A team full of internationals on big wages has failed to cut it and the drop looms, with all its disastrous ramifications. The manager falls ill and the panic intensifies. From the relative comfort of the TV studios a local hero emerges, a great former player who forged a special bond with the supporters, to try and rescue his club.
Related ArticlesOwen's place in danger'I'm glad I stayed a Red'Newcastle need to make every chance countFerguson: United are made of right stuffKroenke ups Arsenal stakeShearer: Career in picsFor Alan Shearer at Newcastle, read Sir Trevor Brooking at West Ham: the parallels are striking. Six years ago, and with three games of the 2002-03 season left, Brooking stepped in to the breach at Upton Park. Glenn Roeder, the manager, had collapsed after a game with Middlesbrough on the Bank Holiday weekend and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Under Brooking, West Ham won their first two games, keeping hopes of survival alive. But Bolton kept remorselessly gathering points and after drawing with Birmingham on the last day of the season, West Ham went down despite gathering 42 points – which remains a record for a demoted club.
"It was 2½ weeks of my life I will never forget," Brooking said. "It went like a blur but it was absolutely fascinating. My family didn't want me to do it and I was concerned about jeopardising my relationship with the club and the fans. Of course there are differences between what I did and what Alan is doing but I know a bit about what he's going through. It's the intensity of it that really gets to you – I think Alan will have been secretly shocked by that."
Shearer has four games to save Newcastle, starting with the trip to Liverpool on Sunday. They are three points behind Hull and the safety zone, but with Middlesbrough only below them on goal difference, and due to visit St James' Park next week, it is tense. Plus the form isn't good: in his four games since taking over from Joe Kinnear – who is recovering from a heart bypass operation – the side have managed just two points and just one goal.
"It is the dreaded cliché," Brooking said. "But in this situation as you get closer to the end of the season, game by game, they assume greater and greater magnitude. It is intensified if, like Alan and myself, you have been doing punditry and not experienced managing first hand. You can rabbit on in the TV studio all you want but when the decisions are down to you, well, you appreciate more about what the job demands. It is all new to you and what people don't appreciate is that as soon as you finish one game your mind immediately drifts to the next one. It consumes you."
Shearer has had a little more time to settle into the job than was afforded Brooking. He was a director on West Ham's board at the time and had to make a decision within 48 hours, after senior players asked for his appointment. "I did think that if I lost the first two games and we went down people would ask what made me think I could do it? That went through my mind momentarily, but when the players made it clear they wanted me that was my mind made up. I thought we needed three wins out of three but as it turned out not even that would have been enough.
"You suddenly have to deal with situations you might not appreciate watching from the outside. In the first game at Manchester City we had detailed to all the players who would be marking up where on set-pieces. Each player was assigned a man. So I send on Frederic Kanoute, just back from injury, for the second half to try and win it. Just five minutes into the half City get a corner and there is Fredi on the edge of the box, hands on hips.
"He's completely forgotten who he is supposed to be picking up and his fella is free at the far post. I'm shouting and shouting but there's a massive noise in the stadium and he can't hear.
"You just feel helpless. If they score – and thankfully the corner didn't get through to the far post – you end up looking stupid, even though you had prepared as best you could. Those situations happen seven or eight times during a game – and that's really frustrating."
Kanoute went on to score the winner in that game and more impressively Brooking's team then beat Champions League chasing Chelsea at Upton Park in the following fixture. The high of that triumph was swiftly followed by the low of watching Bolton squeeze out a point at Southampton in the late kick-off. "The atmosphere at the ground was electric. Paolo [di Canio] came off the field in tears having scored the winner, throwing his shirt into the crowd. It was his last home game for the club. Then, we were all crammed in together to watch the Bolton game and Southampton missed unbelievable chances. Every game was emotional."
The emotional toll will increase at an exponential rate for Shearer as May goes on. Where Brooking had Di Canio, Kanoute, Les Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe to turn to, Shearer is struggling to squeeze a goal out of his side. What a time it would be for Michael Owen to rediscover the old touch, on the Anfield pitch, if he plays.
Brooking was never going to go into management full-time and while he had a second spell as caretaker, after the recovered Roeder was sacked, he was never tempted to return. Shearer, though, has ambitions. "He must still think he can get them out of it," Brooking said. "He'll have a points total in his mind and he knows Hull and Sunderland have difficult fixtures. He has made it clear he'll wait until the end of the season to make his decision. There are two different scenarios that he could be faced with." If Newcastle are relegated it will be an arduous job. The day after West Ham went down, Defoe, having been poorly advised, handed in a transfer request and a total of 19 players left that summer.
"Traumatic" is how Brooking recalls it. Shearer would have to work even more radical changes should Newcastle be relegated but, like Brooking, his affection for his club is sincere. Whichever division Newcastle are in next season, you suspect the fierce competitor in Shearer will find it impossible to turn away.
Sir Trevor Brooking is speaking at the Weekend Football Festival in Derby to promote women's and girls football in the Midlands, ahead of Monday's FA Women's Cup Final.