Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren does not feel his reign is drawing to a premature conclusion, despite losing his cool with Daily Mail journalist Craig Hope ahead of the must-win clash with Bournemouth.
The Magpies slipped to 19th place in the table as a result of their 1-0 defeat at Stoke on Wednesday evening, 24 hours after local rivals Sunderland had snatched a last-gasp point from a 2-2 home draw with Crystal Palace to climb above them.
With 11 games remaining, they are level on just 24 points with the Black Cats and Norwich and, unless something changes markedly over the remaining weeks of the campaign, two of the three look almost certain to go down, with bottom-of-the-pile Aston Villa already adrift.
However, asked if he felt he was on the brink of losing his job, McClaren said: “I don’t, no.”
Asked why not, he replied: “I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong here, and I know the work we’re doing. The preparation – we’re doing the right things to prepare to win games.
“I know I’m in a fight, I know it’s a battle, I know the situation we’re in. But I do know that in that dressing room, we’ve got the talent.
“Now we’ve got to demonstrate the character to get out of it, and I’m confident we can do because I believe in those players and the talent that they’ve got. We will get enough wins to see us through.”
McClaren was speaking after becoming embroiled in an angry row with a Hope as he conducted his pre-match press conference.
He launched an attack on Hope at the club’s Darsley Park training base after being questioned about the speculation over his future and the state of the club as he spoke to television reporters.
He said: “I’ve heard there have been one or two articles – probably one main article – and as I say, I don’t read it. It doesn’t help me win football matches and my concentration and focus are purely on Bournemouth and winning that game tomorrow.
“Someone told me about it and unfortunately it’s done, obviously, by a journalist who for the last 18 months has written nothing but negative things about Newcastle, a journalist who used to work at this football club and who four or five years ago, was released from this club.
“Whatever that journalist writes, I’m afraid I don’t read it.”
A story was published in the Daily Mail on Friday morning suggesting senior players were surprised McClaren was still in his job after a poor season to date, and that they expect him to be sacked if they lose to Bournemouth.
Hope confronted McClaren as he left the room to speak to radio reporters, denying that he had an agenda and attacking the 54-year-old’s record on Tyneside as he headed off down the corridor.
He said: “Steve, don’t you dare accuse me of having an agenda. You are second bottom of the league. This is a new one, Steve. Is this your latest excuse, is it? It’s a new one, I’ll give you that.
“I’m not the problem, Steve. You’re the problem, not me. You’re the problem, not me. Don’t you dare suggest I’ve got an agenda against you.
“Walk away Steve, smile and grin again. [Turning towards colleagues] He has been out of his depth since the minute he walked in.”
The pair later had lengthy face-to-face talks, during which it is understood apologies were offered and accepted, before McClaren returned to speak to the written press.
Hope has written today in the Daily Mail: ‘McClaren can prove me wrong by going on a winning run and keeping his job. But as things stand, Newcastle cannot continue like this. McClaren cannot continue like this.’