Newcastle United: Can the Geordies avoid relegation?
Newcastle United are living proof at how quick a year can change your fortunes in football. This time last season the Mags had just beaten Manchester United at home, were just four points off a top four place and had booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Today they are counting the cost of being knocked out of the FA Cup by Brighton, are just two points off the relegation zone and have won just two games from their last 16 league and cup outings. It begs the question, could the Geordies really go down again?
As a neutral you'd hate to think so. Not only for the fantastic support from their passionate fans but also for what they give on the pitch. I mean, to score three times at Old Trafford and the Emirates inside a few days is no mean feat. To come away with nothing though is heartbreaking. The football world wants excitement and it wants to be entertained and Newcastle rarely let anyone down on that front.
However, as we have established down the years, no club is too big to go down. Teams like Leeds United, former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers, two-time European Champions Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough have all gone down and are still waiting to bounce back. Newcastle tasted life outside of the top flight during the 2009/10 season and do not want to sample it any time soon. Unfortunately, their recent results do nothing to ease those fears.
Exiting the FA Cup may be a blessing in disguise for Alan Pardew's men as competing on three fronts at this stage of the season really would have stretched their resources. Of course bowing out of the cup at this stage will hurt - it's the FA Cup after all - but everyone knows that staying in the Premier League is the be all and end all.
The future of Demba Ba had cast a cloud over St James' Park but Alan Pardew has been quick to resolve the issue, letting him join Chelsea at the earliest opportunity. The whole situation surrounding his £7m escape claus had dogged the club and Pardew obviously felt that if he didn't want to be here then there's no point hanging on to him. Although he is letting his star striker go, Pardew knows the team can concentrate on the task at hand . . . and that is to beat the drop.
Newcastle's backline is identical to the one that ended last season. Tim Krul is still a great keeper and Coloccini remains a class defender. Not to mention offensively the Mags still have the attacking threat of Papiss Cisse, but they are missing the experience in midfield of Cabaye and Ben Arfa. The sooner they return to action the better for Newcastle's plight.
Alan Pardew was in the mix for manager of the season last year and deservedly so. He had assembled a talented squad of players. Pardew had defenders who could defend and strikers who could stick the ball into the back of the net and they were in with a shout of Champions League football right until the end of the campaign. Mike Ashley rewarded his manager with an eight-year contract. Eyebrows were raised at the announcement but many felt Pardew deserved it. He had the platform to build his blueprint for the future. However, such long deals can also breed complacency and take the edge of people. Now, I'm not saying this slump is Pardew's fault, but they have gone downhill since the deal was revealed.
Newcastle's next three games could be crucial in their fight to beat the drop. They take on Norwich City away on Saturday with their former boss Chris Hughton desperate to get the Canaries back to winning ways, they then take on Reading at home before travelling to fellow strugglers Aston Villa. Nine points would see the Mags soar up the table. Three defeats though would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons at St James'.
Every season in the Premier League there always tends to be one club that sinks like a stone in the second half of the table. Newcastle have been in a slump for the past few months but many pundits are concerned for Newcastle's future.
They have enough decent players in the squad and Alan Pardew is a tactically astute manager. They should be able to turn it around, but it's ok saying that, the players have to stand up and be counted.
Fortunes in football can change in an instant. Newcastle may be down in the dumps right now, but a few wins could see them challenging for a European place again. So can the Mags avoid being relegated again?
Calling all Newcastle United fans: Do you believe Alan Pardew can turn your fortunes around at St James'? Do you think Mike Ashley was wrong to give Pardew such a long-term contract? How much will Newcastle miss Demba Ba? Can Papiss Cisse rediscover his scoring boots? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.