And so it all comes down to Saturday.

Not mathematically of course, but the trajectory of the rest of the season seems ever increasingly dependent on the outcome of Saturday’s clash with Bournemouth.

Yet another confused display, that leads to anything other than 3 vital points, will plant United firmly in the mire with the amount of available points diminishing every week.

The bells may also be tolling for SMC come the final whistle and we might be about to ‘do a Sunderland’ and sack a manager just in time for the derby.

I have tried to defend McClaren thus far, on the strength of a scattering of bright sparks throughout the season, but following the defeat at Stoke I am now convinced – there is something drastically wrong happening (or not happening) on the training ground and in the changing room.

We are led to believe that at least a handful of the players currently at the club possess some amount of talent, were bought at bargain prices, and are highly prized by other, rival clubs. If this is true, then to my reckoning, there are only two remaining explanations as to what is going on.

Firstly, that the rumours are correct and McClaren really is an incompetent, outdated Wally, with or without a brolly. The reasoning behind throwing Riviere on at Stoke ahead of Perez and new signing Doumbia, one of a growing list of examples that suggests perhaps he really doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The second possibility, is that the players have decided either they don’t fancy hanging around too long on Tyneside, or that SMC isn’t the right man for the job. The phenomena of players downing tools in a bid to oust themselves or the head coach is becoming depressingly commonplace, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past our particular band of mercenaries to sink so low.

There are too many teams playing well in this division, that are worse on paper than Newcastle, to argue that our squad simply isn’t good enough for the Premier League; so either the manager is useless or the players have given up.

Whichever it is, Mike Ashley will surely be getting anxious to protect his begrudgingly parted with investment. He has delivered on his promise to spend some money, and he may be feeling now that SMC isn’t delivering on his – one of which must have been guaranteed survival.

The cold truth facing Steve McClaren right now is that it is much quicker, cheaper and easier to replace one manager than it is an entire squad.

If Saturday doesn’t represent a definite turning point in the fortunes and performances of Newcastle United, then the clock may be ticking rather more quickly for poor old Steve.

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