Apologies to those arsed for missing last week’s blog – just too much going on in the real world to get to the keyboard for any meaningful length of time.

 I don’t want to jinx it and be premature but if Newcastle United hasn’t exactly turned a corner, we’ve dropped a gear and are busy negotiating a sharp bend.

We have not lost in the PL since Man City home at the start of Christmas week and although a run of seven unbeaten games sound impressive, I think we’re all bemoaning not getting wins over Watford and surprisingly enough, Man Utd. I know, I’m never happy!

The news that ASM was missing from the squad down at West Ham reined in hopes for that game, I don’t think any of us were particularly disappointed with a point at FT. But for that game, I really don’t think anyone can say there was much of  a gulf between the Hammers at fifth top and the Mags at fourth bottom. To be honest, I felt our overall performance at the Olympic Stadium was better than the wins over Everton and Villa at SJP.

No matter, let’s not sweat the details of good performances and results.

As its Newcastle United, it has to be the hard way. Injuries to Wilson, Trippier and ASM earlier this season would have had the then manager flicking through his well-thumbed excuse manual at full time as the team would without question have lost. Its completely different now.

As I think I’ve written previously, our key weaknesses have been in the centre of the park, particularly in central defence and in the heart of midfield. I was reminded of this by a mate who brought up how much West Ham had ran all over us at the start of the season, cutting through our central position like knives through butter.

I have just watched a very competent central defensive partnership of Schar and Burn dominate at West Ham with a midfield trio of Joelinton-Willock-Shelvey snuff out a Hammers midfield containing Declan Rice, who is rightly rated as one of the best midfielders of his generation.

Overall, I think had we managed to bag a winner at West Ham, no-one could have said it was undeserved.

In short, Howe has the team fitter, more focused, organised and committed. Shelvey is playing the best football of his career, Willock is playing himself back to the form of the second half of last season and Joelinton has added something to our midfield that no-one saw possible 6 months ago.

I’m not going to go off on a rant about Steve Bruce but I know I’m not the only Mag shaking my head at the depressing familiarity of his post-match interviews following another disappointing result for West Brom. I desperately hope we never see a manager of such little work-rate, professionalism and intellect at Newcastle United again.

Our fight to stay in the Premier League carries an existential dimension to it. We know if that mission is delivered, the summer promises to be absolutely transformational for the club. Drop into the Championship and everything moves right in terms of what can be achieved.

But the position is now looking much better for us. The run from January has given everyone a lift but there is absolutely no room for complacency.

This coming Saturday could be pivotal for the season. Collecting 3pts at Brentford would likely push us above Everton and Leeds and of course the newly promoted Bees.

I see no reason why we shouldn’t be targeting a win in West London. We are a team with our tails up and confidence is high. Although we’ve suffered long term injuries to Wilson, Trippier and are without ASM others have stepped in and delivered.

I’m particularly impressed by Ryan Fraser, who only a short while ago looked like a complete spare part at the club. His appetite and industry down the flank has been a revelation. He looks a much happier, focused player and the team is all the better for it. I also felt Murphy gave a good account of himself against West Ham too. Howe is eking out marginal gains and it is adding to the sum total of our parts.

I’ve mentioned the midfield trio as providing the ballast that was missing before Christmas. Of course, that doesn’t account for the looming presence of Bruno Guimarães, the big money January window whose arrival at United has apparently galvanised new team-mates. None of that United midfield three want to give way for the Brazilian and in truth, many of us would be hard pressed to suggest one who would drop to the bench to make way for the new lad.

Howe has played this exactly right. In previous days, the new lad would have been thrown straight in. But that’s not Eddie’s way and with the midfield working it’s bollocks off and performing well, the players are keeping their place. That sends the right message to the squad and instils the right culture. It’s not a bad message for Bruno or any big money signings that might arrive at United. A place in the team has to be earned and can be kept regardless of price-tag and reputation. I like this professionalism at Newcastle United. Like is probably short selling my emotions on the subject.

But Brentford is massive for us this Saturday. There will be another sold out away end in London and a support that is unrecognisable from the dejected, empty following that left Molineux a week before the takeover.

Win at Brentford and that is sphincters twitching at Goodison, Elland Rd and whatever Brentford call their shiny new home.

Come on United!

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Behind the scenes, it would appear United is on the verge of appointing a new Director of Football in Dan Ashworth who has been performing that role at Brighton. Ashworth is reported to be on garden leave from Brighton but the sooner he is able to start his new job at St James’ Park the better.

By all accounts Ashworth is highly rated in the game and his CV is impressive. Brighton is one of the best run clubs in the PL and completely left us behind since we were promoted together in 2018.

Ashworth will have one of the most exciting but demanding jobs in world football as he oversees the transformation of a club that has run on empty for 14 years of Mike Ashley.

I would see Ashworth’s first task as preparing for the summer window. He has a good relationship with Howe and those two men will work together on the players to bring to United. There is more to this than throwing money at stellar players. They will need to fit what we can already see is the template for signings and that is to do mainly with attitude as opposed to age etc.

Doubtless a huge task awaiting Ashworth is the club’s academy and training facilities. Indeed we have already seen reports suggesting that Brighton’s John Morling moving from his job with Brighton’s academy to take charge at United too. We’ll wait and see on that one.

Another key position to be filled is the Chief Executive. From the bits and pieces I’ve picked up, the club is looking at people with PL experience who could move into the position. Likewise there are others outside of the game who could move into that job as well. That’s all bases covered eh? And I hope that doesn’t read like a desperate bid to be the next ITK herbert on social media.

It is a pivotal role. We do need the right person with the correct skill-set and how they set about their task will say much about what kind of club Newcastle United is about to become.

Clearly, we want to have a competent operator within the football business but they will be operating to a certain remit. That remit will unquestionably involve growing the club’s income because although there has been lots of white noise about sports-washing, my intuition is PIF’s interest in football is as their name suggests about generating financial returns.

I thought of that last week with the news that the so-called big-six have refused to sign an owners’ charter. Click here for more details –

I wonder what PIF and the consortium’s view is on all of this. At present, our new owners can’t put a foot wrong. There is one PR coup after another and some of them are completely laudable – the relationship with the Foodbank (albeit challenging given the Reubens are big donors to the Tory Party and Staveley isn’t exactly unknown at Conservative Party Central Office), the application to become a Living Wage Employer and the extension of the season ticket price freeze to the 2022/23 season will be welcomed by many loyal fans.

But I remain a sceptical and suspicious so and so and I don’t think for one moment, the people involved with our club are without business interests.

Whoever is appointed as Chief Executive will have to take forward formal relationships with the club’s support. It is inconceivable that the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association and United With Pride will not be front and centre of those relationships within a formal structure.

There is a place for relations with Wor Flags with the club and of course the Foodbank and other charities.

One way for the new owners to seriously dent relationships with supporters would be to resurrect a version of the discredited, anodyne, opaque and wholly unrepresentative, unaccountable Fans Forum. That was a busted flush from the get-go.

I have little doubt there will be self-seekers whispering into the ears of the new owners but they should heed wiser counsel if they wish to preserve credibility beyond the noise of stamping feet on social media.

Personally, there is a lot to be learned from what Liverpool’s fan group (Trust) the Spirit of Shankly has developed with Liverpool FC – click here

I am not suggesting this fits Newcastle United completely but it is at the level that we deserve.

All of this stuff is in the in-tray of the new executive team that needs to be appointed strategically and operationally on a day to day basis.

Newcastle United has an opportunity to develop a new kind of club. The owners have made the right noises so let’s see what comes from that.

It’s not maybe top of the to-do list at present but it cannot be left too long.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

Michael Martin – @TFMick1892