Despite their season-long flirt with the relegation zone, until recently no one seriously considered Newcastle United candidates for the drop.
Now, the pundits are tripping over themselves to predict such a fate.
The combination of factors conspiring against Newcastle is well recited: continued managerial and backroom uncertainty, a defence that is as robust as a poppadom, an inability to regularly score, and a team morale that lacks the requisite fight to reverse this decline.
What is interesting is that these problems—with the exception of the gloomy morale—have been ever-present since early on this season.
Indeed, the frail back line and the backroom volatility stretch back for many seasons.
Yet, despite consistently under-performing, everyone thought survival was inevitable—"It’s Newcastle, they can’t possibly go down?"
So, why did this widespread faithful optimism suddenly morph into prophecies of doom?
Two words: run in.
Newcastle’s remaining fixtures are a nightmare end to the season. They are facing home games against Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea, with tough away games at Tottenham, Stoke, and Aston Villa.
The other four games appear winnable—Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, and Fulham visit St. James Park while the Magpies travel to Humberside this Saturday for a six-pointer par excellence.
If Newcastle manages to win these games, it would take them to the magic 40 points.
But with the state of the team as it is, these four games are as eminently losable as they are winnable.
So here are four steps that the Magpies must take in their remaining fixtures if Premier League football is to remain in Tyneside next season:
1. Take the Game to the Opposition
Newcastle aren’t going to survive by combining stoic defending and blistering counter-attacks, as the defence is woefully unreliable.
Any team spending considerable time in United’s final third generally find the net.
The approach, therefore, must be to seek to play a high defensive line with sensible, yet pressing, attacking play.
Newcastle’s pedigree has always been in the middle and top ends of the park, which is where they need to make the opposition play if they are to get results.
2. Play and Protect Obafemi Martins
Out for much of the season with injury, the return of Oba and his goal-scoring talents may well prove crucial in determining United’s fate. He should play every minute of every game and be swaddled in bubble bath and cotton wool between matches.
3. Get the Ball out Wide
Newcastle have two excellent wingers in Jonas Gutierrez and Damien Duff.
The full backs and centre midfielders should seek to release these men out wide whenever possible and secure that all-important supply to the front men.
4. Keep the Faith
Temporarily absent from the mother city, I’ve not been along to St. James’ this season, but was shocked by this article by Patrick Johnston regarding the onset of apathy amongst the Toon Army.
Of course, the players must buck up their fatalistic and eyes-on-the-exit outlook, but, clichéd as it sounds, the fans have always been a 12th man for Newcastle.
Their die-hard adoration is needed now more than ever to rouse a lackadaisical team to heroism.
Toon Army, hear this loud and clear: Keep the faith or die! Survival or devastation for Newcastle United truly does rest on this ancient adage.