NEWCASTLE UNITED once again find themselves pitched into the thick of a battle for Premier League survival despite their new-found status as one of football’s richest clubs.
With 18 games to play and having won only one of their 20 league fixtures to date, the Magpies remain entrenched in the drop zone and although they have not been cut adrift, a continuation of their current form could prove fatal.
Here, The Northern Echo takes a look at some of the issues facing the club’s largely Saudi-backed owners as they attempt to protect their investment and bring their vast wealth to bear.
What impact have the new owners made?
Amanda Staveley had long been hailed as the club’s saviour as long-suffering fans prayed for an end to Mike Ashley’s tenure, and when her consortium finally completed its takeover in October last year, there were wild celebrations on Tyneside. After 14 years of relative austerity during which the squad had been allowed to stagnate, there is now the very real prospect of major investment in the playing staff and while the human rights concerns which were aired during the process remain a PR issue for the Magpies, the owners have sent spirits soaring. Supporters believe they have got their club back and are hopeful of a return to the not-too-distant days when it challenged for honours under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson.
Has Eddie Howe made a difference?
One of the new regime’s first decisions was to replace head coach Steve Bruce with Howe. The 44-year-old has attempted to take a more front-footed approach to better utilise the attacking options within the squad he inherited, but has encountered many of the same old problems. His 10 games to date, which include a humiliating 1-0 FA Cup third-round defeat by League One Cambridge, have yielded just a single victory, one clean sheet and seven points from a possible 27, three of them from costly home draws with Brentford, Norwich and Watford.
What are the major on-field issues?
For all Howe’s shift in focus, problems remain at both ends of the pitch. Callum Wilson’s calf injury has robbed Newcastle of their main threat and if teams can handle Allan Saint-Maximin’s pace and power, they are effectively blunted. However, they have scored in 15 of their 20 league games to date, but kept just one clean sheet, and those defensive failings are proving disastrous. The Magpies have dropped 21 points from winning positions and won only one of the 10 games in which they have taken the lead.
How has January gone so far?
Staveley’s consortium has wasted little time in flexing its financial muscle, investing a total of £37million in England full-back Kieran Trippier and New Zealand striker Chris Wood. However, awareness of both the Magpies’ need and spending power have left selling clubs in strong positions – Lille have proved particularly steadfast in holding on to central defender Sven Botman – while their parlous league position is also proving a barrier to some potential deals.
What work still needs to be done?
Central defence is currently the main focus as the owners attempt to strengthen a pool of players which has been largely neglected in recent seasons, and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos is firmly in their sights. Resilience and creativity in midfield have both been in short supply at times, although reports have suggested a mooted loan deal for Manchester United’s Donny Van De Beek is a non-starter.
Can they save themselves?
That is the key question. The failure to beat Leeds, Brentford, Norwich or Watford at St James’ Park saw precious points slip away, and the fixture list for the rest of the campaign is far from kind. Recent history suggests they may need around 35 points to stay up – they went down with 37 in 2016 – and that means taking 23 from their remaining 18 games when they have managed just 12 from the first 20. Further astute additions may make that possible, but some fans are already preparing themselves for the worst.
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