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Newcastle United grabbed their first win of the season on Saturday, with a stunning 1-0 victory against the high flying Watford at St James’ Park. To say it was much-needed would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Firming in the betting to finish in one of the relegation spots come seasons end, a 65th-minute goal to Ayoze Perez was enough to give the Magpies a morale-boosting victory and move them, at least temporarily, out of the drop zone.
Such is the tight contest in the lower portion of the ladder and the obviously vast discrepancy between those sides with serious title aspirations and the many who are making up the numbers. Despite the freshness of the new season and with 27 matches remaining, at least seven teams have shifted their focus to survival.
Newcastle were potentially the first to do that, after a horror start that has seen Rafael Benitez look like a very grumpy and frustrated manager on the sidelines; bereft of ideas to turn the fortunes of his club.
With just three draws from the first ten matches, the dismissive disgust and fury in Benitez’s body language reeked of a club in crisis and his position will no doubt continue to be under scrutiny for the remainder of the season
The simple facts are that Newcastle did not recruit, spend or improve sufficiently during the off-season. If they had hoped to keep pace with mid-table Premier League teams, more was needed and the fans are rightfully unhappy. Saturday’s win will buoy their spirits to some degree, yet the inevitable chase to avoid relegation now begins in earnest.
Huddersfield and Fulham have the chance to do something similar when they do battle tonight, with a win for either side catapulting them clear of the bottom three and potentially placing them alongside two other teams looking likely combatants in the relegation battle.
Both Burnley and Crystal Palace had poor weekends, with the Clarets conceding four against West Ham and the Eagles proving no match for Chelsea last night.
Throw Cardiff and Southampton onto the congested freeway to potential Premier League survival and the tightness of the race becomes apparent. Who knows, a sloppy mid-season run for either Brighton or West Ham and one or both of them could also join the party, although for now, they look to be playing well enough to put some distance between themselves and the bottom seven.
Over the weekend, Newcastle cheered home their first win, while a few of the other struggling clubs took another loss. In Southampton’s case, it was a bad one, conceding six to City in the kind of massacre that the champions do so well.
Snatching the odd point here or there or claiming all three in a rare upset will make the difference between Premier League or Championship play in 2019/20.
Despite the stress for those involved, it will be fun to watch.
In action more relevant to the top of the table, Arsenal found an equaliser to share the points with Liverpool after James Milner had put the visitors ahead in the 61st minute. Manchester United continued its improved play in a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth, while Leicester, Tottenham and Everton all claimed wins to remain within shouting distance of Manchester City.
Sadly, for those already destined for a grappling season of survival, those results mean little. It’s a poor feature of the league; driven by wealth and opportunity and not particularly heartening for supporters of clubs hoping to one day see their team at the lofty heights of the ladder.
The feature clash of Matchday 12 will be the Manchester derby.
Jose Mourinho will attempt to produce the unlikely and ruffle the feathers of a City side that looks like a potential runaway leader at this early stage, if he fails miserably, the consequences could be dire. The battlers will grapple for points once again and each and every one could be vital over the course of a long and gruelling season.