Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Spaniard Making a Decent Fist of Untangling the Mess He Inherited; THE TYNE-WEAR DERBY: Newcastle United Need to Build on Second-Half Revival Newcastle United's Second-Half Recovery Gives Fans Hope but They Still Have a Long Way to Go, Says Mark Douglas

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Spaniard Making a Decent Fist of Untangling the Mess He Inherited; THE TYNE-WEAR DERBY: Newcastle United Need to Build on Second-Half Revival Newcastle United's Second-Half Recovery Gives Fans Hope but They Still Have a Long Way to Go, Says Mark Douglas

Article excerpt

WHEN Newcastle United's 'power triangle' got together in the summer to dream up a formula which would return the club to the Premier League's top ten, this is how they saw it playing out.

Georginio Wijnaldum was signed to bring penalty area savvy to Newcastle's midfield, and here was a late run to disrupt Sunderland's defence. PS13million was lavished on Aleksandar Mitrovic to bring unrivalled aerial presence, and yesterday's goal illustrated why Newcastle insiders spoke excitedly of having signed a striker who could become the best header of the ball in the Premier League in time.

You see, in theory this works. United's team is younger, fresher and more stuffed with players who look as if they will appreciate in value in time than any of their relegation rivals. At any given time they can produce football that blows away teams that are far ahead of them in the Premier League. But the look on Lee Charnley's face at half-time - riven with anxiety - told the true story of Newcastle's season. The PS80million experiment has not worked: United might have a slither of momentum in their battle against the drop, but it is not down to the players they signed.

Now they have thrown every single remaining chip on Rafa Benitez, a man who would never have allowed United to assemble such a group of players and throw them into Premier League battle. The Spaniard may have been warm in his comments about Charnley and the other power brokers at St James' Park but in private he must despair at what an almighty mess they have made of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

When he turned to his bench to replace the cautioned Jack Colback, under-par this season as a midfielder but desperately struggling at leftback, he found no one to slot in so shifted Moussa Sissoko there instead. He rates Henri Saivet so highly he can't get on the pitch - Seydou Doumbia wasn't even in the squad.

Benitez is having to do the best he can with what he has and if he manages to keep Newcastle in the Premier League it will be an achievement that deserves pride of place even on his glittering CV. …

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