Will Mike Ashley take Newcastle United out after troubled Premier League start? One year on from Ponteland meal with Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez, his players, Mike Ashley, some seafood risotto, a £5.95 happy hour in a Ponteland restaurant and ‘two-finger-gate’.

Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 4:54 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 4:54 pm
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 07: Sports Direct International founder Mike Ashley leaves the Red Lion pub in Westminster to attend a Parliamentary select committee hearing at Portcullis house on June 7, 2016 in London, England. Mike Ashley is to face the Business, Innovations and Skills committee on working practices at his Sports Direct Shirebrook Warehouse in Derbyshire. In a letter to his staff he admitted that the centre needed 'improvements' after investigations found that staff had been paid less than the minimum wage and ambulances had been called to the complex 76 times in two years as staff were 'too scared' to call in sick. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

One year on from October 3, 2018’s meeting of minds at humble Italian eatery Rialto’s in plush surrounds of a Northumberland village, Newcastle United find themselves in a similar position.

Twelve months ago Ashley travelled north with Benitez’s men having taken just two points from their opening seven games. Ashley's man Steve Bruce has managed just three more, but are second-bottom and plummeting at an alarming rate.

Rare face-to-face talks, with Benitez's contract running down, ensued. Spirits lifted, United went on to secure Premier League survival at a canter last season.

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How much of that was down to Ashley’s meeting is up for debate, it certainly did nothing to heal wounds with supporters, given his since denied V sign salute while departing to mood music of ‘Where’s the money gone’ and ‘You fat, Cockney...’ – you know the rest.

Showing support for Benitez and the players was seen as essential by the Sports Direct tycoon last year, why not this?

The situation is very similar, in fact the nature in which United have accumulated the points is more alarming, given that they’ve failed to beat any of the three teams in the bottom six they’ve played – Brighton, Watford and Norwich.

United flirted with relegation in Benitez’s two full Premier League seasons, only to break free from those ties after Christmas. Ask any fan and they feel this relationship with the relegation zone could go well beyond first and second base.

Ashley needs to take action. Maybe his closeness to the Bruce deal this summer has built false trust. He did not trust Benitez at all.

If that action is not in the form of removing Bruce from his post, as many fans feel would be a fair course of action, then taking a more ‘hands on’ approach would at least be a step in the right direction – as was the case last year. The players would appreciate it at least, even if the welcoming party outside any chosen restaurant would likely be a whole lot bigger this time around.