Newcastle’s defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest on Friday means they have lost back to back Championship league games for the 1st time since August.
4 months ago, consecutive defeats at the hands of Fulham and Huddersfield Town signalled a shaky start to their campaign as the matches were indeed Newcastle’s first 2 matches since returning to the division.
With weekend’s defeat, the Toons now only maintain their top spot on the Championship table with a point, having acquired 40 points from 13 wins, 1 draw and 5 losses. Brighton & Hove are hot on their heels in 2nd place with 39 points.
On Friday night, Benitez men were reduced to 9 men before the end of first half, with Shelvey and Dummett receiving straight dismissals on the 33rd and 47th minute respectively.
In a game that had many controversial officiating, the hosts, Nottingham Forest, were also awarded 2 spot kicks in the 1st period, but Darlow was on hand to save both.
With as many as 4 decisions going against Newcastle in the first half, one is left to wonder if that was a reason they eventually lost the match and subsequently dropped crucial points. Or if it’s simply a case of not being able to keep up with the demands that come with topping the league on the Magpies’ part.
Centre referee Steve Martin, might have irked Newcastle with his decision to dismiss Dummett whose pushing over of Lansbury didn’t warrant a straight red, but the Staffordshire whistler even incensed the visitors more as he chose to disallow Ciaran Clark’s header, ruling it off having deemed the defender guilty of fouling his marker in the build-up to the goal.
That came just moments after he waved play-on following Matt Mills’ hauling of Clark to the ground in Nottingham’s box. At the end of the day, Newcastle were denied a penalty, robbed of a goal that should have stood and got a man unfairly sent off.
Inasmuch as the Toons were clearly a victim of questionable refereeing, and should have at least gotten a draw on Friday, their recent woes isn’t completely down to that. Newcastle are just going through a hard time and might still experience further slip ups in the coming weeks.
Benitez’s gamble to field a less-stronger team against Blackburn Rovers in order to concentrate on the EFL Cup quarterfinals tie against Hull City resulted in Newcastle’s first loss since mid-September against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Spaniard’s risky decision didn’t pay off eventually, and dropping 3 points against the bottom-table Rovers, coupled with their exit from the League Cup clearly affected their form.
Seeing a 5-point lead over Brighton reduce to 1 in the space of 2 weeks will no doubt put much pressure on Newcastle right now. They have dominated the league with ease for so long and might now be becoming unknowingly complacent.
However, they have a chance to redeem themselves and maintain their spot, or even extend their lead before the 2nd half of the season starts, as even though they will be facing 2 top-table clubs (Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday) before the return legs kick off against Nottingham Forest on December 30, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to use such strong clashes prove their real dominance and reclaim lost grounds.
For now, it is safe to say Newcastle are slowly losing their form at the top of the table, and they badly need a quick turn around. Refereeing decisions, no matter how victimizing and poor they are, won’t be an excuse for them to miss out on that top spot they have held on to for so long. Benitez knows better.