The manager doesn’t rate his squad; the players don’t fancy their boss; the owner appears unmoved; and the fans hold all in similar contempt. That much was clear before Newcastle’s trip to Leicester, but the Magpies still managed to plumb new depths at the King Power Stadium.
John Carver has now presided over an eight-match run of defeats – the worst in the club’s history – but none, even the derby surrender at Sunderland, could be as disheartening for the Toon Army as the 3-0 defeat to the Foxes.
The first message from the travelling support came in banner form: ‘We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries.’ That simple instruction continued to be ignored in the east Midlands, with the Newcastle players’ apathy evident from kick-off.
Worryingly for Newcastle fans, it is their senior players who are letting them down most. The likes of Ayoze Perez, Emmanuel Riviere, Daryl Janmaat and the benched Remy Cabella have looked shellshocked of late, which you might understand, given they were new to the club and the Premier League this season. Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson have no excuses.
Both were utterly dreadful at Leicester, the worst of a terrible lot, and their indifference spread throughout the team. Their contempt for the manager manifested itself in a shambolic central defensive partnership, with Williamson’s lack of interest evident in his sending-off. which was earned for a brainless foul on Jamie Vardy by the touchline when his name was already in the referee’s notebook. That came only a few minutes after half-time, when it seemed Williamson was leading a team-talk in the tunnel after Carver’s words had presumably fallen on deaf ears.
Carver’s tone was certainly stronger post-match, with the manager suggesting Williamson got himself sent off deliberately to escape a relegation scrap. It’s certainly hard to make a case in defence of the centre-half.
Williamson and Janmaat’s indiscipline is nothing new under Carver. Moussa Sissoko and Coloccini both collected needless red cards and suspensions at Liverpool and Everton respectively, both at times when the games were lost.
Carver admitted he was considering replacing Coloccini as captain last month. The manager’s attempt at giving the Argentine a kick up the backside certainly appears to have back-fired: “We need to give the captaincy to somebody who is responsible, who is a leader. The players will follow a leader. Captains have to lead by example. I would definitely review the situation in the summer. If it was me I’d want to prove a point. If it was me who had been sent off and I was captain I’d want to perform for the next six games because we’ve had to reshuffle the back four because of it. I expect a response from Colo.”
Carver certainly got a reaction, just not the one he hoped for. The manager also said he was considering handing “proper leader” Janmaat the armband, but he also chucked it in by getting himself a second yellow card in the dying minutes, meaning half of the back four will have to be changed for the visit of West Brom. No bad thing, perhaps, but Janmaat had been one of the few bright spots for the Toon this season.
When Carver looks around his dressing room this week, he is unlikely to find any solace. Jack Colback appears to be one of the few who share the manager’s concern, but the rot in the squad appears to have set in deeper than Carver thinks, or will publicly admit.
“You’d be surprised how there’s a lot of people in the dressing room hurting,” was Carver’s response to Alan Shearer’s quite correct assertion that the squad “don’t seem to have an ounce of pride in wearing the famous black and white shirt”. Surprised? On recent evidence, too right.
“In football, there’s always people who don’t care, and it’s usually the ones who won’t have a future at that football club,” Carver continued.
The problem for the manager, though, is that it is his job to make the players care, and it is that failure more than any other that would mean Carver could have few complaints if he was replaced before the next game. By who, God only knows.
In response to the abuse he received from the Toon Army during the home defeat to Swansea last week, Carver admitted there was only so much he could do: “They expect me to put the ball in the net, stop the headers and stop the opposition from scoring but I can’t effect that.”
But he is responsible for motivating, discipline and organising his team. All three goals came as a result of dreadful organisation at set plays and a reluctance to compete, which were persistent problems all afternoon at the King Power Stadium, and the refusal to make a change at half-time points to weakness, incompetence, or both.
But Newcastle’s problems run far deeper than a floundering manager and their rabble of a squad and the fans know it. ‘No ambition, no investment, no hope’ were the words on the red cards waved by the away support in the general direction of the absent Mike Ashley in the 34th minute, but it will take something drastic – relegation perhaps? – before the owner takes any notice.
Supporters of rival clubs will scoff and the Toon Army gets patronised enough, but Newcastle is a special club, one more deeply ingrained in its city’s culture than any other. But goodwill is in desperately short supply on Tyneside, and for very good reason.
Newcastle fans give a lot and ask for very little in return. The players refuse to offer even that. Their saving grace may be that there are three clubs who can’t scrape together the points to pull them into the bottom three come May 24, but if the worst happens, it seems that few of these players would greet the Championship with anything more than a shrug.