We have finally picked up our first win of the season.  Our first win since May – in December. Yes, we probably should have picked up a couple more in the past couple weeks but, looking at the league table and the form guide, it turns out that Norwich and Brentford were not ‘must win’ games after all.  Before I get yelled at, of course, we would be four points better off and sitting above Burnley and Watford in seventeenth.  However, my point is that we are in touching distance.  It’s not just about Newcastle United, there are some poor teams in this division this season.

Anyone from ninth down could get dragged down into the mix.  Ninth being Brighton who haven’t won since 11th September and whose fans booed them off the pitch a couple of weeks ago.  They’ve just lost Dunk to injury for a couple of months. Before the end of the year, they have Spurs, Wolves, Man Ure, Brentford and Chelsea.  Not the easiest run of games (although, arguably better than ours).

In and around us we have Palace, Leeds, Southampton, Watford, Burnley, and Norwich.  I’ll take a quick snapshot of what these clubs have to contend with.

Beginning with Brentford.  Dealt a huge blow when Ivan Toney, their top scorer and talisman, tested positive just ahead of their game with Leeds United.  They went on to draw the game with virtually the last kick of the game.  We know from our experience with ASM and Karl Darlow that Covid can strike hard.  If Toney was missing for a few weeks this could really damage their hopes of staying up this season.  Their fixtures for the remainder of the year are Watford, Man Ure, Southampton, Chelsea, Brighton and Man City.  Not all that appealing without Toney.

Palace are in a bit of a poor run of form.  No wins in four since a 2-0 win over Palace on November 6th.  Goals will be an issue for Palace as Benteke couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo most weeks.  He has 4 goals along with Gallagher and Zaha.  However, they do have some winnable games coming up. Their next few are: Everton, Southampton, Watford, Spurs and Norwich.  These games could have a big impact on how the league table looks heading into January.  Palace will also lose four players to the AFCON too, so this will impact their festive games and a chunk of January.  It’s a squad game but losing 4 will be a big miss – Kouyate, Schlupp, Ayew and Zaha are all regulars in the Palace side.

If you thought our upcoming fixtures looked bad, well Dirty Leeds have got arguably worse. Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool and then Aston Villa.  When you combine that with only scoring 15 goals this season and conceding 22, they are going to find this next run of fixtures pretty challenging.  All does not seem quite right at Leeds with Victor Orta, their Sporting Director, needing to be restrained by the CEO to prevent him from having a barney with a fan on Saturday and an alleged rift between the manager and Calvin Phillips hitting headlines last week.   They also lost their captain, Cooper, and Phillips to injury during the Brentford game at the weekend – two huge players for them.  Have they been found out – certainly looks that way.

One win in five and a goalkeeping crisis at Southampton.  With both McCarthy and Forster out injured they’ve turned to free agent 40-year-old Willie Caballero for a short-term deal.   Hasenhüttl, who has a lot of plaudits, has only won 38 games in 114 games for Southampton – only 33%.  With a keeping crisis and only 14 goals so far this season and the next few fixtures v Arsenal, Palace, Brentford, West Ham and Spurs. Then they face Newcastle, hopefully with Mbappe and Haaland starting their first game for us – not happening by the way.  Could be an important game for us though, just need to keep in touch of them.

Never shy of hiring and firing a manager, Watford now have Ranieri in the dugout.  An interesting choice with the 70-year-old taking over the reins at his 21st club a few weeks ago. He has won two of his first eight games scoring thirteen but conceding nineteen.  If I was a Watford fan, I would ask myself whether the likes of Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko are going to fight to keep the club in the Premier League.  I’m not so sure based on the first-hand experience that we had.   We will find out a lot as we head in to 2022 with games against Brentford, Burnley, Palace Wolves and then West Ham to come.   I think December will either make or break them.These games will effect a lot of the teams in and around us.  They have six, yes, six, players who are going to AFCON.  Over half a team heading off to Cameroon is mental.

Burnley are coming off the back of a defeat to the team who had not won a game all season…..us.  Cornet went off injured in the first half against on Saturday, and to be honest I’m glad he did.  He was the only player that was causing us problems and the game arguably changed in that moment.  Cornet being injured is a nightmare for Burnley, and, guess what, being Ivorian, he will be going to AFCON.  Burnley have West Ham, Watford, Villa, Everton and Man Ure coming up.  Only 14 goals so far this season, Cornet has five of them.  They have an ageing strikeforce and I feel that this maybe a season too far for Wood and Barnes.  Let’s hope so.

Last, quite literally at the moment, are Norwich.  Under new management with Dean Smith, I think we all witnessed how bad they were last week when they barely created a chance against our ten men.  If Shelvey hadn’t left Puki open on the penalty spot, we would have taken the win.  We didn’t but it didn’t stop Norwich looking like a poor team.  Smith, who will change their style of play, has a lot to do and with them already having four players on loan it’s going to be difficult for them to bring in help in January.  They have Manchester United, Villa, West Ham, Arsenal and then Palace upcoming.  I don’t think many teams will be below them come the final standings.

Loads of football still to be played between now and January.  Loads of interesting little stories at clubs, AFCON, injuries, Covid, suspensions etc.  That’s before we even look at our own club.  It’s going to make the next few weeks fascinating.  There are likely to be more twists and turns than a twisty turney thing.

TIM WOOD  @Geordie2Step