Ordinarily, the final home game of a campaign is a day to look forward to—a chance to thank the supporters for their unwavering devotion, enjoy some seasonal sunshine and show off next term’s new kit.
But this has been no ordinary season at Newcastle United, and following six defeats in a row, there will be no such niceties when the Magpies take the field against Cardiff City at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
There is audible unrest on the terraces, and during Monday’s loss at Arsenal, Toon boss Alan Pardew bore the brunt of the fans’ fury, much like he had at Stoke a fortnight earlier.
On both occasions, it was a small band of travelling followers who made their voices heard. This weekend, however, there will be a choir of over 50,000 ready to make themselves heard.
For the first time during the manager’s three-and-a-half-year reign, calls for him to be sacked are being heard loud and clear, and Pardew himself is in direct earshot.
“I know the fans are unhappy and disappointed, particularly with myself,” he told The Shields Gazette’s Miles Starforth. “But we need the stadium in the best possible shape we can have it. The players need a lift.”
Despite his calls for unity, the 52-year-old’s wishes are unlikely to be granted, and a home crowd who have sat on their hands and remained silent over the past few months have reached a tipping point.
Across Twitter this week, the hashtag "#60minutewalkout" was used to debate the idea of emptying St. James’ Park after an hour. Fans' dissatisfaction has also been reflected in the national press.
"Newcastle United fans have rarely been so depressed and sacking Alan Pardew is easiest option to placate them" was the headline in The Telegraph, while The Guardian asked, "Where has it all gone wrong for Alan Pardew at Newcastle?"
But closer to home, it was the city’s local newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, that went for the jugular, splashing "P45DUE" across its front page ahead of a list of the manager’s failings:
United’s run of 14 defeats in 19 games is unacceptable at any level, but under scrutinising eyes on the terraces and in the white-hot spotlight of the Premier League, it is unforgivable.
Should Newcastle lose again on Saturday, Pardew will become the first Toon manager since 1977 to oversee seven successive league defeats, and the pressure will reach new heights.
What should have been an afternoon stroll to celebrate his team’s top-half finish has turned into one of the biggest games of his career—and for all the wrong reasons.