Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 2 Leicester City 3
Mike Ashley wanted the books in order ahead of a potential sale of Newcastle United.
Justin Barnes, Ashley’s fixer, was at St James’s Park going over the club’s finances.
And deals proved that much harder to get over the line.
The thing is, you can’t run a Premier League football club on the cheap. And the numbers, right now, don’t look good.
Newcastle, beaten 3-2 by Leicester City at St James’s Park on Saturday, have taken just one point from their last seven games.
The club, as high as sixth in October, is 16th in the league and two points above the relegation zone.
It could get worse before it gets better.
Rafa Benitez himself isn’t above criticism, but to genuinely compete in the Premier League, you need a Premier League squad. And Benitez doesn’t have one.
Think back to a few short months ago when United won promotion. Think of all the positivity. And the optimism.
Ashley promised Benitez “every last penny” generated by the club through promotion and player sales.
Yet the club’s net spend was around £20million, and, bar Mikel Merino, Benitez didn’t get any of his first-choice targets.
Benitez was unhappy on September 1. And supporters, understandably, are unhappy now.
United’s manager has a spirited but limited squad.
And its limitations were again in evidence against Leicester on what was the club’s 125th birthday.
There was a stunning flag display before the game, and, for a few minutes, it looked like the team would do the occasion justice.
Joselu gave Newcastle the lead with a close-range finish after Dwight Gayle pulled the ball back for him.
Leicester were level by the 20th minute. Merino gave the ball away in midfield, and Riyad Mahrez punished United.
Mahrez beat Karl Darlow with a 25-yard effort. Darlow should have done better, but Merino was just as culpable.
You just can’t be this sloppy in the Premier League.
Newcastle gave away the ball all evening.
Demarai Gray netted a deflected second goal for the visitors at the hour-mark.
United rallied – substitutes Christian Atsu and Ayoze Perez energised them – and Gayle equalised with a superb left-footed strike after Leicester failed to clear a corner.
A draw would have been a good result. But Newcastle left themselves wide open for their winner, inadvertently scored by Ayoze Perez as he attempted to challenge Shinji Okazaki.
Benitez, wanting Gayle’s goals, pace and movement and Joselu’s ability to hold the ball up and link play, again fielded two up front.
United, however, were too open. They couldn’t cope with the movement of Gray, Mahrez and Marc Albrighton behind Jamie Vardy.
Merino was off his game in midfield, and defender Florian Lejeune had another poor game.
Summer signing Lejuene could well come good in time, but Benitez needs players with Premier League experience right now. Captain Jamaal Lascelles, back from injury, and Ciaran Clark are surely his best bet in the centre of defence.
The party is over.
Ashley, again, might have saved himself a few quid in the summer, but the outcome could prove far, far more costly for him – and the club.