It’s a decision that has baffled pundits as the result preceding their La Manga trip was a 5-1 drubbing away at Stamford Bridge, sinking the Toon firmly into the relegation zone.
As ever with the Magpies, it’s just another episode in the soap opera. When it’s not an utter capitulation, it’s a hard luck story about the side playing well but not being able to convert their chances. We’ve heard it all before.
Make no mistake about it, relegation is a very real possibility on Tyneside. Despite an £80m investment over the course of two transfer windows, new playing talent has done little to yield much in the way of on field success. While it was never going to be easy to eradicate the losing mentality that has all but engulfed the North East giants since the last six months or so of last season, much of the blame must rest at manager Steve McClaren’s door.
Amazingly, the former England manager appears to be side stepping much of the criticism. Granted, he’s not been helped by some of the dire performances his top stars have turned in, or their lacklustre finishing. However, with some top managerial names currently out of work, it is quite frankly astonishing the man who could not take Derby into the Premier League last term has not been given his marching orders.
The decision to appoint him in the first place was rather odd. His coaching work has been praised, but for a club in a state of utter disarray last year, they needed a lift.
Not a man whose managerial career has been mixed at best, and that’s being kind. With two vital home games against Bournemouth and Sunderland coming up, the ex-FC Twente coach faces the defining period of his Tyneside tenure.
The pressure is on, though little of what he has been able to conjure up so far this season will convince fans he is the right man to keep them up. A season of glaring inefficiency from the owner (to appoint the man in the first place), the manager and the vast majority of players.
So, with that in mind, here are FIVE things Steve McClaren could have done differently in Newcastle’s bid to beat the drop…
SIGN A LEFT-BACK
It’s all very well rushing around on deadline day trying to usher a left-back through the door, but the fact remains, one still hasn’t arrived.
It’s been a problem area for the Toon since before Davide Santon left for Inter Milan in January 2015. Ok, so it’s also something that’s been ignored by Alan Pardew and John Carver, but it doesn’t change the fact McClaren has largely overlooked that particular berth.
Massaido Haidara’s lengthy injury has somehow changed his perception, with a sense of excitement now airing over his imminent return.
He is perhaps the most limited left-back in the league, constantly being caught out of position. Even going forward, his output is average at best.
Paul Dummett is admirable in his work rate, but the Welsh international still does little to convince.
While having both injured is unfortunate, had the problem been addressed at a much earlier stage, Rolando Aarons would never have had to be shunted out of position and torn apart.
Aleksandar Mitrovic arrived over the summer, touted for great things, though has had a mixed time of it at St. James’ Park so far.
Clearly, the Serbian is a good player and already a fans favourite. It’s just his finishing needs to improve, understandable for a 21-year-old making a huge step up from the Belgian league.
Ok, so fair enough, your £13.5m star forward hasn’t hit the ground running as planned. But, was he really expected to plunder 20+ goals? Considering his age and the difference in class between his old league and new?
A more experienced forward should have supplemented the Serb as he found his feet at the club. Papiss Cisse, until the recent arrival of Seydou Doumbia, was the only other striker at the club to call on.
The Senegalese marksman has been a shadow of his former self for 18 months or so now. Very little he had done since the honeymoon period of his Toon career suggests he is the man to help Mitrovic bed in.
While his finishing should be better, the 21-year old has had very little help in his bedding in process. Cisse should have been shipped out in the summer, while an experienced forward could have provided a stop gap while the feisty Serbian international came to terms with life in Newcastle.
KICK OUT COLO
Only at Newcastle (in their current state) would a man who has proved to be such a burden to the club in recent seasons STILL be captain. While we can talk about who they should have signed, the fact that a man who, more often than not, has been the source of some of the team’s utter surrenders is still the skipper is a joke.
Jamal Lascelles must be tearing his hair out. Here is a promising young centre half, who has been overlooked time and time again. Ok, when the Argentine is on form, he’s a better defender. But that’s not very often.
For too long, the club have accepted his mediocrity in the vain hope he will get back to his best. That was almost five years ago. Ever since his failed move to San Lorenzo three years ago, the 34-year old has been a burden.
Not a good example at such a crucial area.
TRUSTED DE JONG
Siem De Jong’s repeated injury problems have marred his time on Tyneside, though his brief run in the side coincided with perhaps their best period.
The Dutchman’s vision in the win away at Spurs, a feat looking more and more impressive with every passing game, was crucial. His performance in the win against Liverpool was likened to Teddy Sheringham, expertly linking play between midfield and attack.
Harsh perhaps to blame McClaren due to his injuries, though even when fit, the former Ajax captain was largely on the periphery of the first-team. With the Toon struggling to hold on to the ball, De Jong would have been a wise head at Number 10.
BROUGHT BACK ARMSTRONG
In stark comparison to Newcastle’s woe in front of goal for the majority of the season, academy graduate Adam Armstrong has been lethal on loan at Coventry.
Clearly, the gulf in class between League One and the Premier League is huge, but goals win you games. That hasn’t been the case often enough for the Toon Army.
Armstrong has notched an incredible 19 times for the Sky Blues after impressing for various levels of the England youth setup. His energetic play in the final third, as well as palpable goal threat, is something his parent club have been crying out for.
This season more than ever, we have seen young players take to the Premier League with relative ease. As the quest for the next Dele Alli goes on, perhaps the Magpies had one all along.
Surely the enthusiastic Geordie would have been a better option than the lacklustre Cisse or the lumbering Mitrovic in some of the club’s worst performances this term?