If we want to avoid the ignominy of still propping up the Premier League table by the end of the next round of matches we will have to significantly improve upon our performances at St James Park in recent times. Without delving back too far, just looking at our results there in the 21st century, we have played 13 games and won only once. That sole victory was courtesy of a Kevin Nolan goal in November 2012 in our first season back in the top flight under Sam Allardyce. Although that win was less than five years ago, it demonstrates the turnover of players at our club in that of the starting eleven, Reid, Carroll and Noble are the only three who are still at the club, and Collins is the only one of the seven substitutes still here.
Being quite disheartened by our record in the present century, I looked back to the twentieth century and found little comfort when assessing our historical visits to the North-East. We first played a top flight away game at Newcastle in 1923, the year we played in the first Wembley FA Cup Final. But we didn’t manage a win up there until fifty years later in 1973 when Ted MacDougall netted twice in a 2-1 victory. One more win in the 1970s in 1977 was by the margin of 3-2 with our goals scored by Jennings, Taylor and Pop Robson. In our record breaking 1985-86 campaign we won 2-1 with goals from McAvennie and Cottee (who else?), and our next win was 2-1 in 1989 when Keen and Ward hit the target. A 1-0 victory in the 1997-98 season came from a Stan Lazaridis goal, and we followed this up in the next season with our most emphatic win there, 3-0, with two goals from Ian Wright and another from Trevor Sinclair. In total we have won just seven league games at St James Park in around 50 attempts!
Our last visit there was in January 2016, the season before last, when we conceded two goals in the first quarter of an hour, before Jelavic pulled a goal back early in the second half. We ended up losing 2-1 and Newcastle were relegated that season.
In terms of Premier League status, the Geordies are a club on a similar level to ourselves, being one of the top ten clubs in terms of seasons spent in the top league. Only six clubs have been ever present in the top flight in the 25 years of its existence up to the end of last season, namely Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton. Aston Villa come next on 24, followed by Newcastle on 22, West Ham on 21, and Manchester City 20.
In that time they have been more successful than us, in that their highest placed finish is 2nd (twice) (ours is 5th), and they have finished in the top four on five occasions, although the last of those was in 2003. Since then they have been relegated twice, but bounced back at the first attempt both times.
Newcastle have made an equally ignominious start to ourselves, and in their first two games of the season they lost 2-0 at home to Tottenham, and then 1-0 at newly-promoted Huddersfield. So they have no points and have not scored a league goal this season. In addition they were dumped out of the EFL cup this week, losing 3-2 at home to Championship side Nottingham Forest.
But beware! In their entire history, Newcastle have only once failed to score in their first three top flight games, and also Rafael Benitez has never lost three consecutive Premier League games as a manager in England. But on the plus side, Chicarito has scored three goals in his last four league games against Newcastle when he has started, and the one that we really hope will continue is that Joe Hart has never been on the losing side in 16 league games against them.
The Sports Analytics Machine (SAM), the super-computer used to predict the outcome of football matches reckons that the game will end in a 1-1 draw. I am more hopeful, and the return of Lanzini, and the confidence of the team gained by our first win in midweek, will I believe lead to our first league win of the season, and only our eighth when visiting Newcastle. I’ll predict a 2-1 victory.