It is never a happy experience watching Newcastle United lose a football match but contrary to how it was framed by Match of the Day at the weekend, the home defeat to Liverpool on Saturday was far from “reality check”.

I don’t know a single Mag who went to Saturday’s game v Liverpool expecting to win. Plenty of us hoped for that of course but the reality of the gulf in quality between the two sides is obvious. Any rational supporter accepted the odds were firmly in Liverpool’s favour. Klopp has players aiming to win the game’s top honours with a side that is fantastic to watch. Newcastle United is a club delighted to be mid-table in the same division after a season of facing relegation and on the back of fourteen spirit crushing years of a lack of investment in every part of the club’s operation.

I think the realism I had for the game, that we would give a good account of ourselves and avoid a caning was more than met. Howe’s team gave everything they had and that will always be what we ask for from the stands.

I don’t even think the defeat to Liverpool in the spring sunshine told us much that we didn’t already know.

Howe has developed a side which is defensively well-organised, doesn’t give many goals away and has made St James’ Park a difficult place to come and play. I’m particularly impressed by the central defensive partnership of Burn-Schar but it does my heart good to see us playing with two competent and committed full backs that do so much for the side.

It takes no football genius to spot that Newcastle United is sorely lacking as an attacking and creative force. Much of what we had against Liverpool (and not just Liverpool in the last month or so) has been a ball over the top for ASM to run onto. It is a limited tactic against the better sides and places a big weight on the Frenchman’s shoulders as our sole attacking force in some games.

ASM’s performances are being scrutinised by fans and some of this fair and unfair in my view. Yes, I agree ASM has to improve his game in many different ways, namely playing as part of Howe’s press, his readiness to track back and to make the right decisions in attacking positions. But part of the criticism I read and see is unfair because I don’t see players running ahead of him and I don’t see very many alternatives for us up top which means the opposition can easily team up on him without fear as there are few alternative threats. Put Wilson in that forward line and it’s a different story.

However, supporters will continue to watch him carefully and I’m sure Howe and his staff will have their own thoughts too.

On Saturday we were unable to play through Liverpool’s lines and even Guimarães great talents were significantly limited as swarms of Red shirts closed him down as soon as he received the ball.

Liverpool may not have provided any new information about our own side but they certainly helped us see it in clearer form.

We absolutely need recruitments in the forward department over the summer. As much as I appreciate the talents of Callum Wilson, his fitness record will not be advanced by age. Chris Wood has been an important part of the change in team chemistry since his arrival but we will need better than what he can offer if we are to advance next season.

It is inconceivable that Dwight Gayle will be at United next season but I’m assured that the new owners, manager and whoever else are as abundantly clear about what is needed in the summer as we are in the stands.

We will also need to put better players around Guimarães in that midfield too. More pace, more creativity, more surprises and perhaps just more of everything.

Liverpool provided us with exactly the right bar to measure ourselves against. They are the best, they set the standard and that is what we have to aspire to in every decision that is made at the club. Liverpool didn’t suddenly become the club they are because of Klopp’s unquestioned genius. They did so due to their coaching, backroom team, their medical staff, their academy, scouting and recruitment team, their training facilities and every single employee of Liverpool Football Club and their board of directors. The marginal gains which have such a cumulative impact together and over time.

Newcastle United is nowhere near them in any of those areas but since October last year we now have the ambition to build towards that and that is a massive step forward on where we were for the fourteen years preceding the takeover.

I expect we will have a reminder of where we are right now next Sunday when we travel to Manchester for the penultimate away game of the season. Man City is currently a bollock-hair ahead of Liverpool in the chase for the PL title and it is entirely possible the two clubs from the North West might meet each other in the Champions League Final. They are currently, in my opinion, the two best club sides in the world.

In every way possible we are now looking at how to match those two great set-ups and possibly surpass them. It will not happen overnight. It definitely won’t happen next season.

With our PL status all but confirmed, supporters are understandably looking ahead to next season and a summer of rebuilding.  The club has sent subtle messages to fans and the media about what it is likely to happen in the close-season. We are not going to be lashing hundreds of millions on super-star Box Office type players. We are not going to completely rip that squad apart and start from scratch. There will be evolution rather than revolution.

For what it’s worth I see us losing about 7-9 from the current squad. We have half a squad that is arguably of Championship calibre and some of those players exceeded their sell-by dates some time ago. They are only here because of Ashley’s lack of ambition.

My expectation is we will bring in 4-6 new players and priorities amongst them will be attacking players, though I imagine we will recruit defenders as well. Targett has done really well though Howe has been rightly circumspect about arrangements to sign him.

As much as the focus on players with a greater level of quality, I’m pretty certain United will continue to focus on the character of players too. Howe played a central role in bringing in new recruits in January and I imagine he will do so again this summer. All of the players signed in the most recent window hit the ground running and have delivered.

But next season isn’t one where we attempt to compete directly with Liverpool and Man City. That is some way down the track.

If we can move ourselves into the top ten and challenge the likes of Leicester, Wolves, West Ham et al that will be a successful season. If we can have runs in the Cups that will be even better. Anything beyond that is all gravy.

But despite the Liverpool result and what happens at Man City next Sunday, there has never been a better time in modern Newcastle United history to be following the club.

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The current buzz around Newcastle United was evident on Sunday as Newcastle United WFC made its debut on the St James’ Park pitch. It is astonishing that in May 2022, the women’s team was playing at the club’s home for the very first time. That says everything about the complete indifference Mike Ashley had towards the entire club.

(Great report from St James’ Park here )

The development of Newcastle United Women will say much of the kind of club we will become under the new ownership. Having a club which takes the women’s game seriously speaks to a lot of that as does paying employees the Living Wage and organising worthwhile pensions for them.

We have also seen the new ownership become actively engaged in charities close to the club e.g. the Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer Foundations, the Foodbank (notwithstanding reservations regards the political inclinations of Staveley and Reuben) and of course the Newcastle United Foundation.

Similarly, it was a positive move for Staveley and Ghodoussi to meet with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and on the back of the Tracey Crouch review and recommendations, there is much to be built upon there and from strong foundations.

There is much to be optimistic and positive about but credit can only be given when it has been delivered.

Not that there won’t be constant criticism of the club because of the PIF owning 80%. I read Miguel Delaney (The Independent) questioning the praise provided to Eddie Howe on the job he has done at the club since his arrival when we looked nailed on to go down.

Delaney appears to want to attribute all of that to a January window spend of about £90m. Clearly that has helped but tells a fraction of the story. You all know that so I won’t repeat it.

But Delaney’s refusal to even acknowledge Howe’s work speaks volumes for the lack of credit the club will get and the cynicism it will face when it does anything remotely positive. Everything will be sports-washing to those with an absolutist view of the world.

In reporting on United, Delaney has all bit shredded his own credibility as an objective, rounded observer of the club. We have seen that when he has harangued his colleagues at a press conference at Stamford Bridge following this season’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea when he was miffed some of his colleagues didn’t pursue Howe with the same venom as he and others.

Delaney isn’t alone. There is every reason to question the ownership models of football clubs and the financial operations of all sports. But while there is a lack of consistency, duplicity and astonishing double-standards then Newcastle United supporters are going to react.

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Another tough assignment waits at Manchester City, another one of the game’s leading lights at the top of his game and leading one of the best resourced and progressive clubs in the world.

This is what we aspire to.

Have a great week.

Keep On, Keepin’ On ….

 Michael Martin -@TFMick1892