Newcastle United: Pantomime Season Starts As Chris Houghton Inexplicably Sacked

Mary O'SheaSenior Writer IDecember 6, 2010

BOLTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 01:  Newcastle United assistant manager Chris Houghton gestures instructions from the touchline during the Barclays Premier League match between Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United at The Reebok stadium on March 1, 2009 in Bolton, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

He's going to sack him.

Oh, no he isn't!

Oh, yes he is, because he is Mike Ashley and has a habit of making comically bad decisions when it comes to running Newcastle United, the club that wants to be big but remains a constant Peter Pan.

Since he bought the club in July 2008, Ashley has seen five managers go through the gates of St. James Park. Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer and now Chris Houghton have all seen their tenures come to an end after mere months in charge.

While the four previous to Houghton had done little to warrant a long stay as manager of the Magpies, the former Republic of Ireland international had brought to the club something they had longed for: stability.

Houghton isn't Jose Mourinho, he won't give vox-pops to the press, you'll never see him on the front page of a tabloid, and opposing teams will never feel the need to turn on their sprinkle systems to curb excessive celebrations. Instead, he quietly goes about his business behind the scenes and on the sideline. For a club so often considered a mess at board level and on the field, Houghton was perfect for Newcastle.

He took over following the club's relegation to the Championship in a caretaker's capacity. Straight away he instilled a strong camaraderie among the squad. Troublemaker Joey Barton challenged his anger in playing better on the field, while emerging talent Andy Carroll was having the season of his young career. This bond stretched to the terraces where the fans took Houghton to their hearts as the man who could add some stability to the club, and come season's end the Magpies had won the Championship with a record number of points, being promoted to the Premier League soon thereafter.

The key to Houghton getting the full-time job was to keep Newcastle in the top flight, and considering the mayhem of the league to date, he was doing an okay job. After 16 games, Newcastle sit in eleventh place on 19 points, ahead of Liverpool, Aston Villa and Everton among others. While there have been some bad results, Houghton has overseen an away win at the Emirates, a draw against current Champions Chelsea, and home hammerings of Aston Villa and bitter rivals Sunderland.

However, following away defeats to Bolton and West Brom, Ashley gave Houghton the boot. One suspects the sports retail mogul was irked he hadn't an excuse to do so earlier. Ashley has never appeared wholly convinced in Houghton's ability to keep the club in the lucrative Premier League, despite the results that hint they have a better chance of avoiding relegation than West Ham or Wolves. If giving the club stability, earning promotion and a mid-table status to date on a tight budget isn't proof of credentials, then one has to wonder what is?

Houghton's dismissal was preempted by the departure of assistant Colin Calderwood in October. He was not replaced in a move that seemed to hint Ashley was ready to replace the entire management team. A decision of humongous stupidity considering the chaotic nature of this season's Premier League and the current (now former) set-up's clear ability to keep them in the top flight.

So what now of Newcastle United, and who now for Newcastle United? Alan Pardew? Alan Curbishley? Martin O'Neill? Diego Maradona?

The first two's prior record hint little to their ability to do a better job than the man just sacked, while O'Neill left Aston Villa over his anger at not having full control of transfer decisions—silly for a man to jump from the frying pan into the fire. As for Maradona, he would appeal to Ashley's stupidity.

As it is, Peter Beardsley has the thankless job of overseeing this poisoned chalice for now. Bookies will take bets that he will be in the job for weeks and not months.

As for Newcastle fans, they must be holding a small shred of hope that there is a method to Ashley's madness (not that there has been before) and that he has someone lined up to take over the hot-seat. 

It seems the St. James's Park theater will remain open for your entertainment long after the Pantomime season has packed up.