Newcastle dug themselves deeper into a hole at Stoke last night, and the man holding the shovel was Steve McClaren.

I’ve shied away from calls for him to go but not after HIS performance at The Britannia last night.

It started with the team selection. Townsend not fit, so McClaren chose Gouffran, a man who – at his very best – has seldom been good enough. In so doing, he left Perez – one of the few successes of the last two seasons warming the bench. WHY?

I have no doubt that McClaren would say Gouffran’s better at tracking back. True. But Perez is better at scoring goals and if Newcastle are to get the wins we need, we have to … score goals.

And he chose Mitrovic who, it transpires, was nursing an injury which should have kept him off the pitch and off the squad.

I only learned about the injury on about 60 minutes. I’d wondered why he was constantly beaten for speed in straight chases, why his ball control was appalling, why he was, in essence, the blunt edge of a very blunt knife.

But back to McClaren’s decisions. By now, 60 minutes, he was digging with the shovel, trying desperately to get us relegated. He decided we needed a change.

But Riviere. I mean, I like Riviere: he works hard, he controls the ball well, it’s just that he thinks the goal is marked by the corner flags not the goalposts.

What possessed McClaren –  who has a man who has been scoring for fun in Russia, or a young Spaniard who has been among our own top scorers over the past two seasons on the bench, send on Riviere.

Because he tackles back well, he can defend well. The man who makes that his first change is one aiming for a draw, not one trying to haul his team away from the drop.

And so the inevitable happens: Stoke – who haven’t been much better than us on the night – take the lead.

Three minutes later (that’s with seven minutes of normal time left) McLaren brings on Doumbia and Perez. Suddenly, we look like an attacking force. Suddenly Jack Butland remembers why he came to the Britannia for the match. Suddenly we come close to a goal.

McLaren’s ineptitude may even have cost us the three pints. We were not good. But neither were Stoke. They had one second half shot and they scored. We had one decent second half shot and the best keeper in the land saved it.

We should have been peppering his goal, as we did at the St James Park meeting.

So why didn’t we? Because Steve McClaren chose the wrong players and made the wrong substitutions at the wrong times …… AGAIN.

What really grates the morning after, is reading McClaren bemoaning conditions, Stoke’s luck in scoring with their only shot, and then promising that we need “a certain amount of wins and we are confident we can do it.”

My view: Newcastle will be VERY lucky to escape the drop. We need wins against Norwich and Bournemouth and Sunderland – all six pointers – and we need results elsewhere to go our way.

I think the Mackems will escape, they’ve found the fight that’s needed to do so. I think Norwich, Bournemouth and (possibly, Palace) may be in trouble if they don’t change things soon.

But what scares me even more than relegation is waking up the day after season’s end to find Newcastle safe in the Premier League, and McClaren’s smug smile staring out at me as he says:

“We always knew we could do it and now we must build for the next two years.”

That would be too much. We need a manager, not a gravedigger with an excuse for every hole he digs.

You can follow John on Twitter @JOHNDLEWIS54

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