Newcastle United have done the hard part – and it should get easier.
But when has anything been easy for this club?
Newcastle’s Boxing Day game against Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield kicked off a tough run of fixtures.
United have played the entire top five over the past six or so weeks.
Yet Newcastle are still out of the relegation zone – just.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley left the club in 15th place and two points above 18th-placed Cardiff.
Newcastle’s players, given a few days off by Rafa Benitez, were down but far from out as they left Wembley.
“Obviously, everyone’s bitterly disappointed,” said midfielder Sean Longstaff. “It’s been a tough month.
“We’ve played a lot of the top teams, but if someone had said at the start of the month we’d be where we are, we’d have probably taken that.”
United have averaged a point a game from the last seven fixtures, which is more or less the rate they’ve accumulated points all season.
The club won’t get to 40 points at that rate, though Benitez thinks 36 points might be enough to secure safety this season.
However, Newcastle, unbeaten against the teams below them in the table, will believe they can better that return in the final months of the season.
Benitez has Jonjo Shelvey, Paul Dummett, Ki Sung-yueng and Mohamed Diame all to come back from injury.
And Newcastle’s manager also now has Miguel Almiron and Antonio Barreca, the club’s deadline day signings, at his disposal.
Barreca came off the bench at Wembley, and we could get a first glimpse of Almiron in black and white against Wolverhampton Wanderers on February 11.
Almiron, an attacking midfielder, hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for almost two months, but Benitez is keen to involve him at Molineux.
“I think he will be fine with the visa and the work permit, and hopefully then he will train with the team,” said Benitez.
“We will see how fit he is, because he was starting the pre-season in America. Hopefully, he will be fine.”
Newcastle’s season, however, won’t be judged on the performances of Almiron and Barreca, a left-back.
Even if they’re not starting week in, week out as they adjust to the physicality and intensity of English football, they can still have an impact on the team by raising the standards of those playing in their positions.
The club-record signing of Almiron, in particular, has lifted the club.
After Wolves, it’s a home double-header against Huddersfield Town and Burnley. Those games are crucial.
Newcastle have done the hard bit. They’ve got through a tough run of games – and their destiny is still very much in their own hands.
The only worry is Salomon Rondon, as United simply cannot afford to lose the striker to another injury.