UNITED KINGDOM, May 12 – Newcastle United will be playing Championship football next season after Sunderland’s victory over Everton confirmed their second relegation in seven years.
Here, our North East football correspondent CRAIG HOPE sifts through the wreckage of their season…
December 28, 2015 at 5.30pm. Steve McClaren crouches in a corridor at the Hawthorns. Head in hands, he is scratching around for the words to camouflage another defeat.
McClaren, by now far more skilled in the art of spin than that of football management, regains his composure and readies his grin.
“It is a game we never deserved to lose,” he says. He is wrong.
“We have ended the first half of the season with a bit of consistency but have been unlucky with our last two results,” he adds.
The only thing consistent about his side is how bereft of motivation they appear.
“I am more disappointed for the players because they are fighting and showing attitude and endeavour,’ he dares to offer. No, they are not.
“I am interested to know if there were boos (from our fans at the end) because I think the team went over and were applauded,” he queries. Yes, there were boos — lots of them.
“Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in football and the last two games we haven’t, but we have to continue what we have been doing knowing — and I know — it will turn around,” he concludes with his team now back in the bottom three.
McClaren, however, was never going to turn it around, and he probably knew it himself.
His spin had been spun and so the web of deceit extended into January.
And then February, and even March.
That he was not sacked on December 28, or even January 28 or February 28, was an act of gross negligence on the part of managing director Lee Charnley.
“Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in football,” said McClaren.
But more often than not you do. And Newcastle United deserve relegation.
They deserve to go down for appointing a failed Championship manager last summer and then allowing him to remain in post for 28 games.
They deserve to go down for treating supporters with utter contempt for the best part of nine years under Mike Ashley’s toxic ownership.
And Ashley deserves the financial loss — £200million is the latest estimate — for blindly trusting Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr to run the club in the first place.
That pair were behind the arrival of McClaren and then managed to mis-spend the best part of £80m on eight players, only two of whom — Chancel Mbemba and Andros Townsend — have been regular starters in recent weeks.
Charnley, on Ashley’s say-so, also finalised the short-sighted deal with a preferred media partner in June, instantly unsettling relations and creating a divide with fans and the independent press.
McClaren paid lip service to those who protested and warned of its dangers by insisting he was trying to change the club’s antagonistic mindset, only to find himself and assistant coach Paul Simpson later issued with written warnings for discussing transfer policy during interviews.
It spoke volumes that McClaren’s only victory when it came to changing this hostile culture — and one he repeatedly referenced — was by putting on tea and biscuits at pre-match press conferences.
Such negativity has been allowed to fester and Newcastle, as one club insider put it, is “rotten to the core”.
The club became obsessed earlier in the season with the number of adverse stories being leaked to the press, never stopping to think why there was such disharmony in the first place.
McClaren had brought in psychology coach Steve Black in an attempt to lift the mood at the training ground.
But while Black’s methods might work with a salt-of-the-earth Jonny Wilkinson type, the modern footballer has no interest in listening to an hour-long talk on ‘love’ such as Black delivered in November.
It amused the players but creating hilarity was not the intention. No-one was laughing, however, as McClaren’s ruinous reign stretched well into 2016.
In the week before he was finally sacked, Fabricio Coloccini — his captain — remarked, ‘we can’t believe he’s still here’.
Appointing Rafa Benitez came far too late. The horse hadn’t just bolted, it had galloped all the way to the cliff edge.
A miracle was needed and the Spaniard, in fairness, has in fact almost performed one — for five games unbeaten with this bunch of misfits and mercenaries represents their best run in nearly 18 months.
They have been cheating relegation since 2013 but seemed oblivious to that threat. As recently as February, during a fans forum meeting, Charnley dismissed the suggestion of the club being in crisis when it was put to him by panicked supporters.
For they were, as Sportsmail noted in December the day after that 1-0 defeat at West Brom, ‘a football club sleepwalking towards relegation’.
On Thursday, they will wake up in the Championship.