WITH nine games of the season to go, Newcastle United’s Premier League status is hanging by a thread. The Magpies are two points clear of the drop zone, but the manner of last Saturday’s capitulation at the hands of relegation rivals Brighton has set the alarm bells ringing.

Will Newcastle survive and hold on to their top-flight status? Or are they destined for what would be a third relegation of the Mike Ashley era?




The Northern Echo:

Mike Ashley is clearly determined to stand by Steve Bruce come what may, but the Newcastle manager has shown little in the last few months to suggest he is the right man to engineer a successful survival push.

His tactics have been found badly wanting in the last few matches, with the under-fire Magpies manager blindly sticking to a system that was introduced to accommodate players that are no longer available, and that is badly flawed.

Why play wingers as strikers when there is no one to deliver the ball into the final third? Why keep your two available centre-forwards on the bench when you do not look like scoring a goal? What does Joelinton have to do to get dropped from the starting XI? And what does Jacob Murphy or Dwight Gayle have to do to get a game? As long as Bruce remains at the helm, Newcastle will be in deep trouble.


The Northern Echo:

For all that Bruce must take a large amount of responsibility for Newcastle’s current plight, the club’s players are hardly covering themselves in glory at the moment either. Having at least shown a modicum of fight as they scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser against Aston Villa in their previous game, Newcastle’s players threw in the towel in alarming fashion at Brighton.

Speaking while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland earlier this week, Ciaran Clark admitted: “On Saturday night, we weren’t up for it as a group of players.” That is a staggeringly frank admission.

Will Clark and his team-mates muster up any more resistance in their remaining nine matches? Or, as is looking increasingly likely, will they sit back on their £80,000-a-week contracts and slide out of the Premier League in a manner reminiscent of Newcastle’s two previous relegations under first Alan Shearer and then Rafa Benitez?


The Northern Echo:

While Newcastle’s form is tailing off badly as crunch time arrives, their two main rivals at the foot of the table are clicking into gear. Over the course of the last four or five matches, Fulham and Brighton have both looked better bets for survival than the Magpies.

Brighton’s attacking capabilities were showcased last weekend, with Graham Potter’s side completely outplaying Newcastle. Having seen off Southampton last weekend, the Seagulls have recorded back-to-back league wins for only the second time all season. As a result, their tails are up.

Fulham’s revival has stuttered slightly in the last fortnight, but Scott Parker’s side have still won three of their last eight matches, with two of those victories coming at Everton and Liverpool. That is much better form than Newcastle have been displaying.



The Northern Echo:

Newcastle’s run-in is not especially inviting. Six of the Magpies’ remaining nine matches pit them against teams currently sitting in the top nine positions in the table.

Away matches at Liverpool and Leicester look especially daunting, but even the home games against Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and an in-form West Ham will provide a significant challenge. Newcastle have not won any of their last six matches, so it is surely fanciful to believe they are suddenly going to click into gear.

The Magpies’ final home game should result a victory given that it pits them against rock-bottom Sheffield United, but by the time they host the Blades, they could already be in the bottom three. Then, of course, it is off to Craven Cottage for what could be an explosive end to the season.



The Northern Echo:

When it comes to reasons for optimism ahead of Newcastle’s remaining nine matches, by far the biggest positive is the anticipated return of Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. With that trio back in the side, the Magpies should be a completely different attacking proposition.

Wilson’s presence is the most vital given that he has scored eight more league goals than any other Newcastle player this season, and the striker’s recovery from a hamstring problem is understood to be on track. Thankfully, Wilson does not tend to need too many matches to recover his sharpness.

Saint-Maximin should also be available when Newcastle host Tottenham in their first game after the international break, while Almiron will use the next fortnight to build up his sharpness after he looked understandably rusty before being substituted against Brighton. Between them, it is no exaggeration to state that the attacking trio have Newcastle’s Premier League fate in their hands.


The Northern Echo:

A two-point gap might not sound like much, but at this stage of the season, it is a priceless safety margin. For all that they have been flirting with the bottom three for a while now, Newcastle have not actually been in the relegation zone all season. Provided they keep it that way for another two months, they will be fine.

The Magpies also boast a game in hand on Fulham, so given they are sitting on 28 points, they will probably survive if they can win three of their remaining nine matches. Fulham, currently on the 26-point mark, probably need to win four of their last eight games to scramble to safety.

The odds remain marginally stacked in Newcastle’s favour, even if the bookmakers make the two clubs pretty much impossible to split, although the fact the Magpies’ goal difference is currently five goals worse than Fulham’s is a concern.


The Northern Echo:

Five of Newcastle’s nine remaining matches are due to be staged at St James’ Park, and given that 16 of their 28 points so far have been picked up on home soil, that should work in their favour.

A run of games against Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Manchester City hardly represents the easiest of schedules, but there are reasons to be relatively optimistic. Spurs have been in poor form recently, and a number of their key players will be heading St James’ off the back of a gruelling international break.

Arsenal could be travelling to Tyneside on the weekend between the two legs of a Europa League semi-final, while Manchester City might already have won the title by the time they head to Gallowgate. Hopefully, Newcastle’s final home game against Sheffield United will take place in front of supporters, which would be another boost.


The Northern Echo:

This is not a Newcastle squad made up of fragile youngsters who might crack under the pressure of a relegation battle. On paper at least, most of the players available to Bruce look well suited to the demands of a tense relegation run-in.

A fair number were involved when Newcastle were last in the Championship, so will surely be desperate to avoid a return, while others, such as Wilson and Almiron, boast extensive international experience that should be to their advantage.

Bruce is hardly flavour of the month at the moment, but you would like to think his extensive managerial experience might give him something of an edge over both Graham Potter and Scott Parker, who are relative rookies in comparison.