It's that time of the month folks! We're away from home in the premier league. Not even our best performance away from home last time out was enough to change the narrative of away days. The defeat at Swansea threw us in the middle of a rat race (according to the manager) for the Champions League spots.
It's smartly turning into a throw of the dice between Arsenal, ourselves and the Dippers for two places up for grabs. There are whispers that City could soon join the dog fight but a look at their next five fixtures before the Manchester derby in April suggests they'll more likely put more distance between themselves and the chasing pack than losing further ground on them.
There's obviously more threat from London in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur on the other side of the scale but they are more inconsistent than a very inconsistent Manchester United. They could easily come to Old Trafford next week and win the game but will just as surely drop the next three. With Southampton seemingly out of bubbles, it leaves three to go into two.
For starters, we occupy one of those two spots so we can accurately assert that ahead of March's schedule, it is very much in our hands to achieve the season's target. The sobering reality though is that United are going to have to improve on performances away from Old Trafford if they are to hold off the challenge of Liverpool. Among ourselves, Arsenal and the Scousers, the latter two are higher up the form table than us. More than enough cause for concern, especially as we can only be certain of just maximum points every fortnight of games.
With games running out faster than a cheating husband leaves his mistress' house in the morning, the game at St James' Park tomorrow represents a clean shot at getting ourselves closer to the finish line. The closer that line gets with us still in the green, the better our odds. Tomorrow represents the proverbially last 'winnable game' of the very many we have had since the turn of the year as we embark on a series of tough challenges in March that will determine where we will finish.
Ideally, these games were not supposed to matter because the opposition we've been up against lately should have put us in a position with leverage. If United have not really been under pressure since they got into the top 4, now they really are.
We won this fixture last season 4-0 to continue our impressive away run then. Newcastle have not improved since that day and their of field uncertainties regarding the future of their ownership have left them rather uninspired on the pitch. Unfortunately for us, Manchester United in town is enough to inspire a football team of Sunday League players to perform on adrenaline. It's their Cup final and they'll be up for it.
Which bring us nicely to what we shall be up for ourselves. United have to increase their energy levels on the ball. The only reason Ashley Young has looked an adopted brother of Ronaldinho this season is because he has added an astonishing level of energy and will to his game. The calm passing that has personified the LVG era has enabled the opposition to easily get back behind the ball as United ponder on how best to cut through them. It's got to be faster. If it's going to be as ponderous as usual, then Juan Mata needs a game alongside Ander Herera. If you have to cut through butter, then get your sharp knives out. No point in trying to cut through butter with long Afro hair then.