`

Why the outlook for Newcastle is brighter than the Premier League table suggests

Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez.

A decade ago, Newcastle United were three points – and a Premier League place – better off than they are now.

Despite Kevin Keegan’s shock exit a month earlier – and the shocking appointment of Joe Kinnear – there was no outward sign of panic.

It was a month or two later before there was an acknowledgement from the players and management that the club was in a relegation battle after years of relative Premier League success and stability.

Then as now, the club was for sale and games were played amid protests against Mike Ashley.

Looking back, Newcastle were doomed from that summer, when the club brought in a number of players without Keegan’s consent.

Kinnear’s bizarre and foul-mouthed arrival merely hastened United’s demise.

Fast forward 10 years, and the outlook looks bleak if judged on the Premier League table alone.

But that table, as depressing as it looks, only tells part of the story.

Ashley’s made many, many bad decisions at Newcastle, but appointing Rafa Benitez isn’t one of them.

It’s the best decision he’s made.

The outlook for the club looked brighter after 45 minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday.

For the first time this season, Newcastle played well with the ball.

They sensed an opportunity and took the game to Manchester United and deserved their 2-0 lead at the break.

The difference was Kenedy, who opened the scoring in the fourth minute and caused problems for the home defence.

The performance of Kenedy, withdrawn with a knock, and Yoshinori Muto on his full debut bodes well for the coming months.

Kenedy’s one of the few match-winners in Benitez’s squad – and United need more of this from him.

Benitez didn’t name Kenedy, but he was clearly talking about him before the game when he addressed the team’s form.

“Some of the players were doing well at the end of last season, but they’re not doing so well,” said Benitez. “We will need some time to make sure they go back to that level.

“In the meantime we play four of the top six. So was anyone expecting that now we’d be in the middle of the table? No. The fans, they know, they’re not panicking.”

It’s not time to panic – yet.

Jose Mourinho’s side came from behind to win 3-2 after an agonising final 20 minutes.

Benitez’s players, after acknowledging the club’s 3,000 travelling fans, trudged dejectedly to the visiting dressing room.

Only Ayoze Perez stopped to speak to journalists in the mixed zone. Perez, like Benitez, stressed that it wasn’t a time to panic.

“There’s still a long way to go,” said Perez, whose pass had set up Kenedy for his goal.

“We cannot afford to panic, especially after a performance like that. We realise we need a win and more points. It’s about improving the details, then we can change.”

Last season’s 1-0 win over Man United at St James’s Park proved to be a turning point for the club as it fought relegation.

This latest game could prove to be the start of the turn for Newcastle.