Tomorrow is another crucial day for Newcastle’s survival chances, and we’re not even playing. The club that is hot on our trail, Fulham, do play and they host basement dwellers Sheffield on Saturday afternoon.
The Cottagers have become a focus of many of Newcastle fans as they confidently march closer up the table. Our once comfortable cushion of ten points has been deflated to just six in less than a week.
It’s the word confidence that has maybe unsettled a few fans, I know it has shaken me a bit. Quite a few pundits have put Newcastle firmly in Fulham’s sights as the club to overtake. While we are closest in 17th, there’s still a fair few targets just ahead of us in the table.
But it’s the Magpies who now have the bullseye on our backs. Pundits aside, Fulham boss, and former Magpie, Scott Parker is targetting Newcastle as the closest and possibly weakest of the pack outside the relegation places.
Parker said the following after Fulham drew 1-1 against Burnley on Wednesday as he looks ahead to Sheffield on Saturday:
“It’s a massive game for us now.
“The gap was 10 points, it’s now six. It’s going in the right direction and we’re going into Saturday trying to win that game.
“Our main focus is how we perform to get results in this division but of course the main focus (is to reel in Newcastle).
“I believe we’re very competitive in this league. I feel every game we play, we can win, I honestly do.
“I feel like my team can really go and get results in this division, we’ve proven that.
“We’ve only won all three all season but we’re very hard to beat and we have got quality.”
Fulham have greatly improved since the beginning of the season, there’s no doubt about that. While they often are tough to beat, winning consistently is still an elusive animal for them. They’ve only won three matches, as Parker admits, but have drawn 10 times, including the 1-1 draw at St. James’ Park towards the beginning of our horrid winless streak.
The inability to win has severely hampered Fulham’s march up the table, which is a massive blessing for Newcastle, as the cushion has been flattened but still requires a lot of work for Fulham to overcome.
Steve Bruce recently responded to Parker’s comments. The Northern Echo has published the following statement from Bruce about the brewing battle for 17th position in the Premier League:
“I’ve always said that it’s your accumulation of points that determines what you get at the end of the season. No matter what anyone else does, you’ve got to set yourself a target of whatever that points tally may be.
“If you look at the bottom six or seven at the moment, there are two or three points separates a host of teams. We’re not alone in it.
“Fulham have obviously won (last weekend) and closed the gap a bit, but they’re still struggling to win as well. I think they’ve only won one of their last 14 games.
“It’s all to play for. We know we’re in the bottom half of the division, which means we have to get to the (safety) figure as quickly as we possibly can.
“Let’s see where we all are at the end of the season. If they’re (Fulham) confident, then let’s see where we all end up.
“Sometimes, your fixture list in terms of when you’re playing certain teams can color things a bit and help in certain situations, but you’ve just got to quietly get about your job and get the points on the board, and that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve.”
If Bruce is worried, he’s not showing it and is putting on a brave public face at the moment. He does make a few good points worth mentioning. Fulham are in a stretch of games where they must pick up not only points but really wins.
The 2-0 win at Goodison Park last weekend was massive for them and fueled their growing belief of escaping the bottom three. However, the Burnely draw could be seen as a missed opportunity, though Burnley too have improved recently.
Next up for Fulham is Sheffield tomorrow and then Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park next Sunday. After these two matches, their path gets more daunting with Liverpool, Manchester City away, and Leeds before the international break. So the next two matches are critical for Fulham to pick up more than a couple of points.
Newcastle, after getting two wins in three, took a step back at Chelsea with a 2-0 defeat, though it was not an unexpected result. On Sunday, it’s Manchester United, where any result would likely be seen as a bonus.
The current run of fixtures does favor Fulham but that will change in the next few weeks. So Bruce makes a salient point there as he does in affirming that it’s not a battle between Fulham and Newcastle for safety.
There are teams in the table just above Newcastle, who while slightly better off, are by no means out of the mire just yet. Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Wolves are all within five points in the table. So the five teams above are closer than the team directly behind.
This is not to say Newcastle haven’t put themselves in a dreadful position by underperforming for much of the season. That is crystal clear. This was touted as a season of progress with a top ten finish as the stated aim. It’s a step backward into a relegation fray.
However, there are still games to be played and the battle for survival is not just Cottagers chasing Magpies, at least not yet.