Newcastle United edging towards Premier League exit
01 March 2009 04:56
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The table may not lie, but it can certainly deceive. Newcastle, having managed just six points from a possible 27, sit just two points and three places clear of the relegation zone. That seems bad enough. The reality is much, much worse.
On Wednesday, they face Manchester United. Then Chelsea and Arsenal visit St James's Park. Their last two away games are at Anfield and Villa Park. After substitute Ricardo Gardner's goal gave Bolton a deserved win here, Newcastle have just six games to save their skins.
'We are under no illusions about where we are,' said temporary manager Chris Hughton. 'We are in a relegation scrap and when you look at the games we have to win, it can smack you in the face.
'Obviously, I'd rather not have to play the big teams now, but at this stage no games are easier than any others. No team around us will think like that. We just have to prepare as best we can for our next match.'
It is hard not to sympathise with Hughton. The Toon army are restless, criticising his substitutions here, questioning his ability. Hughton, though, is a coach, not a manager. Blaming a stand-in for Newcastle's predicament is especially harsh when it is the culmination of a decade's rich farce.
Seven different managerial regimes helped construct the side that started this game. The tenures of Kinnear, Keegan, Allardyce, Roeder, Souness, Robson and Keegan again were all represented. It is not hard to see why Newcastle lacked any sort of cohesion.
How Hughton must wish Newcastle, like Bolton, had a core of players with an almost telepathic understanding of what they are supposed to do. They might not be pretty, but they are in the top half of the table, having earned Gary Megson his first contract at the club, a one-year rolling deal.
'It's no different to how it was before except I've signed a piece of paper,' he said. 'It's not reward for anything, but we're clearly doing a little bit better and we've got chance to finish strongly. There's only a contract so we're doing what the league say we have to.'
His appointment may have been mocked when he arrived 16 months ago, but Megson is a perfect fit for the Reebok. His Bolton may be predictable, but they were far too much for Newcastle. Three times in the first 15 minutes they cut their visitors apart, Johan Elmander twice going close and Kevin Davies seeing a decent penalty shout turned down.
All Newcastle could manage was an Obafemi Martins header acrobatically flipped away by Jussi Jaaskelainen just before the break. With so little to offer, they could not complain when Bolton took the lead just after it, Taylor picking out the onrushing Gardner totally unmarked to sweep home with practically his first touch.
Newcastle did not rally until the last 15 minutes, but still struggled to carve out clear-cut chances. Andy O'Brien cleared Peter Lovenkrands's overhead kick off the line, J'Lloyd Samuel appeared to handle Fabricio Coloccini's shot. Too little, too late. Newcastle's fans will fear the same may soon be said of their season.