What the hell has gone wrong at Newcastle United?
As the players trudged off a soggy St Mary’s pitch after being comprehensively beaten by Southampton – more so than the 2-0 scoreline suggests – it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Toon’s season is in free-fall.
The reverse on the south coast was Newcastle’s third consecutive Premier League loss after home defeats to Swansea City and West Ham United, leaving the Magpies without a win in six in all competitions and languishing in 14th in the table with just three league wins all season.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Last season, aided by some brilliant defensive organisation and a sprinkle of stardust that, on their day, few could match, Newcastle nearly stormed into the Champions League places.
I was one of those who thought they could make another push for the top four, but they are a shadow of last season’s side.
A combination of injuries, lack of form among key players (what has happened to Papiss Cisse?), Europa League commitments and other teams working them out have all contributed, but even still, Newcastle have been poor in nearly all of their league fixtures and the season has been one huge disappointment.
Not only did they not score against Southampton (the Dog and Duck can score against Southampton), they could have been beaten by six were it not for Tim Krul and at the moment, I see no route out of the slump.
Newcastle’s trip to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium seems symbolic. It was just over a year ago that Pardew’s side went to Stoke and put on a great display in winning 3-1 thanks to a Demba Ba hat-trick – a performance that made everyone sit up and realise that United were real contenders at the top of the table.
But the way the Magpies are shaping up there is no chance of a repeat and I’ve no interest in the 13/4 on an away triumph on Wednesday evening. In fact, I don’t even see them getting a draw (priced at 12/5) and Stoke look certainties here, even at 17/20.
They might be totally useless as soon as they leave Stanley Matthews Way, but at home Stoke remain as good as impenetrable for a side who have never finished in the top half of the Premier League and their recent record at the Britannia is seriously impressive.
You have to go back to the start of February and a 1-0 loss to Sunderland for the last time Stoke lost a home league match, a run of 13 matches in which they have conceded just seven goals, kept seven clean sheets and managed to hold Arsenal, Manchester City (twice) and Everton.
This year, City are the only side to have scored in six league matches at the Britannia, which has helped Stoke boast the second-best defensive record in the division after the champions.
Okay, they have only scored 11 goals – just five of those have come at home – but as back-to-back 1-0 wins against QPR and Fulham show, if you don’t concede you only need to score once.
I fancy Stoke to strike against a team that have kept just one league clean sheet all season and are badly missing their captain Fabricio Coloccini, and I also expect them to keep a clean sheet against this misfiring Toon side.
I’m always wary of backing a team that doesn’t score many goals at odds-on – Stoke have already had three 0-0 draws this season – so instead I’ll take the rather big 19/10 that Stoke win to nil, as they have done in all three wins this season.
Having said that, the 7/5 that Stoke win a match that sees under 3.5 goals is a whopping bet as well at shorter odds and I certainly wouldn’t put punters off having a go on that one.
Only two of Stoke’s 13 league games have seen more than two goals, never mind four, and that way you give yourself the buffer of a Newcastle goal as well.