NEWCASTLE UNITED have one of the greatest modern-day managers leading them and in St James’ Park they have one of the country’s grandest stadiums, packed for every home game – it’s just a shame they don’t have a team to deliver the perfect present for the club’s 125th anniversary.
There was a pretty decent game for the 52,000-plus crowd to watch, filled with twists and turns on a night when black and white stripes were projected on to landmarks across the city as part of the birthday party.
Legends of the club were in attendance, giant flags bearing newspaper headlines, the club’s crest and giant pictures of Benitez were waved proudly. But when the final whistle was blown, the reality of a relegation fight had grown stronger.
Despite all of the positives that Newcastle have going for them, the underlying problems moving forward, both on and off the pitch, could yet see this commemorative season end in disappointment.
Benitez and the players he has formed into a team will be doing everything they can to stay above the Premier League’s bottom three; only time will tell whether they possess enough to achieve their goals.
That three-match run in August-September seems a long time ago now, when the Magpies looked to have adapted to life back in the top tier and were making noises at the right end of the table.
After Leicester City left Tyneside on Saturday with three points, the only target Newcastle have in mind now is the one Benitez highlighted at the start of the campaign – to stay up.
The uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the club is a major factor, with Mike Ashley still waiting for Amanda Staveley – or someone else for that matter – to come up with the sort of offer that will tempt him into a sale.
The chances of a takeover being completed in time for the January window are extremely slim, so how will Benitez be giving the backing to strengthen his squad when the window opens in January? And how he needs it.
Newcastle have some good players, and there are plenty with lots of potential. Benitez has moulded a team together, but this winless run of seven matches, including six defeats, has knocked confidence and morale.
It is not at crisis stage just yet – and we all know how often St James’ Park tends to enjoy a crisis – but it is certainly edging in that direction, while it has become abundantly clear they lack that bit of individual brilliance which Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray produce regularly for Leicester.
Mahrez and Gray goals were followed by the own goal from Ayoze Perez with four minutes remaining to seal the points for the Foxes, even though Newcastle’s front two pairing of Dwight Gayle and Joselu showed signs of promise and both found the net.
Leicester’s victory means Newcastle are just two points above the bottom three ahead of this Wednesday’s visit of Everton. There are then dates with Arsenal and Manchester City to face in the four matches before the turn of the year, so Newcastle have it all to do just to stay out of the relegation zone.