It’s bum-squeaking time: Dan Brigham talks to sports journalist and Newcastle fan Chris Murphy about the relegation six-pointer, Chris Hughton, soggy pants, Rafa Benítez, Rob Elliot’s injury and their terrible away record
Dan: Hi Chris. So this is huge. Really huge. So it's only fair, really, that I check on your health first. How are you and the good people of Newcastle coping ahead of this six-pointer? How does it compare to the lead-up to the north-east derby?
Chris: Not well. The future of Newcastle as a credible football club essentially hangs on this torturous 90 minutes ahead. Lose and the Rafa revolution could be over before it has begun. That doesn't help one sleep well at night. Most of us still can't believe Mike Ashley abandoned all his principles and offered Benítez the job in the first place, even fewer can believe he actually took it. For the first time in a long time we have a shot at being a decent, well-run, ambitious side again, but all that evaporates if we go down. *sobs uncontrollably*
The derby is different – pant-wettingly different. The build-up to that is like queuing for hours to see the dentist; you hate every minute of the build-up, then the real thing even more. The hardest thing to reconcile is all the positive noises coming out of the club, how Rafa has got the players motivated, little things he is changing to mould the club in his image, and then balancing that with the thought of losing on Saturday and it all being a complete and utter waste of time.
Dan: It doesn’t really sound like it, but is there a general sense of optimism after that late Aleksandar Mitrović equaliser against Sunderland?
Chris: Optimism probably isn't the word, relief is more appropriate. Two of us, you and the mackems are going down and if we hadn't equalised a few weeks, I think we'd already be gone. Even with the obvious holes in the squad – no left-back or proven goalscorer – we should be doing far better than we are but there's so much riding on this game heaven knows how they'll react. At least that equaliser will have given them some shred of belief.
Dan: Is there anything good that could come out of relegation? A rebirth? A cleansing? After all, you must have fond memories of the promotion season under Chris Hughton... Or will relegation leave you screwed?
Chris: I’d have been quite prepared to go down if it meant Ashley finally cleared off, but he’s even taken that glimmer of hope away from me in the last few weeks. If we go down then Benítez walks and presumably, Ashley will revert back to his modus operandi of employing a patsy who does exactly what he says. Last time we at least had a core of English players like Nolan, Barton, Smith and Carroll (as well as Marlon Harewood, of course) who helped us churn out out plenty of ugly 1-0 wins under Hughton.
If we go down with this squad, half of them will leave and whoever comes in next will have to rebuild completely. So, to answer your question, yes we’d be screwed.
Dan: On the subject of Chris Hughton (or Chr*s H*ghton in these parts, bless him), have Newcastle's problems stemmed from the moment he was sacked and Alan Pardew replaced him? Newcastle did well in Handsome Pard's first full season, but a bit of continuity under a fans' favourite might have saved you from the mess you're in now...
Chris: You won’t hear a bad word said about Chris Hughton in the north-east. Many people forget he was just left to pick up the slack while Ashley desperately tried to sell the club in the early stages of that Championship season, and by the time he failed Hughton had seen us off to a good start.
Having saved Ashley millions by bouncing straight back he was then turfed out for a complete charlatan. A few seasons under Hughton wouldn’t have been thrilling – as you well know – but they would have at least been stable. Pardew was out of work having been sacked by League One Southampton when he got the job, and he couldn’t believe his luck. That’s why he was such an Ashley apologist. He had one excellent season, the rest was a catalogue of, mostly cold, streaks and violence towards linesman, ageing opposition managers and David Meyler. We were well rid of him; the trouble was we then appointed John Carver.
Dan: John ‘best coach in the Premier League’ Carver, to give him his full name.
This may be painful, but we should probably talk about your away form. You've lost your last eight games on the road – seven in the league – and won only twice away all season (remarkably, one of them was at Spurs). You've conceded three or more goals on five occasions, and score just seven times. Even Norwich have had more success on the road. Why have you been so brittle away from home?
Chris: Because our players are brittle, and Steve McClaren was clearly as inspiring as a damp lettuce. He’s tried a variety of tactical approaches, most of them laughable, and by the end he was desperately clinging on for a point in a 0-0 draw even though we seemed incapable of keeping a clean sheet or scoring a goal. Some poor sods will have gone to every away game – my heart goes out to them.
Dan: Rob Elliot's injury is genuinely rather sad. He's waited all that time to have a long run in goal, and this happens. I did quite like Jack Butland's offer to him to watch the Euros around his place with a couple of beers though.
Is Elliot's absence a blessing for Norwich? What can you tell us about his replacement, and what will this mean for an already rather sketchy back four?
Chris: Rob Elliot has probably been our player of the season. He’s developed into an excellent goalkeeper and his injury is a massive blow. We’ve seen very little of Karl Darlow and what we have seen has involved him restyling his quiff immediately after making a save. That, and chucking one in his own net at West Brom.
I work with a Forest fan who says he’s got huge potential, and that now his ego has been polished by knowing he’s number one we might see the best of him. But then what do Forest fans know? If the back four isn’t to be too disrupted, Darlow needs to be more commanding and make his presence felt. Some of them need a heck of a lot of cajoling.
Dan: Well, that’s… encouraging. Right, let's finish this off with your score prediction for Saturday, and who you think will be relegated?
Chris: I predict a horrendously nervy 1-1 draw, which will help precisely no-one but Sunderland. Us two to go down I’m afraid – it is Sam Allardyce after all. Can’t wait for Burton away.
Dan: Thanks Chris. I’m strangely confident. Usually I’d be terrified about this sort of game, but a weird calm has come over me. It’ll almost be shattered when Seb Bassong plays a ball across his defence, but until then I’m remaining positive. 2-0 to Norwich, with our new-found resolve in the back five erasing those horrible 6-2 memories.
Chris Murphy is a digital producer for CNN, ESPN and LiveWire Sport. He tweets at @ChrisMurphSport
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