Final throw of the dice

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-22 5:03:02

Newcastle United and Hull City eye the drop to the Championship

Ayoze Perez of Newcastle United reacts during their Premier League match against West Bromwich on May 9. Photo: CFP

And then there were two. After Costel Pantilimon repelled the Arsenal attack to earn Sunderland the point they needed to avoid the drop, it's down to Newcastle United and Hull City for the final relegation spot.

Mathematics, as ever, determines these things. The Tigers need to beat Manchester United to stay up. The Magpies need match Hull to dodge the bullet. If Newcastle drop points and Hull win then the Geordie faithful will be watching Championship football next season.

The question is how did they get in to the position where they have one final game to save their season and their Premier League status?

Magpie misery

If you type in "where did it all go wrong for Newcastle?" into a search engine, you'll get hits from over the past decade, such is the sorry state of affairs at the Northeast's biggest club.

This year, problems on the pitch have matched the incessant circus off it. The team didn't exactly hit the ground running, having to wait until October to record their first win of the campaign, but things looked up with a five-match winning streak and a victory that ended Chelsea's 23-match unbeaten run.

However, since allowing manager Alan Pardew to leave for Crystal Palace and employing his former assistant John Carver as successor, the Toon have embarked on a string of results that have seen them dive-bomb down the table. Newcastle have lost 10 of their last 11 games, including a run of nine straight defeats that began with ­Manchester United's visit in March.

That game was also notable for the spitgate spat, which saw top scorer Papiss Cisse banned for seven games. If he had been available for selection then maybe he could have added to his 11 goals this season but the Senegalese striker has been far from the only absentee.

Carver has been as hit by injuries as he has suspensions during his brief reign. So bad have things been that he only had 13 senior outfield players to select from before the team's game with Arsenal in March.

Admittedly, the club's squad is on the small side but the patent need for investment in new ­players from the board has led to prolonged protest from the St. James Park crowd. A war chest of 34 ­million pounds ($53 million) had been earmarked for fresh blood but Chairman Mike Ashely has refused to spend despite the club's profit soaring and its league position in free fall.

The season can be summed up in this week's PR gaffe where Newcastle unveiled next season's Puma home kit and just hours later shirt sponsors Wonga announced they had redesigned their logo.

Hull on earth

Meanwhile, on the banks of another of ­northern England's storied rivers, another historic football club has had a season to forget, blighted by trouble with the chairman and abject displays from the players.

Hull City may not be as famous as their fellow relegation strugglers, they only made it to Wembley for the first time last season, but they have been part of the community for over a century. No wonder that fans took umbrage at Chairman Assem Allam's attempts to rebrand the club as Hull Tigers FC because it is better for marketing overseas.

The chairman's reasoning for selling 100 years of history is ironic given the public relations backfire that greeted his decision to turf out the community sports group who were using the Airco Arena, which neighbors the team's KC Stadium and was also built with public money. The misguided move was made with the desire of improving Hull's academy and raising the club's official status so at least there is ambition in the boardroom.

Allam has given Steve Bruce money to spend and spend it he has. In the summer, Jake Livermore made last season's move from Tottenham Hotspur permanent for a club record fee believed to be about 8 million pounds and that record was broken days later for Palermo's Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez.

The fate of those two players tells the larger story of Hull's season. Livermore is currently suspended having tested positive for cocaine and Hernandez has scored just four goals for the club. 

Bruce's players have not performed. They were expected to kick on after coming so close in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal but they have arrested. High-profile signings have proved expensive failures and players that were moved on have performed well elsewhere in the league. The truth behind their position is the lack of goals, with Nicola Jelavic top-scoring with a meagre eight.

Now Hull's survival rests on Bruce beating his former club Manchester United, something he has not achieved in his 17 years as a manager. To make matters worse, Hull have never won a ­Premier League game in the month of May.

They might have some unlikely support in the form of Newcastle fans. So upset are they with the way Ashley is running the club that they believe relegation would have the upside of him selling his stake. The fans might be wrong about that but they would be sure that the drop would put an end to the club's lack of ambition as Newcastle would have to play like they wanted to come back to the Premier League.

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