Just a few weeks ago, Newcastle United looked comfortably clear of the relegation dogfight below them but, as they prepare to travel to London to take on West Ham, they find themselves deeply embroiled in the battle once again.
Papiss Cisse’s dramatic injury-time winner against Fulham at St James’ Park on April 7th was celebrated wildly on Tyneside as Alan Pardew’s side moved on to 36 points and appeared to be easing their way to safety.
Winnable games against Sunderland, West Brom and Liverpool would surely yield enough points to take them well above the mystical 40-point mark and confirm their Premier League status for another season.
However, things didn’t go quite according to plan.
Newcastle picked up just one point from those three games and their bruising 3-0 Tyne-Wear derby defeat to Sunderland – combined with last Sunday’s humiliating 6-0 defeat at home to Liverpool – must have obliterated their confidence, while also taking a huge chunk out of their goal difference and leaving them deep in the mire once more.
Saturday’s trip to Upton Park, therefore, has now become absolutely crucial as the Black and Whites look to avoid dropping into the Championship for the second time in five years.
The Hammers, though, won 1-0 at St James’ Park earlier in the season, go into the game having lost just once in their last six games and are without a defeat at home since February, so Pardew’s men will have their work cut out if they are to get the win they need to put safety within their reach.
And of course, they face a formidable and familiar obstacle in the shape of a certain Andy Carroll.
It is perhaps a touch ironic that in a week when uncomfortable rumours of dressing room unrest have surfaced, Newcastle should be facing a former hero who is chock-full of the kind of combative qualities they need more than ever right now.
And such is the nature of the rollercoaster ride that has been Newcastle United’s fortunes in recent times, would it really be a surprise to anyone if Carroll came back to haunt his old club in east London on Saturday?
After all, the Mapgies’ defending against Liverpool was more Sunday League than Premier League and while Fabricio Coloccini’s timely return from injury will help, the inspirational skipper will not be able to keep the Hammers at bay on his own.
Carroll has fired six goals since the turn of the year and is 17/10 to score again in this one, while he is 5/1 to open the scoring in the game, and both prices look appealing to this punter.
New customers who sign up to bwin online qualify for a free £20 and using that to back Carroll to score at any time will pocket returns of £54 if successful.
In the 3-way betting market, a West Ham win is on offer at 13/10, compared to 21/10 on an away win and 11/5 on the draw.
With their confidence at rock-bottom, however, Newcastle fans might be better served lumping all their money on West Brom.
The Baggies are 18th-placed Wigan Athletic’s opponents on Saturday and Steve Clarke’s men could end up being the Toon’s best hope of survival.
But regardless of events at the Hawthorns, don’t expect Carroll to show any mercy to his old club as he attempts to plunge them into further crisis.