So, we are officially safe from relegation.
It depends how pessimistic you are as to when you realised that: some may have grudgingly accepted the fact when Liverpool’s win over Villa on Sunday confirmed it was a mathematical impossibility to go down, others when the destruction of Bournemouth saw us sail past the mythical 40 point mark.
Most, I think, grew in confidence when we returned from lockdown with three points against Sheffield United but either way, we can now look ahead to another year in the Premier League, celebrated in the short term by a series of games played with the handbrake off.
Possession is plentiful, goals are shared around and the top half of the table is flirted with shamelessly.
Bruce has recently been chatted about as a potential manager of the year, which I can only assume means I’ve missed the massive story of Klopp’s resignation.
ASM is in with a decent shout of Premier League player of the month and is being linked with various European giants in a development that sounds like nothing to do with greedy, sh.t-stirring agents at all. He’s probably a shoe-in to be the club’s player of the year.
Except he shouldn’t be.
Before I get the backlash, I should point out that I think Saint-Maximin is magnificent, a breath of fresh air in an often suffocating team who has made a huge contribution to the cause that will hopefully only grow bigger next season, now he seems completely settled.
However, I would put the main credit for our relative comfort elsewhere, and I think it tells a story in itself. I would draw attention to the statistic below:
This table is produced by an excellent Twitter account The Other 14 (@Other14The), which looks at statistics around the 14 members of the Premier League that don’t have a colossal income advantage boosted by extra TV money, regular Champions League cash and the relative benefit of having legions of international entertainment enthusiasts thinking they can call themselves supporters (caveat: if we are taken over come and follow us, glory hunters of the world! You’ll feel like a winner!).
For clarity, I should mention that Leicester are included in the 14 here, despite looking set to crash the party once again, whereas Arsenal remain among the ‘big 6’ despite their apparent ongoing effort to transform into Everton.
Anyway, you know what I’m getting at: top of that table is our own Martin Dubravka, clearly ahead on total saves, saves in the six yard box and saves in the penalty area. With the strange things that have happened this year, it’s easy to think of the likes of September and October as being a different time, so let me refresh your memory with some facts supporting those details.
Prior to the virus break, Newcastle had won nine league games. Only one of these had been by more than a single goal, 2-0 at Sheffield United.
The 27 points gained from these were topped up by eight draws to give a fairly respectable 35 point return.
Now, look at the stats again. Dubravka made at least 10 saves more than any other keeper on that list. That’s ten extra goals we’d technically have conceded if we had any other keeper in goal. If you pepper those 35 narrowly won points with ten extra conceded, it soon shrivels the total to bottom of the table levels.
I’m sure people will point to our ‘sit back and counter’ style of play in being a factor in this. However, I would argue that a defensive set up should limit shots on target, not increase reliance on the goalie to pull the team out of the clarts.
Everton and Sheffield United are in reasonably similar positions to Newcastle in the table, but their goalkeepers have made 30% less saves than Martin Dubravka.
Hopefully we’ll be looking at a less desperate season next year but I think these stats suggests there’s a bigger transformation job on than you may think. Also, as Premier League status was surely essential to progress, I think it’s a fair assumption that there would be no takeover party without Marty.
So in a nutshell, my player of the year award goes to our outstanding number one.
He may have been less prominent in the front foot matches since the restart but no one has done more to build the platform from which this free-flowing football was elevated.
I realise this may ring hollow at a time when my article will surely have cursed him into dropping a few clangers in an Etihad hiding, but when (if?) it does come to time to break the cans out, lets all raise one to Martin eh?
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf