf ears at the club - and for good reason.
Newcastle have been punching above their station all season and despite this slump in form, they still sit in the top-six with games in hand over the teams above them. European football making its long-awaited return to St James’ Park next season is hardly a distant dream - instead it’s still a very real possibility and one that Newcastle would thoroughly deserve, should they qualify for continental football this campaign.
They have two games left to play before the final international break of the season and they will fancy their chances in both. Wolves have enjoyed an upturn under Julen Lopetegui and defeated Spurs last time out, but at home, the Magpies will believe they can beat anyone on their day and won’t fear their opponents on Sunday.
They then travel to the City Ground just five days after that to face Nottingham Forest - a team they comprehensively outplayed on opening day. Sure, this Forest side have a completely different look to the one that came to St James’ Park in August, however, Newcastle will be eyeing this fixture as another opportunity to close the gap to the sides above them.
A positive return in these two games will likely see the mood around Tyneside completely transformed again - and the underlying numbers suggest that a change of fortunes are just around the corner. Since the break for the World Cup, Newcastle’s expected goals have decreased slightly from 1.49 per 90 minutes to 1.36.
Their actual output has considerably decreased, however, these underlying numbers suggest that they will start to find the goal very soon. Expected goals stats over a season tend to match up to a team’s actual output and when May comes around, it’s likely this will be the case and fans will simply recognise that this period of the season was simply a slight underperformance in what has largely been a season where Newcastle have overperformed in all departments.
Expectations have changed because of their successes in the first half of the season, but that doesn’t mean Newcastle need to panic. Trusting the system and the principles that have got them to this point should see them end the season strongly - and possibly secure European football.