Sunderland were the undoubted winners of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby, Jermain Defoe’s spectacular goal on the brink of half-time delivering three points that push the Black Cats closer to Premier League safety. And the defeat for Newcastle means more than just points lost or even the pain of losing to local rivals – it’s symptomatic of another season of mediocrity.
The Magpies are 13th after 31 games, with 35 points – nine off the relegation zone, probably enough at this late stage of the season. They’re seven away from the top half and 18 short of the top seven. It all means that the best Newcastle can hope for is not being dragged too close to the bottom three and maybe, with a bit of luck, a top half finish, not nearly enough to satisfy fans or players.
Fan unrest has been a constant presence at the Tyneside club since shortly after Mike Ashley’s takeover, reaching new peaks with every controversy, player sale or poor result. There was last week speculation that some of Newcastle’s most important players would look to leave this summer, names such as Tim Krul, Moussa Sissoko and Papiss Cisse all mentioned, and if the trio, among the team’s highest EuroFantasyLeague points scorers of the campaign were to move on, the reaction would be predictable and justified.
Newcastle were below Crystal Palace – managed of course by Alan Pardew – even before Palace hosted Manchester City on Monday night. And after the Eagles knocked off the champions the gap extended to four points. It was 10 points – and as many places – on New Year’s Day, two days before Pardew was confirmed as Neil Warnock’s replacement. Newcastle have stagnated in the second half of the season.
As the club meanders into the summer there is at least the chance to regenerate ahead of 2015-16. John Carver has, if nothing else, made sure Newcastle haven’t fallen too far down the table as more ambitious clubs climbed higher. His tenure would end after the last game of the season, if Newcastle had any ambition of doing better next season. Regulars at St. James’ Park don’t appear to expect any such thing to happen, though.
Even if Carver is relieved of his duties, the smart money would be on another small-minded appointment – another safe pair of hands to keep things ticking over. How well they’ll be able to do that should Krul, Sissoko, Cisse and Cheick Tiote leave remains to be seen, particularly if the transfer money isn’t reinvested back in the side. The leagues below the top flight are littered with clubs who slept soundly in their mediocrity as they were bypassed and eventually, relegated. Newcastle have been there once before but there’s no guarantee they’d come back again.
It’s now four consecutive defeats for Newcastle and it’s more luck than judgement that means the games will run out before they’re really in a relegation battle. In 12 months’ time it could be Newcastle looking for a saviour, but goals such as Defoe’s don’t come along every year.