AND so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Well, if you’re Newcastle United, you’ve done what you’ve done for the whole of the last decade. You’ve existed in the hope of being able to carry on existing. You’ve survived with the ambition of being able to survive again next season. Welcome to Newcastle – where mediocrity isn’t just tolerated, it’s actively encouraged as a fundamental part of the masterplan.

At most other clubs, Tuesday’s embarrassingly feeble exit from the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup would have sparked some intense soul-searching. Crisis meetings would have been staged, teacups would have been thrown, the manager’s position would have been questioned. Not at Newcastle.

Mike Ashley might have paid lip service to the notion of taking the cup competitions seriously, but the Premier League will always be his priority and he is not going to lose too much sleep about a League Cup defeat, even if it came at the hands of a Brentford side that had half of its players missing.

Judging by his pained post-match expression, the manner of Newcastle’s capitulation at Brentford’s sparkling new stadium hurt Steve Bruce. But like those above him, he will move on quickly knowing that his job is not really in jeopardy.

Why not, given that the weight of supporters’ opinion appears to be stacked firmly against him? Because for all that this has been a miserable season, devoid of any kind of passion, excitement or semblance of progress, Newcastle remain pretty much on course for what Ashley and those around him demand them to be.

They’re 12th in the Premier League table, eight points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand on all bar one of the teams below them. Admittedly, with their next three games pitting them against Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester City, that gap could have decreased significantly by the time the Christmas decorations are coming down, but even then, it is hard to imagine Ashley taking hard and decisive action. Scramble into 17th by May, and another season can be ticked off the list.

Bruce will claim he has much loftier hopes for his hometown club, but the reality is that he too has become caught up in his owner’s abhorrence of ambition. Newcastle, according to Bruce, are “doing okay”. They’re “one of the teams in the bottom half of the table”, so “it’s always going to be tough when you come up against the big boys”. First and foremost, they have to “get to the 40-point mark”. Maybe then, and only then, they can “start looking up the table”.

It is at this point that most national pundits normally start interjecting with their favourite Newcastle narrative. ‘Well, what on earth do the fans expect? Here they go again, demanding Champions League football. Newcastle supporters should be careful what they wish for. Steve Bruce is doing a decent enough job with the tools he has been given’.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But is that really what one of England’s biggest and most historic clubs should be aspiring towards? Doing a decent enough job with tools that aren’t really fit for the task? No wonder Newcastle feels such a soulless place at the minute. At just about anywhere else in the country, the sight of empty stands feels jarring. At St James’ Park, it feels perfectly in keeping with the rest of a club that has had its heart ripped out.

Might things change in 2021? Well, we’ve made it halfway through a column on Newcastle United so it’s high time we mentioned the takeover situation, which remains the source from which everything else flows. For all the talk of Bruce’s tactics or potential January loan signings to supplement the squad or players who might or might not be good enough for the Premier League, the reality is that nothing fundamental will change until or unless there is a change of ownership in the St James’ Park boardroom.

Ashley wants out but, to this point, has been unable to engineer a successful exit strategy. For as long as he remains in his current position, which is akin to that of an absentee landlord, he will resist urges to make any meaningful investment and will put off difficult and potentially expensive long-term strategic decisions in the hope that they will become someone else’s problem somewhere down the line.

For as long as Amanda Staveley’s Saudi-Arabia-backed bid remains a viable option – and with legal action against the Premier League rumbling on, PCP Capital Partners remain an interested party hopeful of being able to push through a successful buyout next year – Ashley will plough on with the current status quo.

Limping through to the end of the current campaign is the goal, in the hope that the Premier League will shift their position enabling Staveley to complete the process that was already well under way this time last year.

If there is no movement by the end of the season, try to attract new bidders while keeping spending during the summer transfer window to a bare minimum. Rinse, repeat, and keep your fingers crossed you can avoid relegation.

It is a soul-sapping cycle, but it is one that explains why nights like Tuesday have become the norm. When the bar is set so low, it is little wonder that underachievement becomes entrenched.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of Newcastle’s performance at Brentford is that they weren’t unbelievably bad. Their performance was perfectly in keeping with what was expected of them. Turn up, run around a bit, fall short.

It has been the story of 2020 and without fundamental changes that are sadly not imminent, it will almost certainly be the narrative that continues to run throughout 2021 too.