When I am asked if I enjoy watching football I reply that I am a Newcastle United fan… and wait for the questioner to supply their own punchline. As this season has progressed, the mocking comments have become fewer and less barbed. Newcastle sit on top of the Championship, ten points ahead of their nearest challengers following a convincing 2-0 win over Middlesbrough.
While we are a long way from the end of the football season, the festive period is a good moment to take stock and reflect on future prospects. Nobody who witnessed the team squander a 12 point lead at the top of the Premiership during the mercurial management of Kevin Keegan, will ever take anything for granted at St James’s Park, but hopes are high for a glorious return to the top flight. And there’s the snag.
Off the pitch, the club is in a chaotic state. On the pitch I fear the team’s performance flatters them. These are essentially the same players who looked so woefully out of their depth last season. I watched the final game against Aston Villa in a room packed with United supporters. We were all praying for the ref to blow his whistle and end the misery.
Newcastle’s dominance illustrates the huge quality gap between the Premiership and the Championship – and the former features another chasm between the top four and the also rans.
I will continue to cheer the players on – but only change at the top will secure a successful future.