“Too good to go down” — that is the line that many Newcastle United fans and pundits have been repeating for most of this season, firm in the belief that eventually the team will turn it around and steer clear of the threat of the dreaded drop. Relegation, however, is becoming an all too real inevitability for United. Picking up seven points from the last 33 available, and having sunk to 19th in the Premier League table, the future looks bleak.
To add to the woes on Tyneside, there is an aura of impending doom and uncertainty surrounding the head of boss Steve McClaren, with a hostile atmosphere on Saturday afternoon heavily booing the former England manager following the 3-1 defeat at the hands of AFC Bournemouth.
Fans are calling for McClaren’s head and it now seems that even his own players aren’t willing to perform for the man once labelled the ‘wally with the brolly’. Consistent home performers such as Georginio Wijnaldum and Ayoze Perez were largely passed by in last weekend’s fixture, seemingly playing much below the level they are capable of, which indicates worrying signs ahead.
One would hope that the players would certainly be motivated for the battles they are to face in the coming months. A reality now is that many of the big-name players, on high wages, will likely be on the phone to their agents, attempting in vain to find a club for next season, after accepting that Newcastle are destined for the drop. If this scenario were to entail for even a few of United’s first team players it could prove disastrous in the run-in to the end of the 2015/16 season.
The odds are stacked against Newcastle. With Sunderland sitting one point above the relegation zone on 25 points, as well as Norwich ahead on goal difference on 24 points, in 18th position, it is not a favourable situation they find themselves in. Newcastle do have a game in hand, however this is at home against a buoyant Capital One Cup-winning Manchester City side, who most recently put four past fellow strugglers Aston Villa.
Dispelling the myth of being ‘too good to go down’ is a task that McClaren and his staff will have to drill into the playing squad. Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini, two players still in the squad who will undoubtedly remember experiencing relegation in 2009, will hopefully see it as their duty to motivate and remind the rest of the players of the stark reality that is facing them if they cannot turn draws and defeats into victories, and fast.
Back in 2008/09, Newcastle’s squad boasted the international experience of Michael Owen, Nicky Butt, Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and Damien Duff, yet they succumbed to relegation on the final day following a 1-0 away defeat at Villa Park.
Having enjoyed a 16-year stay in the top flight up until that point, many pundits were shocked at Newcastle’s complete and utter capitulation. Much of the blame was attributed to the high-earning players’ being unmotivated by the prospect of playing for Newcastle for another season, as well as furore in the boardroom, which ultimately culminated in United being demoted to the second tier.
With many of the mercenary-type players shipped out of the club that summer, a rebuilding process began with a solid core of hard-working, motivated players aiming to see Newcastle bounce back at the first attempt. This time around, this may not be the reality if the unthinkable happens in May.
Many of Newcastle’s top earners are on lengthy six-year contracts, many of whom are only one or two years into these contracts, which means that owner Mike Ashley will demand a high price for the services of the current squad at his disposal. We need only to look at the example of Leeds United, Fulham and QPR in recent times to see the perils of a squad laboured by big-ego, high-earning stars discontented with life in the second division.
Overall, the doom and gloom on Tyneside is becoming more evident, which is likely translating onto the pitch and this could certainly have a detrimental effect on United’s survival bid. Talk of a new manager has been rife in the local press, however with only ten games to go, the fans will be reminded of Alan Shearer’s eight game stint as manager proving to be nowhere near long enough to turn around a sinking ship.
This is the reality at St James’ Park, and the foreboding disaster of relegation looms larger after every league game where three points aren’t taken. Key games at home to Sunderland, where United will aim to end their derby day hoodoo, and a pivotal clash against Norwich at Carrow Road will undoubtedly define the season.