The next game is at Hull, a week away.
On paper, we are 8 points ahead of a relegation place, 9 points behind 7th which could potentially mean qualification for the Europa League. Out of both cups, at first sight we are left facing an unexciting season.
Things could happen. Optimists may look back to when Glenn Roeder took over 9 years ago. 29 points from 24 games, we were hovering above the relegation candidates but with a 9 point gap that looked safe. It is a matter of history that Roeder led us to 7th and a place in Europe.
There is every incentive, given the right managerial appointment, for the club to try and achieve something. It will be remembered that Roeder was on the coaching staff at the time. There will be some romantics who point to Peter Beardsley’s record with the Under 21 team, 7 league wins out of 10, an inspirational figure to young talent coming through.
The pessimist will draw other conclusions from that season. A team that got it wrong that year is only a few miles down the road. Over the same period that Roeder got us into Europe, Sunderland gained 4 more points during the rest of that season. Also relegated, West Brom picked up a mere 4 points from their last 13 games to slip into the bottom 3 after being in a position of relative safety.
Our season could, in theory, still go either way.
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More warning signs can be seen from our North East neighbours. Working back in time, in 2006 they went down after gaining 6 points from their last 16. In 2003, they went down again, losing every single one of their last 15 games.
Perhaps an even more poignant warning comes from 1997 when Sunderland’s record after 22 games read W7 D6 L9 GD -8. The eagle eyed will have noticed that their goal difference was 1 better than ours is now.
Other collapses have happened. In 1998 Pardew’s current club, Crystal Palace, had 4 fewer points than we do now. They went on to finish bottom, 7 points from safety. In that year, Bolton were relegated with 40 points. 2 years later, Wimbledon with 25 points from 22 games went on to be relegated by 5 points after gaining 8 points from the last 16.
When Carver took over, it appeared that all we needed was 4 wins from 19 games to be safe. 3 games (plus a cup exit) later, the target remains pretty much the same, assuming there are a few draws thrown in. It will not be forgotten, however, that West Ham were relegated alongside Sunderland in 2003 with 42 points. The team above them had 44.
It will also not be forgotten the last time we went down, back in 2009. After 22 games we had 23 points, we finished, a few managers later, with a mere 11 more. It is a season that will be remembered for its turmoil, combined with apparent indecision at the top levels of the club.
Are the danger signs here now? Potentially yes.
In that relegation season we did have a bank of experienced strikers, an experienced midfield too. Currently the top scorer for the club, Cisse, is away on ACoN duty, as well as being rumoured for the exit door. Gouffran is the only currently available player with double figures in his Premier League career here. Behind them, the leader for this season is Ayoze with 5 league goals. With Steven Taylor (12 PL goals in 12 years) currently out, Sissoko with 1 this season has 8 in total for us. Jonas is the only other with 5 or more goals in the Premier League at Newcastle.
Whilst all the talk had been of who will be the next permanent coach, transfer market activity has appeared to be nil, at least on incoming players. The market is rife with Cisse’s potential suitors, Sissoko’s too. With only 8 days of the window left, Ashley and Charnley would be unwise to sell. Despite having a fee for Pardew and potential top value for others, years of lost Premier League revenue dwarfs the potential income from those sales.
It is worrying to reflect on where we would be this season but for a run of 5 wins on the bounce. 2 wins and 6 draws in the other 17 gives cause for alarm. 6 of our 8 remaining home games are against sides currently in the top half. Of the games against bottom half clubs, 6 of the 8 are away. We have won less than half of our matches against bottom half clubs at home.
Of course, things can go either way but there are a host of battles between bottom half clubs to come. Were all of the home teams to win those crunch games, the points total required for safety this season could be high. 4, or even 5, wins may not be enough.
Another warning sign came last week. When John Carver was asked by Sky if he would be prepared to look after the team until the end of the season, his response was; “I’d have to think about it.” There is no guarantee that there will be any sort of continuity. Internally; Dave Watson, Steve Stone and Peter B are the others available. Despite being the most successful coach at the club this season, Peter B does not have the required licence (although Watson does) and we all know what happened the last time a legend was thrust into the fray at the last moment.
Pardew’s departure suddenly seems to leave the powers that be at the club exposed. The departed manager proved to be a buffer for criticism, Carver does not provide the same sort of cushion. Ashley and Charnley are clearly in the firing line if things go wrong. The respectful silence that accompanied the Saints game could be set to explode should no Head Coach, results or incoming transfers be forthcoming.
The bookies rarely lose money and with odds at up to 33/1 available on a relegation for Newcastle United, there could be a few people pocketing cash if Ashley and co. do not act quickly. It’s refreshing to think that by his own neglect, Ashley could even cost himself £60m per year.