What must Rafael Benitez be thinking now? It’s hard to imagine. He started off the season as the manager of Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at his fingertips. Now, he will surely end it with relegation to the second tier of English football with Newcastle United as he watched his side suffer a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Norwich City at Carrow Road. Martin Olsson’s injury time winner sealed the Magpies’ fate, leaving them six points from safety.
Newcastle battled hard in the second half, twice coming from behind to equalise through goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic but it wasn’t enough. Olsson’s stoppage time sucker-punch added to strikes from Timm Klose and Dieumerci Mbokani to give the Canaries all three points. The result leaves Newcastle staring into the abyss despite having a game in hand.
This latest crushing disappointment only adds to the story of Newcastle’s season; a campaign which has lurched from one demoralising setback to the next. It was plain to see early on that Steve McClaren would not work out as manager but the club hesitated and did not act quickly enough. While bringing in Benitez was something of a master stroke from the board, the sobering reality is it happened too late. The Spaniard can only do so much. His arrival lifted the whole club but the same players that have been so diabolical all season remain just that.
A cursory glance back through Newcastle’s results this season leaves one with a bitter taste and a sickening feeling of opportunities missed. Losing at home to new boys Watford. A 6-1 defeat to Manchester City. Being embarrassed against Sunderland for a sixth consecutive derby. Another hammering, this time a 5-1 reverse at Selhurst Park at the hands of former manager Alan Pardew. Dropping crucial points at home to bottom club Aston Villa in a 1-1 draw.
Losing at home again on Boxing Day to Everton with the last touch of the game. Karl Darlow’s error which led to West Brom’s winner at the Hawthorns. A second 5-1 trouncing of the campaign at Chelsea. The pitiful 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth at St. James’ Park. And now this latest damaging blow at Carrow Road.
All of it makes grim reading for the club’s long-suffering supporters who have seen £80m spent in two transfer windows with virtually no return on the pitch. The players brought in by Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley have not been good enough by any stretch of the imagination. There have been sporadic glimmers of hope where there should have been rays of light in spades.
It would take an almighty collapse from the sides above them for Newcastle to survive now. Their Premier League status is being eroded away with every passing game. With the Championship being as brutally competitive as it is, it’s hard to see them bouncing straight back up at the first attempt. If they are to do that, it will surely be without Benitez at the helm.
If the club somehow miraculously stay up from this position then they have a golden opportunity to start afresh under a manager with such a high calibre and a rich pedigree, but it’s looking more and more unlikely that Benitez would stick around when the trapdoor inevitably swings open and Newcastle United go tumbling through it.