Torture – to inflict severe pain on someone as a punishment. Its hard to imagine exactly what the Newcastle fans did to deserve the torture and torment they are suffering through at the moment at the hands of their team. Saturday’s embarrassing 5-1 hammering by Crystal Palace was Newcastle’s eighth defeat of the season and leaves them slumped in the relegation zone five points above an equally poor Aston Villa. Sadly its an all too familiar story for the Toon Army who have endured through almost a seasons worth of games with only a handful of wins to show for it. Since the start of January, Newcastle have won only five of their 33 matches in the Premier League, narrowly avoiding relegation at the end of last season thanks to a last gasp win over a West Ham side who were already on the proverbial beach. Now a quarter of the way into the new season, Newcastle are back in the doldrums once more with many fans wondering when this torturous spell will end.
At the epicenter of this latest calamity is former England boss Steve McLaren. Brought in during the summer, McLaren proclaimed that he would turn Newcastle around and help them to a top eight finish. But fourteen games in to the new campaign, Newcastle look anything but that and once again find themselves fighting for their lives. Along with Bournemouth, Newcastle have conceded the most goals in the league so far (30) and are the fourth lowest scoring team with only 14 goals (six of which came against Norwich). Both problems stem from last season and have never properly been addressed despite owner Mike Ashley finally parting with nearly £50 million in the summer on new players. Whilst three big money signings arrived to add some depth to the squad, the underling lack of quality throughout the rest of the squad has meant that their contribution has been restricted to fleeting moments. The scoreline against Palace tells one story but the nature in which Newcastle collapsed after taking a surprise lead after ten minutes tells another. Newcastle’s players have no confidence to hold a lead and more importantly no plan on the field to follow. Its down to McLaren to instill these but he has failed on both accounts leading to yet another disastrous start to a campaign.
Why McLaren got the job in the first place needs to be questioned. His record as a manager is mixed with successful spells at Middlesborugh and FC Twente blighted by dismal spells in charge of Wolsfburg, Nottingham Forest and England. Many agree that McLaren is an excellent coach who is solid on the training ground but as a manager he struggles especially with the day to day stuff including managing the players and motivating them to perform. This issue was raised by several former players and pundits as early as last season when it became apparent that Ashley was keen on hiring McLaren. However the Newcastle owner chose to ignore them all and persued the then Derby County boss attempting to hire him on two seperate occassions at the tail end of last season as Newcastle went into frefall under John Carver. McLaren’s rejections due to an unwillingness to take over a club deep in a relegation battle should have rung alarm bells then as it suggests that McLaren doesn’t have the stomach for the fight. Ashley finally landed McLaren in the summer after he was sacked by Derby following their end of season collapse which saw them throw away a promotion challenging position by winning two of their last 13 games.
There are early signs that McLaren has lost the dressing room and that he is scrambling to put a positive spin on things in order to keep the dogs at bay. On the training field, McLaren has reprimanded several key members of the first team for lack of effort which is hardly the way to motivate the team to turn things around. Rumours that Fabricio Coloccini could be stripped of the captaincy due to bad form have not exactly helped matters. Added into this, McLaren’s use of the media to spin a story has backfired. It takes a lot to make the bizarre ramblings of John Carver from last season now seem acceptable. But McLaren has managed it on several occassions with his latest declaration that Newcastle showed signs of improvement and effort in the opening ten minutes of the game against Palace the pièce de résistance. It may be that McLaren needs to go espcially given that the club can ill afford to be relegated this season given the huge cash reward on the horizon courteousy of the new billion dollar TV deal which kicks in next season. If Ashley is to pull the trigger, he will need to do so sooner rather than later given the rapidly approaching January transfer window. The immediate availability of David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers may be a catalyst whilst the interest of Ajax boss Frank De Boer in the job must not go unnoticed. Whatever he is to do, he needs to do it now. With Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton to come before the end of this calendar year, Newcastle could slip further into the abyss if he doesn’t act now. For the Newacstle fans, the torture is becoming unbearable and with little signs of hope on the horizon, it may be that they start to give in leading to a total collapse of Newcastle Football Club.