Magpies hovering above relegation zone
4 May ~ Newcastle head for West Ham in the midst of a dire run of form that worsens seemingly with every game. Two crushing home defeats have been added to the pathetic away form which has brought only one win and nine points all season. Lying in wait are a Hammers team who have won five and drawn with champions-elect Manchester United at home in 2013. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, in his eyes dumped prematurely by Newcastle, may not bother to suppress a chuckle should his charges push today's opponents deeper into trouble.
Meanwhile, old boys Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll will provide a physical threat which the Magpies all too often look incapable of dealing with.
Maybe Newcastle fans wouldn't swap Alan Pardew for arch-pragmatist Allardyce right now, but if so that's attributable to their memories of woeful performances in 2007-08 rather than any solidarity or confidence in their current manager. Even the credit banked by last season's surprise European qualification has mostly been exhausted when assessing Pardew's current situation.
It should be remembered that Pardew has his own axe to grind, having been sacked by West Ham in 2006. Perhaps luckily for him, a sense of grievance has also been engendered in the players by suggestions of a split in the squad. A siege mentality will come in handy while attempting to drag themselves out of trouble. That, of course, is assuming the allegations are false. The club's response, of banning the Telegraph's correspondent, will have little practical effect with only one home game remaining this season. It does perhaps hint at least at how the jitters have taken hold internally.
Managing director Derek Llambias has spoken recently of the intention to follow Everton's model of stability, in particular mentioning that Pardew, as David Moyes was, is allowed one bad year. Pardew's critics point out however that managerial stability is pointless unless you have confidence in the incumbent. Whether those jitters at the top override the intention of stability will only be discovered in the close season.
Entering the climax of a relegation battle as the team resolutely out of form rarely ends happily. Should the squad recall or be prompted how to make the sum of their parts anywhere near their individual abilities it would be both welcome and long overdue. All the same, Newcastle's best chance of escape would seem to be a five-point gap to the bottom three and the inadequacies of others preventing their current 37-point total being overhauled. Mark Brophy